On the future of set-top boxes.

I was recently reading an interview with Alan Wurtzel (Alan Wurtzel is the research chief at NBC Universal and part of the industry’s Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), an initiative he helped spearhead last year to study how networks could better use data from set-top boxes) entitled “Rethinking the Role of Set-Top Box Data.” In it he comes to the conclusion that set-top box data may not be all that it has been cracked up to be. Specifically he says ” the set-top world once looked like it was too good to be true. But here we are three or four years later and I think reality is setting in.” He goes on to talk about his work at CIMM and his efforts to find standardized data across operators. A very good thing -but not at all easy to do.

As someone who has spent her career being “all about the data” this as a very jarring statement. This prompted me to delve further with a few experts in the category of set-top box data and the idea of interactive, addressable TV to understand exactly how things have changed in this area and how the technological advancements and data needs are coming together….or perhaps, drifting apart. Now for full disclosure, I am on the board of FourthWall Media so certainly have a bias toward the efficacy and value of interactive television. I also am a consultant to Acxiom which is another testament to the fact that I really do believe in the credo “information is power”.

My first call was to Seth Haberman of Visible World, a leader in the targeted, addressable TV advertising solutions space. Seth is also one of the smartest people I know and he happens to be an enthusiast of war strategy and often has some interesting analogies. When I asked Seth his thoughts on how the addressable and interactive TV advertising space had evolved in recent months and how the technology and data elements are co-habitating, he answered me with a question. He said, “Julie, when you were running marketing at Chrysler, how did you determine who bought your cars?”. I told him we knew who bought our cars through sales and registration data. He said, “Exactly. So why do you need set-top box data? It will not help you determine who buys your cars – you already know that. Set-top box data is the last war.”

His point was that the set-top box TV viewership data alone will not help you sell more of anything. It can be argued however, that it will help you find more people “like” those that have purchased before and thereby increase your advertising effectiveness by not wasting the message on those with a low probability (measured by the lack of similarity to previous purchasers) to buy. This may seem obvious and many marketers may feel pretty good that they are mostly reaching who they are intending to reach but Tim Suther, CMO of Acxiom, has found the opposite to be true. “While online contextual and behavioral insights abound, an important insight – knowledge that a visitor is, in fact, your intended audience – fails on an epic scale: as much as 80% according to some estimates. Considering the global market reached $14 billion in 2009, that’s an $11 billion fail. Combining consumer level data with viewership data from the set-top box would allow advertisers to eliminate this waste and reach their desired audiences with certainty.”

Those of us closest to the battle to implement advanced TV advertising in the US have sat and eagerly watched and waited. The promise of what Canoe and other players in the space could deliver has suffered from the logistical reality that it’s incredibly hard to deploy new technology across diverse, distributed systems. But the promise is still alive and with every passing day, closer to reality and mass adoption.

Clearly, in the right spaces, there is a lot of appetite for interactivity. But to really hook the advertiser, we have to get back to the original question I asked Seth. That is, the technology versus data question. Marketer’s love learning about the latest technologies that will advance their objectives but without the data to support it, technology is just another sparkly trinket to distract our attentions. Companies like Acxiom, Experian and Claritas are important partners in this effort. In fact, Seth says that companies like Acxiom are necessary to identify and qualify how important people are to the advertiser, it allows for insight beyond the TV. He says, “Looking at set-top box data is the last war. The NEXT war is much more about the primary data, about getting an expanded view of the audience. It is how we create the segments and finally how we sell more. At the end of the day the set-top box data alone may help advertisers to negotiate with the networks and cable companies but it will not help them sell more.”

That is true in and of itself but I tend to think back to my Chrysler days and imagine that the addition of the set-top box viewer data to the reams of behavioral, sales, ethnographic, media interaction, demographic and pyschographic that we had in abundance thanks to our past work and the that of our data partners, like Acxiom, would have delivered a treasure trove that WOULD help us sell more cars and trucks. The raw data in and of itself is of course nearly useless. The combination and analysis of these various data sets into one consumer-centric view, knowing what is predictive and what is an anomaly is the key. As marketers, we create more revenue and sales by getting the right message to the right person in the most efficient way that allows for them to quickly and satisfactorily engage, and buy. Having better data and being able to interpret it and act on it faster and more effectively than our competition is where we get an edge.

It makes perfect sense that technology and data collide in the medium of television and that data, and more importantly, insight, is at the core of addressable and interactive TV. Ellen Dudar, co-founder of FourthWall Media, insightfully points out that there are huge windows of opportunity that are being missed by advertisers every single day. When I was working in retail at Walmart, some of the most coveted space in the entire store was the check-out aisle, home of the impulse buy. The merchandise that went there was constantly scrutinized because vendors would do almost anything to get that shelf space. Similarly, when people are watching TV, whether it is the gadget in a commercial or the sunglasses a character is wearing on a favorite show, there is an opportunity for an impulse buy. By offering some level of interactivity, the checkout aisle will have just expanded, exponentially, to the television set. Knowing where to offer it and how to best entice and engage an audience is the purview of the customer data and more importantly, the insight therein. It is the 1+1=3 equation at its best. Technology is nothing without insight to make it really sparkle and shine. And THAT is an object that all marketers would opt in for…and stick with.

It only makes sense that the war rages on because there are billions of dollars at stake in TV advertising and promotional budgets. There is no question that data will continue, exponentially, to explode in the TV space. In addition to viewing data from set-top boxes (STB’s) and panels like Nielsen employs, there will be audience data, transaction data, interactive data, and more. Perhaps the biggest opportunity is in the sorting and analyzing of all this data in meaningful ways and in looking at how with this pure data, we can better create interactive, engaging, multi-media campaigns that deliver more sales more efficiently. The good news is that marketers have been working with similar types of data sets in other media (direct mail, internet) for years. Finally, they will have a chance to apply this segmentation expertise to the TV universe and to put the last remaining puzzle piece into place to fight the Next War and gain valuable customers

Some Data for the “Doubting Thomas” readership:

Many marketers are not sold on the fact that people actually want to interact with their TV set. In fact, there is plenty of data, some noted by Alan Wurtzel, that people DO want to interact with their televisions but that they do not want their television sets to replace their computers. This is an important distinction as many have tried to sell marketers on the idea that consumers would want all of the internet-like functionality on their TV’s. Consumers do not want to do email on TV and those most closely tied to the interactive TV effort are in fact trying to find interactivity that does NOT drive people off of the programming itself but instead to augment and enhance the experience. The idea that this can be done on every program is clearly false but there is data that shows that on certain types of programming, for certain types of information and likely with many forms of commercials, there is plenty of interest to drive this effort and to gain participation from marketers.

FourthWall Media just released a study with some telling statistics (http://www.fourthwallmedia.tv/PressRelease.aspx?Id=be887f20-4905-4270-af63-dc9b7dd6ab3b):

  • 9 in 10 (89%) TV watchers expressed interest in using interactive television applications on their home televisions after reading descriptions of these services, with half (48%) saying they are “very interested.”
  • Two-thirds (66%) of TV watchers, including 72 percent of females and 74 percent of those 13 to 20 years old, agree they would change the way they watch TV programming if they had access to interactive television applications.
  • 61 percent of TV viewers would prefer to submit votes for reality shows such as “American Idol” by using their standard remote control. The next closest device came in at 21 percent.
  • When given the option of looking up the phone number of a restaurant to make a dinner reservation, the Yellow Pages on TV app was selected by 37 percent of respondents, compared to 34 percent who preferred going online. Mobile search and the Yellow Pages book itself followed.
  • Women, especially those over 30, are among those most interested in these types of interactive applications. Women are also more likely to “strongly agree” that these applications make television watching more convenient (57%) and personalized (59%).
  • Not surprisingly, TV watchers responded most favorably to applications that provide a high level of convenience and personalized relevance. TV watchers were most interested in a weather application (52% very interested), followed by an application providing local news and information (47% very interested) and caller ID (44% very interested). Additionally, 8 in 10 TV watchers say they would be interested in personalized news, sports scores, and financial information.
  • Another 3 in 4 (73%) say they would be interested in an application that allows them to request additional information about a company or product after watching a commercial. In the era where using DVRs has made fast-forwarding through commercials commonplace, this is an important finding regarding the value of interactive ads. Women, in particular, express strong desire in interacting more with the TV advertisements they see.
  • 8 in 10 (82%) TV watchers say that they watch television and surf the Internet at the same time.
  • Of the 82 percent of TV viewers who say they surf the Internet on their computers while also watching TV, a third (31%) say they would spend less time multitasking with their computers if they had these applications on TV.
  • 81 percent of respondents indicate they want their TVs to do more. Compared to home computers, the television has been slow to adapt to peoples’ changing lives, with only 20 percent feeling their television is “personalized” to their own needs and tastes (vs. 81% for computers).

Recent Posts

Recent Comments

    Written by:

    Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *