There is a fresh challenge in developing a commercially viable transition of online from a static text site to a video entertainment environment. If we go back far enough, just as we saw ISP’s change from being the key jump points online, such as CompuServe (who?!) and AOL, morphing into portals riding of the back off web-based email, such as MSN and Yahoo, to be later complemented by search and the rise of Google. In this next development centered around convergence it will be the video content providers who are best placed to become the huge players. Though we have seen huge investments from Google and MSN recently into gaining a wider platform for delivering digital advertising, and especially in the realms of InStream advertising with their respective YouTube and MSTV, I am sure Virgin and Sky have their sights on challenging their positions for global online dominance, something I have long believed would happen to TV when I first moved to online over 10 years ago.

This is where I see the broadband TV channels having an exciting role in leading this change as well as a huge commercial opportunity. Seeing YouTube in one year develop to a business sale equating to something like ITV’s turnover shows the huge potential for online content within a short space in time. User’s search is being hailed over pre-planned distribution, but I hazard a guess that most people click on YouTube content that someone else has recommended to them as opposed to going and found themselves, besides, home recordings mean quality is unsustainable for developing actual passive TV style viewing – or is it?

One of the things that has come to my attention is the effectiveness of reach being fragmented in changing TV viewing habits – the difficulties of holding audience at fixed periods of 7-7:30pm to watch Coronation Street in which to intersperse with advertising, and the direct effect that must have on revenue to develop quality content within ITV. Not to mention the question of effectiveness for more frequent short-bursts of sponsorships such as Cadbury’s over their rival 30 second spots.

The same is true of online. The solution won’t be in re-purposing 30 second TV ads and make them clickable, as we have seen this is about as effective and innovative as taking a company brochure online and calling it a website. It also produces the same poor results – partly due to attention span and lack of desire to leave what I am doing, and partly due to the online world being a silent environment for the most part hindering audio-reliant TV ads. Consider NBC in US and now Sky already stating they will only take a maximum of 15 seconds for online placements – quite a bold move and in stark contrast from just bowing to working with advertisers 30 second assets to maximise revenue – both have led an industry challenge fuelled by a belief that left unchecked will have detrimental results on long-term shift.

What will be the pattern for Broadband TV with one hour shows online? Do we follow the rule that every 15 minutes we intersperse with 6×30 second ad spots or should those intrusive spots be 2×15 seconds every 10 minutes, for example – the truth is there is little research done at this time. When a user goes beyond the proposed browser-based 30 day catch-up service and downloads their episode of Lost to their iPod and is on the move, could those adverts spots be served dynamically via Wi-Fi and inserted live within the ad break? What happens when they login to their home media server to carry on watching their time-shifted version of Big Brother in a hotel room in Frankfurt, will we remember they have already a Halifax customer and serve the next ad in sequence, ensuring total relevance? Perhaps Halifax would want to up sell the user to home insurance to go with their mortgage or maybe Abbey wants to speak to that customer to convert them?

Is there room to challenge intrusive advertising with interactive product placement, where you think, ‘Hmm, nice shirt David Beckham’ – and on rollover it expands out some information, pauses the video and allows you to order one without clicking away, and then click to get back to what I was watching – thereby combining passive and active user engagement. Can that product placement be served dynamically into a masked out area – to one person James Bond’s drinking Smirnoff vodka, to another Vladimir?

And what happens when that video content is delivered on Microsoft Surface – when I place my can of Coke on the table in the middle of watching Big Brother, will the relevant video ad launch at that point? Will the screen fade red as white swirls whirl around my can and the music changes – environmentally aware behavioural advertising. Being able to video scrape the image content in the same way as you text scrape websites – look for Nike trainers worn within video and serve Nike ads contextually against it by hot-spotting the trainer as well as what happens when we look at content with immersive amBX and 3D screen technologies – with sound and lighting effects making those white swoosh’s rippling on the red walls around your room and a hand with that that can of Coke coming out the screen at you. All examples of dynamic behaviour-aware advertising within future passive entertainment streams.

It sounds far off but when I consider 10 years ago I didn’t even have a mobile and when I am now seeing friends link their PC’s running Vista to their Xbox and downloading content to stream to their TV’s around the home – whilst the world argues Blue-Ray or HD-DVD, the truth is streaming content will be here in force and mirror how MP3’s blew away the mini-disc or Super Audio CD argument – because for every disc I own, I will have 10 or 100 shows stored on a box somewhere. If the music industry has anything to teach us, it’s that IPTV will happen and fast! Why? Because convenience and relevance is actually more scalable then mere quality alone. The battle won’t be decided by search engine’s and user generated content, but in scheduled linear programme planning and in the distribution of commercially viable high quality content, with both content and advertising targeted to the users.

For the foreseeable future the commercial challenge will involve treading a balance between accepting standard TV adverts online, but carefully managing clients’ expectations whilst trying to educate them to better process by providing measurable ROI outside of traditional click-thru as well as evidence of changing media consumption. Providing companion banners where possible, so once the video ad has disappeared, there is a permanent reminder of the brand on screen. It will allow a user to interact via an expandable banner to delve into more content without the need to click-away, which will become even more important as the likelihood is that clicks will decline even more as users want to remain within a content area. It also offers greater revenue opportunities as well as piggy-backing off existing online formats and getting users used to inevitable change.

Looking at issues of scalability for advert delivery, whether production should be the responsibility of publishers or that of the creative agency, what will reporting look like when a media agency wants consolidation across all digital channels, are publisher-side ad servers capable of these new formats or even content managing them and what about effects on revenue streams when you engage with a third-party ad server. These are the issues that are paramount.

Though publishers for the large part have tried to go it alone and develop internal solutions direct for advertisers and cut-out the middle technologies, the problem of turning a plethora of video formats delivered to them into an advert that can be served highlights all kinds of problems when considering InStream advertising. Publisher-side ad servers do not support content inventory control or EPG’s (Electronic Program Guides) and the delivery mechanisms that do, do not readily interface with agency side ad servers – so until now the whole adserving industry has been stifled. A recent link between the industry players Eyeblaster and Brightcove is about to change all that, and this is just the start as the landscape changes into a much more open and realistic model for advertisers.

The new broadband only content appearing online, to complement traditional TV viewing offers a great platform to push boundaries for some of the newer advertising methods. They will offer an interesting trial for sponsored product placement as well as intrusive advertising. In the same way a user becomes interactive with the content, to see how the user responds to a timely inserted Ted Baker advert against the parallel of someone wearing a Ted Baker shirt that is hot-spottable would be an interesting test, not to mention competitions ranging from the need to interact with the cast and watch behind the scenes content to win a hidden sponsored prize. It is interesting to note that broadband games are also complementing InStream as I am aware that InGame advertising technology is for more advanced than InStream currently as was not hampered by DRM issues last year.

I believe advertiser’s are now at a stage where they are questioning where to place revenue and how to justify it, as they are very aware of the huge shift of user media consumption – let alone what will it look like – and there lays the opportunity. To date we have yet to offer target adverts against specific stories online in the same way as do in Press and TV, which currently only offers channels only. Combining knowledge from TV and online will ensure client’s feel comfortable in investing intelligently again with the confidence of relevant reach. We are going to have to see a knowledge share between television and online in order to define and win though.

I see a fantastic opportunity to focus on leading the shift in significant commercial budgets wrapped around quality content. I don’t see this as stealing money from TV into online, but combining the best of both worlds – answering the call for fragmented distribution and interactivity as well as passive engagement – where maintaining the quality of the content and effectiveness of linear pre-programmed suggestion matters. Where intrusive advertising at an acceptable frequency co-exists with the subtlety of product placements and find their natural symbiosis – yet all interactive and targeted dynamically against user’s behaviour. This will ensure a flexible revenue stream to ensure the creation of future quality content and the distribution of existing archives.

Long live the Long Tail…