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New TV-Set Tech ‘Reminds’ Fickle Viewers Their Show is On

New smart-TV app tells viewers about a show about to air - even if they're playing a video game or streaming a movie

TV viewers are using TV sets to watch things that have little to do with the traditional couch-potato players, but one company is experimenting with technology that tries to draw streamers, gamers and surfers back to the screen’s original purpose.

Visible World, a New York specialist in interactive advertising that counts Comcast, WPP and Time Warner among its investors, has been testing a new smart-TV application that turns the screen into an alarm clock of sorts. Viewers who use the technology are reminded when a particular program is on – even if they are playing a video game or watching Hulu or Netflix.

Reaching those people and drawing them back to an old-school TV program has become critically important for TV networks, who are finding it harder and harder to get the word out about their programs using their most plentiful asset: their own airwaves. For decades, TV outlets have relied on “promos” that offer what are essentially “coming attractions” of new episodes. When viewers are drawn elsewhere, however, the messages are less effective. To alert viewers about new programs about to launch in the next few weeks, for instance, CBS is plastering messages on yogurt cups while ABC and NBC are streaming sneak peeks online and via mobile tablets.

“Gone are the days of being able to graze” across TV channels, said John Collins, managing director of broadcast and interactive television at media agency Media Storm. The agency has been involved in Visible World’s testing. “Content discovery, to me, is one of the biggest challenges we all have.”

The app is made for LG Electronics sets. TV networks can arrange to have an on-screen “overlay” appear during their promos that asks viewers if they want to set a reminder for an upcoming show. If a viewer chooses to do so, the app, displays a friendly prompt just before the show is about to start. TV networks can remind viewers about a program they expressed interest in, just one or two minutes before the show is about to start, no matter what is being watched on the TV set (or even if the content is not from a traditional TV source) .

Development of the app suggests the new, hidden power that may be lurking in the latest iteration of the living-room TV set, which lets consumers toggle from watching something on CBS to playing Xbox to streaming “House of Cards.” One of the few certain ways of reaching that person and getting promotional messages to them may be harnessing the machine itself, which gives new leverage to manufacturers like LG Electronics and Samsung.

The number of connected TV devices sold worldwide will reach 330 million annually by 2017, according to consumer-electronics research firm Parks Associates, almost double the number to be sold in 2013. In May, Parks found 63% of smart TV owners connect the set to the Internet, and 79% of these owners use the TV to watch premium online video on a monthly basis.

To be certain, the number of the new-fangled TV sets currently in living rooms makes use of them limited, said Claudio Marcus, Visible World’s exec veep of marketing and research. Simply put, a TV network couldn’t reach the sheer number of potential viewers it would need to make such advertising cost-effective. But he expects TV networks will want to use the app to see what data they can glean about how interesting their promotions are to TV watchers.

National Geographic Channel has been using the app as part of a “beta” test, said Courteney Monroe, the network’s chief marketing officer. She expects to use the information about how people use the on-screen reminders to determine what promos work best in which parts of the country and also whether to tweak how much resources are allocated to on-air promos compared with other kinds of marketing. “Viewers have more options than ever. There is such a glut of choices,” she said, so programmers would welcome data telling them what promos drove more tune-in.

Nat Geo used the Visible World app to test response to promotions for “Doomsday Castle,” a leap from its popular “Doomsday Preppers” that has one alarmed U.S. citizen building a castle in case of apocalypse in the Carolina mountains.

Because the app requires viewers to signal their interest in the program, Monroe said, TV networks can use it to figure out which promos drive a response. Does advertising on a particular network help? Do promos placed in certain geographical regions generate more interest? Or do the promos themselves need to be tweaked? Answering the questions may take some guesswork out of the job of hyping a new show. “We want to play in all those spaces that have the potential to drive consumers’ decision,” she said.

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