Carat Interactive Debuts New I-TV Consortium

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Carat Interactive will debut in the second quarter iTVision, a consortium of consumer companies seeking to get a better handle on interactive television.

Through the consortium, Carat will be able to conduct a structured, formal test and evaluation of I-TV opportunities in the marketplace. The goal is to encourage advertiser adoption of the I-TV medium.

"Carat needs to understand this space too, since we're a media agency and we make a living helping clients target audiences," said Sarah Fay, president of Carat Interactive, Boston. "It's not just about buying media; it's about delivering messages with impact.

"The fact is," Fay said, "if in five years people aren't watching 30-second [TV] spots if they can skip them -- they already can -- then we need to know how to get the message through."

Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, projects that I-TV will be in nearly 40 percent of all U.S. homes by 2005. By that year, I-TV should account for $7 billion in commerce, $11 billion in advertising and $102 billion in offline sales.

ITVision will comprise three program phases based on Carat's proprietary Innovation Engine methodology of discovery, evaluation, implementation and analysis.

The first phase will cover response, the second will be transactional, and the final phase will include personal video recorders such as TiVo and ReplayTV as well as program guides.

Topics covered during these tests will include how consumers are using new I-TV services, how advertisers' messages should be adapted for this new technology, and the measurement of activity and success.

At the end of each phase, Carat will create a customized report of results, findings and benchmarks for the participant. This report is meant to help craft strategies for immediate I-TV efforts and return on investment benchmarks.

"It's an interesting time," Fay said. "Interactive TV is in its very formative stages, but all of the predictions out there say that I-TV will have mass-market penetration by 2005, which completely changes the way TV is viewed and the way advertisers will have to use tactics to reach their audiences.

"So this is basically a learning alliance to help clients in how this new medium can be used effectively as a marketing medium," she said.

Carat Interactive is part of Carat, the world's No. 1 independent media buying agency with billings of more than $12 billion. Claiming to be the largest interactive agency in the world, Carat Interactive has 21 offices worldwide, including five local outposts in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Its goal is to be in the forefront of I-TV adoption.

Fay said iTVision will invite participation from Carat's client base, though none has signed on the dotted line yet. She added that three clients in the pharmaceuticals, movie/entertainment and consumer electronics categories showed interest.

The participants typically are marketers that use TV as their primary advertising medium.

"We think we'll have to cap it at eight client participants," Fay said, adding that Carat is "open to having a competitor [agency] participate with us."

To avoid a conflict of interest, the consortium will not include two players in the same category.

In addition to advertisers, Carat will work with media vendors, equipment manufacturers, service providers, content developers and suppliers of I-TV applications and technology.

"It's not just about understanding advertising models," Fay said, "but how business models will change with this new medium."

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