[Editor’s Note: Don’t miss our iTV/advanced advertising Webinar on Wed, July 21. More info HERE]
 
If you subscribe to CableFAX Daily, you saw today’s Q&A with Canoe Ventures COO Kathy Timko and are probably wondering whether this is it—whether this is finally the moment (or the cusp of the moment) that iTV and advanced advertising starts to weave itself into the fabric of television. It’s an interesting question. Many indications suggest that iTV will snowball slowly but surely in the coming months. But what will it look like? And how will viewers react?
 
The truth is that absolutely no one—regardless of their industry experience, pedigree or lofty level of intellectual brainpower—has the slightest clue how iTV will play out over the long term. Few believe it will whither and die, partly because of the massive industry efforts behind it and the Internet’s huge influence on consumer behavior over the last 10-15 years. Consumers “get” interactivity now. It’s how they live. But it’s anyone’s guess which forms of iTV will really “stick”—especially when it’s unclear whether the lean-forward nature of the PC will translate as seamlessly to the TV and the living room.
Some camps believe iTV will primarily become a vehicle for advertisers, allowing them to target specific demos and “engage” them with special offers and informational widgets that create more loyalty and, ultimately, higher sales. Others believe iTV will become more “social” in nature, allowing viewers to communicate while watching their favorite shows and/or use those widgets to interact with those shows and each other in new ways. Polling is an obvious enhancement to any game show or reality show. People can more easily play at home and even influence the outcome of a particular program. Theoretically, nets could extend this kind of viewer power to the scripted TV realm—although the idea of viewers voting for whether a character does this or that seems gimicky, logistically problematic and, in most cases, an unwelcome intrusion into the whole reason people watch fictional TV shows: To be transported into the show’s world. Give too much control to viewers, and it sucks all the surprise and fun out of the experience.
 
Most observers split the difference on this and assume that iTV will combine advertising, marketing, social media and audience participation into one big soup of interactivity. This could create a win-win of sorts, creating a robust interactive environment that satisfies product marketers (who, after all, basically fund most of what we see on the screen) but avoids creating a noisy carnival where barkers constantly assault the senses. Consumers have other options these days, including the Internet. They will leave if iTV becomes a nuisance.
 
So far, the cable industry has proceeded cautiously on the iTV front, making sure to get the technology in place and work out all the kinks before going forward. But this is about more than technology. It’s also about the consumer experience and figuring out which iTV “apps” will ultimately enhance TV viewing rather than detract from it. That will be the challenge for all parties involved in the coming months and years. iTV can be a great way to create some parity between the Internet and TV experience, taking the best from both worlds to combine them into something that exceeds either medium. As long as the cable industry proceeds with caution and always keeps viewers top of mind.

(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).

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