That high keening you hear from the East Coast is the sound of Madison Avenue and the big networks bemoaning the fact that you - yes, YOU - are no longer watching their commercials.
The problem's been brewing ever since those sneaky PVR companies - the TiVos, ReplayTVs and DISHPlayers of the world - first gave viewers a chance to skip the ads. And as PVRs have caught on, viewers are skipping in droves. Something that has the big wheels of TV in a dither. After all the dollars from ads fill the network treasuries, and the tube execs want YOU back in the saddle.
They have a point, of course. If you don't watch the ads, companies won't make them, networks won't get paid and - eventually - the programming well will run dry. A sad situation indeed if you believe that the current network business model is also the only network business model.
Here's where the future-gazers of TV part company with the networks. "If you're worried about people skipping over commercials, then you're worried about the wrong problem," says Michael Stebel of Ener1. Since Stebel's company sits near the heart of the interactive TV future (their output is found in DirecTV boxes, the AOL TV platform and numerous PVR products), the senior VP of marketing and sales has given some thought to the matter. And the right thing to worry about, he suggests is "how to get rid of commercials."
Indeed, a chat we had with Stebel the other day suggests a whole new outlook on television commercials - and one which we think network execs would be well advised to consider. "What we need to do," Stebel suggests, "is take time out of the equation. With interactive TV, you don't want to have commercials at set times. Instead, shift them to a more product placement model." Consider for example, the "Truman Show" model where an entire TV show ran without commercial breaks - the commercials were embedded in the programming. Or the recent episode of "All My Children" which revolved around Revlon cosmetics, an ultimate product placement if there ever was one. Now add interactive TV to that and you have, potentially, the ultimate in commercials.
Imagine, for example, Alexis Beldel of "Gilmore Girls" popping pictures with a new Canon Digital camera while at the same time a small (and, we sincerely hope, unobtrusive) button pops up in a corner of the screen. "Buy this camera now!" Or, as Stebel notes, imagine watching the World Cup when - via the miracle of digital imaging - an ad for your local car dealer appears on a billboard.
"It's such a rich environment," notes Stebel. And if the ad and network folks can just stop their moaning long enough to consider the environment, they might just get the chance to help fashion a new and better, for both advertisers and viewers, world of TV.
(Used with Permission)