Does the world really need yet another interactive television forum? Arguably not.
In January, Campaign asked lots of people in the TV business to give their crystal balls a shine and tell us what they could see. Almost without exception, they said that the big story this year would be all about getting on and doing some interactive TV advertising, even if it was just speculative and experimental stuff.
But what we've seen, in fact, is a tiny amount of experimenting and an awful lot of talking. Talking, talks about talks, and initiatives to structure the talking into the right sorts of forums and associations Last week, with the hesitant emergence of AdCo, we saw the latest such initiative.
Actually, AdCo (that's just its working title, when it's formally launched it will have sexier branding) has been evolving for a year. Its initial backers, Flextech-Telewest and BSkyB, haven't wanted to raise expectations by talking about things that still can't be delivered technically. But now, following a presentation recently to the IPA, the ad industry's curiosity has been roused.
And the thing is, you just never know, this interactive forum could actually make a difference. Because this one has been started by the people who, theoretically, have the most power in this market - the media owners.
The idea seems to be to develop a first tier of membership that will include all relevant broadcasters (that could, conceivably, include everyone with digital ambitions) and then widen out to embrace other interested parties such as agencies, advertisers and production companies.
And it will seek to iron out the practical and philosophical problems that still dog the industry and, some say, continue to hold it back as well as to work on the creation of cross-platform advertising formats.
Top of the agenda is likely to be the extent to which the various interactive platforms can be made as compatible as possible.
For instance, it will seek to ensure that the basic technical standards dovetail - from software systems to onscreen icons. It will look at simplifying booking procedures and agreeing industry-wide conditions of sale. At the most basic level, it will try to standardise interactive's basic vocabulary. At present, for instance, Open's advertiser domain contains dedicated advertiser locations whereas on cable, we're going to be offered microsites.
It's laudable stuff, of course. But are these aims achievable? Will AdCo actually make a difference? Andrew Howells, the managing director of BMPTVi, says it's certainly possible. He states: 'Anything that can help us convince advertisers to run campaigns will be a good thing. Obviously, you have to be slightly sceptical about whether AdCo is merely about a couple of broadcasters making money.
Whatever its intentions, there will be things that AdCo will want to file in the 'too hard' tray and a lot of things that they will see as contentious.
'But at least they're doing something. Yes, you could argue that media owners are in the driving seat - and it's certainly been true in the past.
But, equally, because it is run by broadcasters, this probably has more chance of becoming the industry's central forum.'
Richard Forbes-Robertson, the head of production at Phosphorus, is heavily involved in an existing group, the Interactive Forum. He's certainly keeping an open mind about AdCo. 'From what we can see, this appears to be a move in the right direction,' he says.
Colin Cardwell, the advertising sales manager at Static, is involved with the rival ITVAA. He also welcomes AdCo, but has a few reservations.
'At present, as I understand it, Sky and Telewest are the two people behind it. So the obvious question is what happens to the others - NTL and ON-digital, for instance. Until we have something that everyone buys into, you've only got a piece of the picture. And is it a media owner grouping that exists solely to generate revenue? They've invested a lot in this and could be very keen to start getting a return. All I'm saying is that we should be prepared to step back and be aware of their possible motives,' he says.
He also questions whether media owners are the only people able to drive this market forward. He adds: 'They might be in pole position initially but that will diminish because a large amount of content on these platforms will be supplied by advertisers. There are very real issues about who owns or drives this thing forward.'
Howells also picks up on that point. He concludes: 'There are issues we should be lobbying for. We need to sit down and think about what we see as issues and consolidate that through the IPA. It's important that we become a more central part of the decision-making process. But we certainly don't want to pour cold water on this. As I understand it, although broadcasters will be the shareholders, they plan to broaden out the membership. Would we join? Yes, I think we would. I think we would have to.'
This article was first published on Campaign