Earlier this year, we profiled leading television innovator, Evan Shapiro, on how marketers can attain the most value from the evolving medium that is TV. Shapiro explained that TV viewing by consumers has actually increased due to technologies such as the DVR – not despite them. To further understand how DVRs are increasing consumer – and advertiser – interaction with their sets and devices, we spoke with Tara Maitra, SVP & GM at TiVo – the originator of the DVR device.
Brandon Gutman: We’ve been hearing a lot about Interactive Television, what’s going on in the space? What’s the back story brands need to know?
Tara Maitra: Interactive Television is most certainly here, and we were there at the beginning when we invented the TiVo DVR and empowered the first true interaction dynamic between viewers and linear TV content.
As the empowerment of the viewer to time-shift their TV took hold (and it most certainly has with DVR’s now in nearly 50% of US homes), a second wave of interactive television appeared with IP streaming video. Very much analogous to On-Demand, though wrapped in a prettier interface for the most part, it further cemented viewer empowerment and increased the comfort and desire for viewers to interact with video. This was made much easier since the devices used to access streaming video were interactive in their very nature to begin with.
The pressure on traditional TV delivery providers – the cable, satellite and telco’s – started to yield selective innovation, and many of the devices being deployed by the cable, satellite and telco providers are now capable of some form of interaction, some much more advanced than others. Unfortunately, the predominant model to-date has been to attach the interactivity to linear TV spots, thus somewhat undervaluing the viewers evolving behaviors and the ability to reach that viewer in a lot more places throughout their TV viewing experience.
How can brands take advantage of this new interactive TV viewer behavior?
Like in other digital experiences – social and mobile – true Interactive TV allows brands to take back control of the relationship with TV viewers. And by taking control and reaching viewers on their terms, brands can begin to accomplish two very important things. On the consumer side, brands can more effectively engage the commercial avoiding TV audience – which in many cases is the more desirable audience, the 18-49 and 25-54 affluent spenders. On the business side, brands can begin to use this newfound direct relationship with viewers to assert greater control over their general TV investments and use it to help to heal a lot of the issues they currently face with the traditional TV buying process.
What are some of the challenges?
I think the challenges with traditional TV have been well covered in trades and in meeting rooms, but suffice to say the underlying root is an outdated model that’s plagued by an inadequate measurement system and sustained just by inertia. And as the audiences continue to fragment, with the most desirable portions of those audiences spending more and more time time-shifting or viewing via streaming services, the networks are forced to continue to drive up the prices to meet their goals. The entire process leaves the brands feeling increasingly disempowered – they have nowhere to go, yet they know they’re missing out. Especially when many of the folks on both sides of the table go home, and watch their own families – and themselves – do exactly what they are afraid of, which is skip the ads they just paid for.
Sounds daunting – how do you propose to fix this?
Well, this is not going to be fixed overnight. But we do have certain tools that marketers can utilize today to embrace these trends and begin to assert control over the way they engage the TV viewer in a way that doesn’t trigger avoidance, but instead a voluntary engagement. The tools we have in place allow for a flexible, digital-like presence for brands, to be part of the natural way TV viewers search and engage with content. Interactive empowerment is part of TiVo’s DNA, and as such it not only applies to consumers but advertisers as well. By becoming part of the interface fabric and sharing the space with viewers’ desired content, brands can build further on their KPI’s with more flexibility, and frankly letting their money work deeper and harder than relying solely on the traditional interruption for 30 seconds. The ecosystem needs linear spots – they’re extremely important – but they can’t be the only way to drive the system forward, that’s too dangerous in the long term given the way the marketplace is evolving. The networks themselves need to recognize this, as with their cooperation we can create something even more valuable for advertisers and enjoyable for the viewers.
Let’s talk about research and insight – what can brands learn from all of this?
An interactive environment inherently comes with a wealth of data, and our goal is to make that data available as quickly as possible so that it can be used to drive insights and conclusions, which in turn can be applied to both the effort at hand as well as leveraged to inform greater questions. For example, wouldn’t it be valuable for an advertiser to know how interesting TV viewers find their new commercial while sitting at home on their couch? Not in a focus group environment when the viewers are being paid a hundred bucks, but at home with the remote in hand. If the viewers watch the whole thing, there’s a good chance they like it. If they stop after 5 seconds, maybe it’s worth looking closer at what caused that abandonment before putting tens of millions behind this piece of creative. And this can be done with tens of thousands of viewers at a fraction of the cost of running a focus group with an audience of 20. Multiple assets and variations can seamlessly weave throughout the experience, offering great flexibility and optimization potential. Imagine a living laboratory where you can ask anything and get an honest answer from your toughest critic. Pass their muster and it’s safe to say that the asset has a good chance of being successful at scale.
So brands can both drive results and learn at the same time?
Yes, that’s exactly right. And what’s even more interesting is that the quantitative and qualitative learning can inform the strategy for scaling interactive TV efforts across other providers. As I mentioned earlier, there are other flavors of Interactive TV, it’s just that they cost more and are more rudimentarily in terms of how they reach the viewers. So you want to make sure that you’ve tested and proven that the message/content/activation components that you think work do in fact work with interactive viewers, and then scale with a bigger budget behind the effort – not the other way around, as is often the way this space is approached. Untested efforts at scale can leave a bad taste, and it’s not that the technology doesn’t work or the viewers don’t respond, it’s that it was done using assumptions without the proper vetting or testing and ends up feeling like a waste.
What’s next for TiVo?
We’re now focused on the final piece of the funnel – the transaction. We can drive awareness and brand, we can engage to foster consideration, and now that we have an interested and enthused consumer, we want to make sure that we capture all of that wonderful work that the brand put in and transform it into immediate gratification. We’re working with PayPal now to enable the purchase of any product sold on e-com sites that accept PayPal immediately in TiVo homes. Viewers simply need to link their PayPal account once, and they can start shopping. While not for all product categories (not autos..not yet, at least), it’s an incredible opportunity for CPG, apparel, snack foods, flowers, cosmetics, small electronics, accessories et al.
Follow Brandon on Twitter: @brandongutman