Don’t Just Sit There!

I came across a marketing study from the United Kingdom that examines why there is, as yet, a low rate of interaction with interactive television in the British Isles. The report summary that reached me via the Informitv newsletter suggests that consumer education could persuade more viewers to press the red button that toggles interactive content. Those who shell out $800 for the complete report, entitled Passive2Active, will presumably learn the tricks of the trade. But you can enjoy my somewhat jaundiced analysis here, for free.

Informitv neatly summarizes the main findings. There are two groups, roughly equal in size for statistical purposes, who are either “dedicated interactors” or “bitter ad haters.” In addition to those groups, roughly half the total sample, exist three other cohorts with neat marketing names: unimpressed pragmatists, apprehensive stargzers and unengaged passives. How can this troika of interactive refusniks be reached? Informitv quotes BBC interactive TV maven Emma Somerville: “The BBC has a major role to play in educating audiences and the industry as to the benefits of interactive TV.”

The report is the work of Zip Television, a British firm that appears — I only discovered them this morning and am writing off a superficial analysis of their website — to be part advertising agency, part technology provider for interactive applications. Zip works with a consortium of advertisers who believe in the value of interactivity and appear willing to support it.

Zip provided some additional details about the study on its website, including this excerpt that addressed the opportunity that would exist if only more viewers would interact: “2 key clusters, representing 52% (8 million) of Sky Digital’s viewing audience, are ripe for exploitation given correct targeting and messaging.”

Such verbiage may be the language of business, but it makes me feel like someone is out to strip-mine my wallet. I get the image of bright people sitting around a polished conference table brainstorming how to train TV viewers to press the red button much as Pavlov once conditioned dogs to salivate by ringing a bell.

Oh, well, it may work. There are some natural targets for interactivity that tap into basic human impulses. A cursory web search turned up a Guardian story about an interactive gambling show called Challenge TV where — later today should you find yourself in the UK — you could interact with a show called Takeshi’s Castle. A blurb on the Challenge TV schedule says: “Comedy game show voiced by Craig Charles in which Japanese star Takeshi Kitano plays the lord of a castle fortified with giant games. Contestants vie for a cash prize by attempting to storm the castle and defeat Takeshi.”

Those of us in the colonies can only hope that interactivity one day insinuates itself into the highbrow fare that we have come to associate with British television. For instance what if the red button came on during Rumpole of the Bailey, letting viewers hit She Who Must Be Obeyed with a jolt of electricity whenever she gives the old hack a hard time for drinking Chateau Fleet Street. Or during episodes of Prime Suspect, viewers could be asked: should Helen Mirren undo another button on her silk blouse. Press the red button for yes, yes, yes!

One last thought. I found another interesting bit on this morning’s search of things Britsh and television. There exists in the UK a group called New Media Knowledge that appears to help wannabe content creators. According to the site: “Whether you’re a freelancer just starting out or the director of your own company, we provide the knowledge you need to realise your creative and commercial potential … Since we began as New Media Knowledge in 1998, we have been supported by the University of Westminster, one of the UK’s leading educational institutions for digital media.”

Sounds suspiciously socialist to me, but then who am I to judge. I don’t even own a powdered wig.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media