There’s No Running From Commercials

With the onset of new technology from TiVO to the Internet, networks are creating new ways to keep television commercials relevant

By Fionna Collie

Before the creation of TiVO, a digital video recorder, and the Internet, not even the most dexterous channel surfer could avoid commercials at 3 a.m. Now, thanks to technology, the days are gone when thousands of viewers would have to either grab a snack from the kitchen or stare at the blue glow of the television screen watching some smiling woman explain why nine out of 10 dentists approve the latest whitening toothpaste.

But while viewers now have the option to watch television when and how they want to – without commercials – the number of people actually buying and using TiVO is very small. Tim Harris, broadcast sales director, at CanWest Media-
Works sales and marketing, questions how many people use personal video recorders on a regular basis.

“Canada is a strange country that way,” says Harris, in that people have the technology to avoid commercials, yet they are still willing to watch them. It’s not just audiences that are cautious about new technology, according to a July 2007 article by Colin Campbell in Maclean’s, called “Where’s the Web Video Gold Rush?”, advertisers are are also hesitant about the internet.

In the article, Campell writes advertisers are looking at investing online not because it’s profitable, but because they simply don’t want to miss out on an opportunity. “There’s a lot of shifting of dollars online,” says Dave Scapillati general manager, media sales and marketing for the CBC. Scapillati says about 20 per cent of advertising budgets are moving towards online.

This sum may seem like a large portion but, according to Campbell, that budget totaled US$70 billion in 2006. In comparison, the 20 per cent going to online advertising hardly seems menacing. Scapillati says advertisers are so leery of the Internet because “online is unknown. Advertisers don’t know if it’s effective. Companies don’t know how to make money.”

Due to the unpredictable nature of an online audience, advertisers still prefer to ask viewers “Where’s the beef ?” When trying to attract the distracted consumer eyeball.

While hesitant, advertisers and networks are not blind to the importance of the Internet. CBC is looking to co-operate with JOOST, a website that offers free video to Internet viewers. “We’re talking to JOOST about streaming our content,” says Scapillati.

Streamlining content from CBC to JOOST is not new; the difference will be that both the network and the website will co-ordinate online advertising and will split the revenue, says Scapillati. But in the same way that viewers want more channels to watch re-runs of Seinfeld and Friends, advertisers are also looking for more personalized options. To accommodate this, networks are enticing advertisers with package deals that incorporate ads online and on television.

Harris says the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission green light for Can-West to purchase Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., gives the network options to target campaigns at more websites and channels.
Television shows and commercials won’t be “radically different” in the future, says Scapillati, but they will be more interactive and speak more directly to the audiences.

“Why should it appear in a 30-second break? Why can’t I just click on it and watch it right then?” says Scapillati, of the possibility of advertising products appearing on TV shows. Although there is no set timeline, in roughly five years instead of watching blocks of commercials, curious viewers will simply click on a product to “ask the TV what song was playing, what was she wearing and where it can be bought,” says Harris.

With the click of a button, viewers will be able to stop an episode and click on a product, such as a car, and find out more about it. Surfers will no longer simply click on channels but will be able to click on the actual TV shows themselves.

By becoming more interactive reaching a broader audience through the internet, “TV is not dead”, as Scapillati writes in a January 2008 article in Marketing Magazine. “It’s just having babies.”


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