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TV nets must confront interactivity

Panel discusses user control, effects on advertising

The 30-second ad won’t go away in the face of TiVo, interactive TV and the Internet, but smart companies must adjust or risk being left behind, programming and tech execs said on a panel about TV’s future.

The panel, sponsored by the TV Publicity Execs Committee and held in Hollywood in conjunction with the semiannual TV Critics Assn. gathering, featured execs from Turner Broadcasting exec VP of programming Garth Ancier to the new prexy of Ancier bete noir TiVo, Marty Yudkovitz. In between were execs from CBS and Starz! Encore, media buyer Initiative Media North America and tech companies Gold Pocket Interactive and Real Networks.

“TV watchers want to be in control of the experience as much as possible,” Yudkovitz said. “I don’t believe they want to manipulate that, but they want to see what they want to see, when they want to see it. I don’t think that means the end of TV. They’ll just have to adjust.”

One adjustment: using TiVo’s advertiser “showcase,” which feeds trailers, sweepstakes and other additional material for viewers who click on the appropriate icon in a commercial. New Line used such capabilities in ads for pic “Austin Powers in Goldmember.”

‘Friendly to advertisers’

“TiVo users love this — it’s a service,” Yudkovitz said. “I’m saying we’re friendly to Hollywood, we’re friendly to advertisers.”

Such interactivity allows a viewer to spend more time with the ads that mean something for them, and less on those that don’t, said Joe Franzetta, senior VP of business development for ITV show creator Gold Pocket.

Ultimately, that will make for a better connection between viewers and advertisers, which is vital for long-term success, said Lucy Hughes, VP/associate director for Initiative’s IM Futures, which researches TV usage.

Ancier wasn’t so sure, saying Nielsen ratings show a dropoff of perhaps a third in viewers during ads. “People are watching 30-minute shows in 23 minutes. To say it’s a service to programmers and advertisers is not true.”

He predicted fewer shows will get made, because the economics won’t support it.

The most likely ones to get jettisoned are the more marginal programs, which can’t generate much in DVD or back-end syndication revenue, or be repurposed onto other channels.

He predicted it won’t be long before TiVo and its competitors make a bigger impact. The personal video recorder maker has been criticized for the slow uptake of its devices, despite the near-fanatical regard its users have for the machine. Most estimates say about 1 million TiVo devices are in the market.

But, as Ancier pointed out, “Virtually every single (cable set-top) box being made has a PVR capability, and virtually every DirecTV box.”

Live vs. prerecorded

“I don’t think it’s a question of whether they will proliferate,” said Richard Wolpert, Real’s senior VP of program acquisitions, planning and scheduling. “It’s a question of whether we will watch things live or watch them pre-recorded. I don’t think the 30-second commercial is dead, but it’s not as valuable as it has been in the past. ”

CBS exec David Katz said the networks will “do everything we can to preserve the 30-second spot.”

But just as the networks adapted to the effect of the remote control on ad watching, they’ll adapt to the next technologies. He said some kinds of programming are “TiVo-proof,” including sports, live breaking news, and even highly publicized reality shows, whose outcomes are quickly dissected in other media, ruining any suspense for recorders.

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