While most people view television as a passive, relaxing activity,
the use of narrower digital signals on the broadcasting spectrum means
TV is about to get seriously strenuous.
On Sunday, 22 August, Sky Digital broadcast the world’s first
interactive football match between Premiership giants Arsenal and
Viewers were able to see instant replays, different camera angles and
flick to on-screen match facts, all at the touch of a button on their
By integrating telephone lines into this equation, Sky Digital is also
launching its Open channel - a joint venture between BSkyB, BT, the HSBC
banking group and technology company Matsushita - later this month. This
will enable people to buy groceries and CDs, book holidays and theatre
tickets, or even do their banking from the comfort of their sofa.
Companies which have so far signed up to Open include Woolworths,
Iceland, Somerfield 24-7, Going Places, Next, Argos, Dixons, WH Smith
and Carphone Warehouse. The 24-hour service will also allow access to
BT’s Talk 21 e-mail service.
Other broadcasters with interactive TV, or iTV, on the horizon include
Cable and Wireless, which is already testing its Two Way TV in
This service will initially allow viewers to send e-mail and access a
’walled garden’ of around 100 web sites, before offering enhanced TV
services in January. Also starting next year, cable company Telewest
will have its own iTV service, with home shopping, on-line computer
games, CDs and videos. Similarly, OnDigital will be launching e-mail by
the end of the year and e-commerce at the start of 2000.
The main aim of these interactive services is to part viewers from their
money. But, as the technology embraces more mainstream programming,
broadcast PROs will have a host of new opportunities to take brand
messages to a TV audience.
’PR is in the driving seat,’ says Anthony Hayward, group chief executive
of Bulletin International. ’Providing content - be it video,
programming, comment, graphics, stills, background information, text and
so on, is a great way to promote PR messages. For those that can get it
right, iTV offers huge possibilities.’
As an example, Hayward cites the launch of Sainsbury’s Microban range of
anti-bacterial products in the mid-1990s, which gained massive coverage
from news, lifestyle and cookery programmes.
’In future, as the presenter discusses the benefits of using
anti-bacterial products, viewers with iTV would expect to be able to
click their remotes and pull up a detailed feature on safety in the home
and perhaps a more techie piece on how anti-bacterial products are
made,’ he says. ’That’s before they have even considered buying them via
However, before broadcast PROs contemplate selling the benefits of iTV
to clients, there are still hurdles to overcome within the broadcast
industry itself. Richard Pemberton, broadcast manager at Citigate Dewe
Rogerson, says PROs are in the same boat as advertisers - fighting the
lack of a generic UK format for electronic delivery of interactive
’For example, if a client spends money on iTV for Sky Digital, then they
would have to spend the same amount of money to deliver those same
features on OnDigital and then on cable,’ he says.
Another problem is that, in the current climate, evaluating interactive
services for clients is very difficult. On-line iTV shopping providers,
such as Woolworths, can draw certain conclusions from their sales
figures, but BARB has only broad-brush viewing figures of who is
watching what on digital channels.
If a client demands details of which elements of its interactive service
were winning or losing an audience, it is impossible to tell
However, even when these problems have been ironed out, persuading a
client to use iTV may be difficult. ’Interactive TV means companies are
placed in a situation where they are not in control,’ says
’Any spokesperson would need to be trained to talk not only to
journalists, but also as part of an on-line forum. In addition, they
would have to deal with viewers calling up and asking questions.’
This is echoed by Peter Wallace, head of broadcasting at the Press
’Interactive TV turns every viewer into a potential interviewer,’ he
’Questions could be fired from the public on their sofas directly to the
studio, which means every interviewee needs to be ready to answer almost
any question coming from any quarter.’
Viewers’ perceptions of the quality and enthusiasm of such a company
spokesperson would have considerable knock-on effects. ’An interesting,
lively interview could directly influence a viewer’s decision on whether
to access the supporting on-screen information, the on-line company
brochure, or even order a product,’ says Wallace.
The main benefit of iTV for broadcast PR practitioners seems likely to
come from hard-pushed broadcasters demanding more content. Whether it is
video, comment, graphics or text, this will mean building relationships
to tailor compelling messages in an appropriate format.
At a basic level this is simply a matter of information management, but
broadcast PROs will also need to implement better media planning.
And, with the inevitable proliferation of interactive digital channels,
Stuart Maister, senior vice president of Medialink International, thinks
companies will have huge scope to develop programme sponsorship.
As an example, he cites Commercial Union’s recent tie-in with ITV’s
London’s Burning, where the insurer produced a leaflet on preventing
fires in the home. ’The opportunities to expand this sort of
relationship with additional information on-screen are enormous with
iTV,’ he says.
But once such activities enter the realm of moving images, regulatory
issues about advertising and sponsorship come into play.
The Independent Television Commission (ITC) is already addressing viewer
awareness of the difference between regulated broadcasting and the
unregulated internet. The ITC has held meetings and seminars with iTV
providers about developing principles that provide guidance, but also
allow for future broadcast changes. Later this month the commission will
issue a consultation paper on the subject.
Some within the PR industry are also cautious as to how iTV will
’I think it’s very easy to get carried away by new technology,’ says
Shandwick Broadcast managing director Tessa Curtis.
’Right now iTV is new, so most of the programmes are a bit of an unknown
quantity. Until we know the nature of the audiences, what the value to
the client will be and what the requirements are going to be, I’m not
Still, Shandwick is far from keeping its head in the sand when it comes
to iTV; one of its clients, Abbey National, is already involved with
But with so many technical problems to overcome and couch-potato viewers
to win over, the long-term benefits of this new technology are
There will always be a proportion of the population who prefer not to
shop on TV - research from The Future Foundation indicates this is
currently almost 50 per cent - and many who like to consume their TV as
However, as the experience of the internet has shown, the PR industry
needs to be prepared. The old battle for who should supply content will
be given new life.
PR is the most qualified medium to provide what is effectively editorial
content, so iTV could be a real opportunity to reinforce PR’s claim to
be the leading marketing discipline in the new information-rich
LET’S GET TOGETHER: What’s on the agenda at News World 1999
Broadcast PR professionals will get a chance to mull over the
implications of new technology and rub shoulders with top international
broadcasters at a dedicated conference for PROs in this sector next
From 2-5 November 1999, News World, the global summit for the news
industry is taking place in Barcelona. Now in its fifth year, the
rapidly changing world of information delivery has prompted the
organisers to hold their first dedicated PR day. This will examine the
needs of the PR industry and its relationship to the cutting edge of
’PR has traditionally been about print journalism, but broadcast news
needs PR and PR needs broadcast news,’ says News World International
managing director Kerry Stevenson. ’We think this is a real opportunity
for the PR community to find out about how the process of news-gathering
has changed over recent years and what the implications are.’
The day will open with an introduction by Simon Bucks, a UK broadcast
consultant who has spent 25 years in the TV news industry with ITN and
LNN, and has a firsthand understanding of the gap between news and
He will be followed by Bell Pottinger chairman Lord Bell, who will be
speaking on why PR needs to wake up to the opportunities offered by TV
and the internet. This will include an insight into creative approaches
to new delivery channels for the 21st century.
This topic will be expanded by ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis, who,
with a TV, radio and internet remit, will help delegates navigate the
complexities of how news providers have reinvented themselves to handle
Other speakers to watch out for include Julian Sher, the Canadian
founder of journalism.net - reportedly the world’s most popular internet
tool with journalists - and David Mannion, who is present in conjunction
Mannion will address the issue of tri-mediality and the implications of
convergence, where the cross-fertilisation of TV, radio and on-line
means PROs need to tailor a one-stop press release that meets the
delivery needs of all formats.
The day will be interactive, with plenty of scope for audience
Delegates can also expect a robust send-off from former BBC News chief
and current CNN president Chris Cramer, who has forthright opinions
about the PR industry. www.newsworld.co.uk
THE INTERACTIVE REVOLUTION: In future viewers can be their own TV
Analysts at Datamonitor reckon that by 2003, one in four households in
Europe and the US will have access to interactive digital television
services, with the market for iTV growing by 45 per cent each year over
the next five years.
So, what developments can we expect to see in future? Will iTV simply
fragment current TV audiences, or will it enrich our lives?
Already, companies such as Videonet are providing video-on-demand
channels, where viewers can order films to start at their convenience.
Similarly, there have been trials to add an interactive element to quiz
shows, so that viewers at home can test their knowledge against
At the moment, the most immediate area for expansion is likely to be
sport, not least because Sky Digital has made a significant investment
in its interactive Sports Extra channel. Beyond the current football
offering, we can expect Sky to roll out interactive rugby, golf, tennis
For consumers, the key word will be choice. In this new world, viewers
will be their own producers, selecting which pieces of the action they
want and from which angle. Peter Wallace, head of broadcasting at the
Press Association, thinks that not only will there be more niche
programming, but also an element of cross-fertilisation between
’Broadcasters are still developing ideas for the next generation of
services, but we can expect a number of masthead TV programmes with
print media titles appearing on digital television,’ he says. ’Good
broadcast PROs should be talking to both sides, and getting their
promotional ideas on to the programmers’ drawing boards.’ Citigate Dewe
Rogerson is already doing exactly this on behalf of clients including
investment portfolio company Close Wealth and a number of pension
The agency is in talks with Invest TV, which is looking to start
broadcasting a three hour interactive personal finance programme, Simply
Money, later this year.
There is also talk that iTV may become more ’intelligent’. ’Some people
predict that, eventually, viewers will be able to watch a programme on
the Bahamas, check their bank balance, find the best holiday deal and
pay for it all through their remote control,’ says Phil Anderson, head
of financial services at Charles Barker Europe.
’More impressive, however, is that this information will be processed
and the next advertisement to appear on their screen will be for travel
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: 24-hour retailing service
The arrival of the Open channel on Sky Digital has paved the way for a
two-way channel of communication for the 17-plus retailers that have
signed up to the 24-hour service. Already, the 1.2 million subscribers
to Sky Digital have automatic access to Open and this is set to increase
as the first phase of Open’s pounds 20 million push to launch its
service draws in more customers.
So how do retailers plan to use this new interactive medium to position
their brand and talk to customers creatively?
’By its nature, food shopping is quite functional and people want our
service to be straightforward and easy to use,’ says Hilary Berg, head
of PR for Iceland. On the new channel, Iceland will have a dedicated
editorial site with moving images, for product showcases, customer
recipes, competitions and information.
Providing this content will sit within the remit of the marketing
department, but Berg is adamant that her PR team will be very much
At the moment, she thinks the greatest advantage of this one-to-one
dialogue with consumers will be the opportunity to tackle the issues
that Iceland and its customers care about. ’We will have room to talk
about our cause-related marketing work and the stance we have taken
against genetically modified foods,’ she says. Open will also provide an
extra forum to discuss Iceland’s ’Fighting for better food’ campaign,
which from 1 October will mean all own-label products are free from
artificial colourings and flavourings.
Other Open retailers are primarily addressing issues of
According to Woolworths spokesman Mike McGann, the retailer is focusing
on ensuring that it actually delivers on its service promises to
customers, but on-line independent CD, video and games reviews may be in
the pipeline soon.
Banking giant HSBC, which sets up shop on Open later this month, has big
plans to differentiate its brand on-line. Since the beginning of
September the bank has used Charles Barker to create a launch event
featuring former Eastender-turned-pop star Martine McCutcheon. It has
also developed four humorous on-line scenarios, including Tara the party
girl, who checks her bank balance before she goes out for the evening,
to reinforce the benefits of its service.
’As the first bank to offer telephone banking, ten years down the line
it’s quite appropriate that we are the first to offer our services on
television,’ says HSBC media relations manager Nicolette Dawson.