Enhanced Programs Go Beyond TV

Thanks to the Internet, powerful PCs, DSL lines, fast cable modems and — most importantly — savvy marketers, producers and providers of content for television have a powerful new opportunity for delivering enhanced and interactive programming to their audiences.

Program and content providers in many media are gearing up to use enhanced interactive programming to engage their audiences, providing traction in ratings and revenue by remembering the overriding principle that we are market driven.

Enhancements work not only with television, but also with a variety of radio and music productions. But the best way to get the ball rolling is for marketers to set down objectives for what the enhanced programming will do for any company, audience or advertiser.

Most television programmers want to engage their audiences. By enlisting consumer participation, they increase the value of the programming, which means building viewership and ramping up the time spent viewing. Yet, the bottom line is to increase sales and brand loyalty with an upscale consumer who is ready to watch, play and buy with a click of the mouse. According to the Gartner Group, Stamford, CT, some 44 million people are active on the computer in the same room with the television on. This provides awesome ratings opportunities to re-attract that person from his e-mail or Web surfing to view television and participate with its enhanced interactive programming.

Enhanced television is more than just pulling down a program menu, capturing e-mail or reading chat from viewers. It allows programmers, advertisers and consumers a hand in the creative process, whether playing along with a game show interface or a sporting event, participating in a live news opinion poll or auctioning product live.

Interactive radio offers a great opportunity to focus in on 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours. The key is to be able to click on the computer for music with as much ease as turning on the radio. Workers can be doing something on their Excel spreadsheets while listening to the music of their choice, getting news, checking sports scores, finding out how the commute will be on the way home, entering to win a trip or clicking on an advertiser’s home page. Now listeners can find out who the artist is, buy a CD, view advertisers’ television commercials in sync with the audio on the radio, or enter Webcam-enabled radio contests geared for in-office listeners. Advertisers now get closer to the consumers and the point of sale, bringing them to their e-commerce opportunity to browse and order.

Many stations are making the transition from over-the-air to over-the-Web broadcasting, becoming the nation’s first virtual radio stations. The huge demand from audiences is apparent in hard-core listeners who claim they will make the transition with them from the radio to the computer. Again, the key will be building revenue by offering sponsors and advertisers unique opportunities to increase sales and awareness of their products and services. Then, new ideas in contesting — such as click-to-win, advertiser home page links for sweepstakes, and even requests via computer — will provide the traction for new sources of revenue from interactivity.

The music industry, with its super groups, superstars and their respective labels, also is making great inroads with interactive and enhanced opportunities. Now CDs played through the computer can link fans and their idols through “closed circuit” PC broadcasts and chat via the Internet. The goal is to build a walled garden and closed community of fans globally, by offering closer engagement to their acts, introducing new performers, and of course retaining the music and merchandise purchase opportunities.

After you set objectives for what your company hopes to gain from enhanced interactivity, and what benefits you wish to bring to the consumer, here are other things to consider:

Starting with the network and regularly scheduled shows or individual programs, make the mechanics of the enhanced experience easy for the consumer. Make your custom player launch off the network’s home page, the portal by which network identity is built and reinforced with its visual branding. Make any system preflight upgrade just a click away, and make any download easy to install.

Pay attention to corporate branding. Many networks brand their interactive programs with their names, and this is the way most enhanced providers expect things to run. If you are using all media, brand across the line.

When designing the PC user interface, be true to the program’s format. Tied to the broadcast on a second-to-second basis in total sync, the interface can be constantly changing, as opposed to a Web site’s static pages.

Think about who the viewer is, why he likes the show, what enhancements will add to it and what viewers would like to experience with interactivity. They should be able to get more information on things covered in the program, replay video highlights from the show, play along with a quiz about content, buy equipment, or respond to polls or issues pertaining to the programming. By covering areas of interest from the producer and viewer’s standpoint, enhanced and interactive programming seamlessly becomes part of the show itself, whether a two- or one-screen experience.

Then it is time to promote. On-air pre-promotion by the network or organization is important, so there is time to download any components, to incentivise the downloading process, and to promote the interactivity on air and online, which is critical to success. E-mail any installed or existing database with reminders about the show and when it is on. Now that the show is ready for prime time, make sure the delivery of content is consistent and try to anticipate viewer needs to keep it fresh.

•John Armstrong is founder of SpotMagic, Inc., San Francisco. Reach him at

[email protected]

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