by Melinda Gipson
The digerati at AlwaysOn seemed to be of two minds with respect to the future of television. One group believes that the increasingly large entertainment hearth in your house today will ultimately become just one more “monitor” – an IP-connected device – that you may soon access via any number of wirelessly linked entertainment devices. Another school –best articulated by David Morgan, CEO ofSimulmedia.com – fervently believes that television, armed with Internet addressable ads, could well maintain both its audience and its advertising spending lead on Internet and mobile combined far into the future.
Morgan’s reasoning goes like this: after more than a decade of rapid growth, online display advertising still represents not much more than $8 billion-worth of the ad economy. Search constitutes the biggest single online marketing sector at $17 billion. Meanwhile, the television advertising technology landscape is a $70 billion market.
To put things into perspective, in October of 2010, Facebook represented a reach of 151 million unique viewers, while CBS Television – just one of the major networks – reached 240 million. And, when compared with total time spent in minutes per month, Facebook drew 43 billion minutes, while CBS Television laid claim to more than 210 trillion, or nearly quadruple the time spent. Morgan said he asked CBS researcher David Poltrack how big a network Facebook would represent by audience size, and Poltrack likened it to PBS.
Morgan even put forth his own version of the “Display Advertising Technology Landscape” slide called the “Targeted TV Advertising Technology Landscape.” What’s sobering to proponents of the second and third screens, is how much of the same targeting infrastructure, buying platforms, data processing and metrics, and consumer data collectors can just as easily enhance audience targeting in television as they do the Internet. Television, in short, is no longer an “idiot box.” The rapid adoption of connected devices like Xbox, Roku and Boxee, combine with on-demand viewing services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to form what Morgan calls “virtual MSOs.”
In fact, I almost hate to say it, having covered both satellite and cable in the 80’s and witnessed the drawn-out debacle that was Time Warner’s Full Service Network experiment in Maitland, Fla., in the late ‘90’s, but the last 20 years of competition has had a very positive effect on video distribution and innovation. And, the layer of intelligent technology that’s now addressable (pun intended) by today’s television networks is as impressive as anything the “near Web” has to offer – maybe more so, because television still has a much more sizeable revenue stream to expend on applying that technology.
No surprise, Morgan has a dog in this hunt, and Time Warner, which bought his last business, Tacoda, has a minority stake in his new venture Simulmedia. By the company’s own definition, it aims to make TV ads smarter by binging Web-like ad targeting to television. Its a7 Platform™ — “leverages predictive technologies and anonymous viewing data from more than 15 million US households to help national advertisers and their agencies better reach their target audiences, and to better measure the results.” Those target audiences stretch across virtually all multichannel households in the U.S. in an effort to make more money for affiliates, and decrease waste for advertisers.
But don’t forget “the box” itself. Just last month, a German company called Junaio demonstrated how its augmented reality browser could enable a television audience to interact with TV shows using just their smartphones. A live science quiz show “Galileo” behaved for the user like having a TV with a touch screen. Pointing the smartphone camera at the answers displayed and clicking on one of the answers was followed by feedback on whether the choice was right and how the viewer’s answer compared to everyone else playing.
The obvious application to shows like “American Idol” was drawn, but we’re sure that’s not even the most clever application of such a technology. Being able to communicate via true, real-time, “biodiretional communication” could change the way future television shows are written, and of course how advertising is absorbed or acted upon.
Junaio, downloadable for free from Apple iTunes or the Android Marketplace, uses augmented reality digital image recognition to assure that only those actually seeing the show can participate. The scanned screen image triggers communication with the station’s server via the Internet, automating the station’s response with the user’s phone and the viewer’s television screen. (If you don’t buy it,watch this.)
Basing such a technology on the ratings effect on game shows would be an obvious, first generation mistake. Xbox, PlayStation and Wii have so far outstripped the ability of studio TV game shows for entertainment as to make the latter almost an anachronism. But because ratings points still pay in broadcast television, the incentive exists to find the next great application that will justify such a technology, either in this format or some other.
“Viewer polling is one thing”, said Peter Meier, CTO of metaio, the developers of junaio, in a company release. “Another idea could be to offer films or documentaries based on the audience`s spontaneous choice, or to make additional information available, such as a chef`s recipe, and transmit it at a viewer`s request directly onto his smartphone. News networks can take an instant temperature check of viewer attitudes…. Breakthrough technologies such as junaio will provide the media industry with entirely new possibilities of user interaction.”
In short, a whole new way of looking at “reality TV.”