StationBreak Debuts Targeted Set-Tops

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A free set-top appliance introduced this month by will allow companies to uniquely target ads and give consumers the ability to directly respond to commercials through their remote controls.

The StationBreak set-top box has three inputs: a power cord, a phone jack and a port for receiving television signals from cable, rabbit ears or satellite. The box functions through a television much like a standard video game. When a viewer turns to the appropriate channel, he is greeted by the StationBreak main screen. The box dials into a toll-free number and receives updates, which it stores on a hard drive for later use. These updates include e-mail, news, sports and local information and advertising, all either personally programmed by the user or through user profile and buying habit information stored on the company's main server.

Several menus allow consumers to store ads in an ad file and choose from the type of ads they want to view. Each ad that appears on the main screen is accompanied by a small telephone icon, which has a corresponding button on the remote control. The remote is equipped with a built-in speakerphone and alphanumeric keypad, which allows consumers to use it as a phone or keyboard.

"Direct marketing on television today is very untargeted," said StationBreak CEO Vernon Cheng. "Direct marketers know who buys from them and, particularly, they know who buys from them regularly. Television direct response marketers have customers who buy thousands of dollars from them each month. We offer them the ability to establish a direct link to those core customers that is not PC-based but television-centric. This is not an online Web-surfing device. It is designed to preserve the television experience that people are used to with added features and supported wholly by direct marketers."

The device's telephone connection and remote control will allow consumers to dial directly to the advertiser's call center or receive personalized e-mail and information about products.

The set-top box also allows DRTV companies to reach consumers after they have purchased a product. For example, immediately after making a purchase, a consumer could be called, sent an audio or e-mail or have a new ad placed directly on their main screen, which effectively becomes their own channel, without interrupting their television viewing experience or inconveniencing them. Viewers could also be alerted to relevant infomercials.

"The ads coming through this system are from vendors and merchants that the consumer trusts, has bought from and will buy from again," Cheng said. "There is also the added feature to consumers that this box is free. It is designed to be given away with other products pre-programmed for certain ads for a particular consumer that, of course, can be updated instantly."

The company plans to manufacture the box before summer and begin trials as a precursor to a larger rollout with direct marketers next winter.

"We are not interested in branding a new appliance here," said Cheng. "By working with direct marketers who have lots of different products, we get both a distribution channel to consumers as well as content at the same time."

Cheng said StationBreak also has considered using DRTV to introduce the product to the public and has even priced production and airtime, but plans only to use the venue after the marketing and manufacturing deals are hammered out. He also said the technology behind the box and the revenue model in place could be augmented to blend with other set-tops to offer both consumers and marketers even more opportunities.

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