Set-Top.com Integrates TV, PC Direct Marketing With Banners

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One of the biggest hurdles facing marketers in the rising interactive television industry is the competition between the media of television and the Internet that invariably results.


Many television programmers and advertisers fear that if people are constantly pushed to the Web for further information and commerce opportunities, they won't come back to the programs.


A company called Set-Top.com has developed a new technology that aims to combat that notion and at the same time create a whole new way for programmers, advertisers and networks to directly market their products to the public.


The technology, dubbed Click for TV banners, looks like a regular banner ad, but instead of taking a Web-on-TV viewer to an Internet site, it changes the channel on the set-top box. If they are on a PC, though, the ad server will show a regular banner.


In coordination with AdForce, with whom Set-Top has worked developing reporting aspects of the technology and a deal to serve the banner ads to I-TV providers, the company sent invitations to key programmers and advertisers to participate in a major trial focused on making the banners mainstream.


In less than a week, Set-Top received positive responses from a host of companies, said Tom Romero, vice president and co-founder of Set-Top.com, San Diego. Romero expects that the trial, which involves placing the banners on many different kinds of sites, will begin in September.


A smaller test with the Weather Channel -- which involved putting up Click for TV banners only on Set-Top.com -- has been taking place for a few months with great success, Romero said.


"Programmers spend millions of dollars a year to promote their TV channels, but there is always an interim step of the consumer having to remember to tune in the show. With these banners, a viewer will see the banner within 10, five minutes of when the show will start and they'll be brought directly to the TV channel," Romero said. "We've talked to pretty much everybody -- ad agencies, ad serving companies, the programmers, networks -- and they like the concept. It's very basic."


The trial will focus on a number of marketing aspects -- demographics, ZIP code, time of day, previous viewing habits and genres of interest. The banners, linked with most ad servers' technology, could also be used to please programmers and advertisers where it really counts -- ratings.


"The trial and working with AdForce will really work toward being able to use the technology and link it with current measurement technology like Nielsen ratings," said Jamison Ching, CEO and co-founder of Set-Top.com. "This is what programmers and advertisers on television really want. They see the targeted capabilities of the Internet and want to bring it over to television. This is what we are trying to do with these banners."


For example, Romero said, imagine that HBO is having a free trial. The banner could be used to bring in thousands of viewers who were otherwise surfing the Web on related sites. Romero also said the banners could be used for future I-TV applications such as alerting surfers to Internet play-along, live auctions and programs that feature t-commerce.


"Once they are there, we may be able to track how long they stayed, if they went back to the Web or television, if they purchased anything. The ramifications for directly marketing products and programs is tremendous."


The banners could also be used to help further integrate other industries, like direct response television, said Jeff Meltzer, CEO of Jeff Meltzer Direct, New York.


"This really is something that could change everything," Meltzer said. "To be able to push a person surfing the Web directly to an infomercial or a direct response spot through a banner is tremendous. The tracking available is also something that is vital to direct response marketing. Being able to see who, when and from where a viewer comes is very important."


Another appealing aspect of the technology is that the banners are generated "on the fly" by an electronic programming guide. That means, for example, that each half-hour the guide would send a signal that changes the banners to highlight a new program.


So, if ESPN wants to remind sports fans on the New York Jets home page that "SportsCenter" is on, up would come the banner as the program is about to begin, generated wholly by the program guide and the ad server. This will give marketers an easy way to guarantee their clients that their ad will be a direct response banner, not just a regular click-through, said Tim DePriest, director of strategy and new media at AdForce, Cupertino, CA.


Click for TV banners can currently be used on systems such as WebTV, but Romero says the company is hoping other services, such as AOLTV and WorldGate as well as set-top manufacturers Scientific Atlanta and Motorola and cable operators Cox and Comcast, will work with companies such as ICTV and Liberate to create their own branded I-TV experiences.


"We are getting a lot of interest, and we are very excited," said Romero. "We are going after investor funds. Things are looking very promising. We are talking to many companies, even other ad servers, but AdForce knows this and understands because it is such an important new technology for direct marketing to the public."

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