Who's got the remote?

Sara Calabro looks at the PR opportunities as consumers gain control of what they see on TV.

Sara Calabro looks at the PR opportunities as consumers gain control of what they see on TV.

The impact that personal video recorder (PVR) technologies such as TiVo and ReplayTV will have on TV advertising has been talked about again and again since their inception. Over time, however, the conversation has evolved into something focused less on the possible detriment to advertising, and more on what the evolution of consumer needs means for all marketing disciplines. Although PVRs seem to be catching on at a slower rate than was originally expected (today, approximately 600,000 households - about 1% - are hooked up with the technology), the trend they represent is undeniable. Consumers are gaining more and more control of what they want from home entertainment. With hundreds of cable stations to flip through and technologies that allow viewers to skip whatever elements of a program they don't want to watch, it is up to marketers to find a way to keep an increasingly sophisticated public interested. For the PR industry, that means raising the bar on what it has always done: integrating material into content. "All TiVo really does," according to Doug Simon, president of DS Simon Productions, "is demonstrate the need for the rest of television to catch up with what the video news release (VNR) and satellite media tour (SMT) business has already been doing for years." Cutting through the clutter As more marketers look to reach audiences in ways that cannot be screened out, increased competition for the same airtime will require more creativity and originality in messages, as well as an increase in the quality of content. "PR, like all forms of marketing, needs to cut through the clutter in this environment," says Susan Cashen, VP of marketing for TiVo. If PR is able to do that, according to Larry Moskowitz, president of Medialink, the concept of interactive television presents "one of the largest opportunities the PR industry could conceivably witness." In other words, the traditional broadcast PR tools - VNRs, SMTs, and b-roll - are all embedded into news programs, so they cannot be skipped over. Moskowitz explains, "What is immutable and historic is that important and sexy news gets on the air. If clients want to maximize their exposure on television with a reduced value of commercials, they are going to have to figure out exciting ways to inject themselves into news programming." And when it comes to the news media, Moskowitz feels that advertising could "turn out to be a bull in a china shop." In theory, it would seem as though interactive television presents nothing but endless opportunity for PR. "Integrating content has been our model forever," says Simon, "but advertising is going to have to change its model to keep up with the changing climate." Mike Hill, president of News Broadcast Network (NBN), agrees. "PR is in a position to have a little more fun and take advantage of these new opportunities because it has less to lose. Advertising is going to have to work harder because it's in a position of having to defend itself." Advertising adapts True as that may be, it would be na?ve to assume that the $60 billion television advertising industry has not been preparing itself for the inevitable need to move beyond the 30-second spot. Last month, Porsche and Acura became the most recent brands to take part in a new advertising trend conceptualized by TiVo. Showcases, which, according to Cashen, "are building momentum," are four-minute ads that are available for a two-week period. During that time, viewers can essentially choose what information they want to see about the product. An "iPreview" tag that appears on the screen allows the viewer to watch a standard 30-second spot, or see additional information and content on the product. Advertisers can also alert viewers with a call to action, an internet address, or directions to a Porsche or Acura dealer. Since TiVo came up with the concept last year, showcases have been used most often by the entertainment industry. Best Buy, Universal Music, New Line Cinema, and 20th Century Fox have all invested in the long-form, opt-in advertising. Porsche and Acura join Lexus and BMW in the category of automotive companies experimenting with the trend. "TiVo may have been a catalyst for the changes taking place in television marketing," says Cashen, "but it is far from a death blow to advertising. It's about educated consumers knowing what they want." Citing TiVo's ability to evaluate users' viewing habits - in aggregate and anonymously - Cashen concludes, "The bottom line is that consumers tune in if it's good and entertaining content." John Wolfe, SVP and director of public affairs for the American Association of Advertising Agencies, predicts that "the idea of commerce meeting content is what you are going to start seeing." Shoba Purushothaman, CEO of The News Market, agrees. "Your corporate brand needs to be deeper than it ever has been before." Product placement - think James Bond sipping Finlandia vodka in Die Another Day - is becoming increasingly popular, as are brand-sponsored television shows. "In some ways, this is a return to the early days of television, when there would be sponsorship for an entire show," recalls Wolfe. ABC Family Channel recently aired What's Your Wish, a reality show sponsored by Limited Too. In celebration of its 16th year of fulfilling the fashion needs of tween girls (ages seven to 14), the apparel retailer held a contest for which the finalists got to meet with the celebrities of their choice. The one-hour show follows the six girls meeting with celebrities such as teen idol Aaron Carter, singer/actress Beyonce Knowles, and two WNBA players. One finalist's wish was to have a chance to model for Nestle SweeTARTS. At the show's conclusion, one winner was selected and treated to a surprise concert at her school by musical artists Solange Knowles and Play. Produced by Dogmatic, the show was of course filled with Limited Too products and mentions. "What's Your Wish goes above and beyond product placement," says Michael Santorelli, executive producer for Dogmatic. "This is a new trend of actually developing content to be shown on TV, and representing a brand. This kind of integration brings PR and advertising together, rather than positioning them against one another." Limited Too paid Dogmatic to be the show's sponsor, but it actually had to pitch the idea to ABC. The apparel retailer did not have to pay for the airtime. Opening the path to integration Tim Bahr, president of MultiVu, agrees that the increasing trend of consumer control creates an opportunity for PR and advertising to work together. "We have been making a more proactive attempt to market our services to ad agencies. Fortunately, this shift is happening at a time when the technological advances taking place in the PR industry are going to allow us to better serve the needs of advertisers," claims Bahr. Adoption of a platform like Pathfire's Digital Media Gateway (DMG), for example, which delivers VNRs onto the desktops of participating newsrooms, is indicative of the broadcast PR industry moving toward a mindset that is more traditional to how advertisers think. As the two disciplines become more synchronized in terms of the emphasis placed on targeting and measurement, a harmonious integration is bound to emerge. Honing the precision of advertising through technological advances will bring increased credibility for the broadcast PR industry and pick up of VNRs. And as this happens, PR expertise will prove itself an invaluable asset in the world of television marketers who are in search of the next best way to grab the attention of viewers. "Before, all you had to do was know you had placement on ABC, NBC, and CBS, and all your bases were covered," recalls NBN's Hill. Now, several hundred cable stations and an internet-privy public later, "it's about pulling out a real formula to figure out who you're going to reach and what those viewers really want." Cable demands a new approach Previously only a familiar sight on hotel televisions, Video on Demand (VOD) menu screens are now popping up in the living rooms of consumers. Available through major cable carriers, VOD - a generic term, rather than a brand name - offers subscribers options for viewing movies, other feature programs, and educational or 'how-to' segments. Viewers can start, stop, rewind, and fast forward. For cable companies, it's an attempt to divert dollars away from video stores. For marketers, the technology further exemplifies the need to integrate messages into content, as consumers are exerting increasing control over what they watch on TV. Larry Moskowitz, president of Medialink, believes that the PR industry's ability to capitalize on the opportunity presented by VOD lies in its expertise in turning a client's messages into informational news stories. Medialink is currently working with an undisclosed automobile manufacturer to develop a VOD segment that educates viewers on winter-driving safety tips. Despite the automaker funding the project, "The educational value overtakes the product, which is what is going to get people to want to watch these things," claims Moskowitz. "The profound change is that there is no journalist gatekeeper," he says. "This concept of viewers making the decision instead of journalists is something the PR industry needs to get its arms around. It rewrites the rule book." ----- Remote possibilities A recent survey of 322 households with a PVR revealed: 21% never watch commercials live 23% never watch commercials recorded with their PVR 1% always watch commercials (both live and recorded) 79% deliberately choose to watch particular commercials 35% "very likely" to take suggestions to go to the internet for more information 23% willing to take incentives to view ads 65% watch more kinds of programs with PVRs 55% watch more channels with PVRs 60% no longer surf through the channels with PVRs Source: The PVR Monitor Wave III, C Cubed, October 2002

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