The 'Myth' Of Commerce-Enabled Interactive TV

by , May 9, 2012, 9:09 AM
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Is it possible the concept of truly commerce-enabled interactive television is nothing more than a myth?  From my perspective -- specifically that of a consumer -- I’m starting to think that’s the case.

The most hyped fantasy involving interactive television is the promise of “hot-spotting,” or commerce-enabling TV shows.  The idea is that a consumer will see an outfit that’s being worn by a celebrity on a show, pause the show, and buy the outfit through image-embedded tagging.  Many companies have tried this, and almost as many have found a way to make it a reality, but consumers aren’t buying it.  It’s not caught on online, and I’m not sure it’ll catch on through television anytime soon.  The reason is deeper than just the commerce-enablement.  The root of my point is that consumers don’t really want it -- they’re not in the habit.

Consumers like TV for a specific purpose: as a diversion and escape. When most of the people I know sit down to watch TV, they’re winding down from a hectic day, looking to pass the time and disengage until they go to sleep.  If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The idea of looking to interact, and even potentially looking to spend money?  It’s starting to feel a bit far-fetched.

I’m not completely knocking the concept of interactive TV as a whole, though I do think it will be many years before a truly interactive TV experience catches on to the masses.  I’m just saying that we as an industry need to adjust our expectations for what we think the future of television is going to look like. 

Socially enabled and digitally enabled TV are also close, but still not quite there, due to the same reason: Most Americans watch TV as an escape, and they don’t want to be high-touch.  They don’t want to be bothered. 

There are some exceptions.  Once in a while a show like “LOST” comes along where the viewer has to be highly engaged to understand what’s going on – but it’s definitely not the norm.  Reality TV shows like “American Idol” do have viewer interaction through voting. Yet while audience votes do help drive who stays in the competition, they don’t have immediate impact. The result is delayed by 24 hours.

Sports programming has the most promise of any of the areas that have tested interactive and commerce-enabled television to date. Sports are aired in real time and rarely DVR’d, can be socially enabled, and might even lead to being commerce-enabled due to the immediacy of the content. And the sports audience is indeed looking to supplement the experience with stats, etc.  They’re not passive.  They’re highly engaged and very high touch.  That interaction can be measured, and it can be utilized in a deeper fashion by the leagues, etc.

The element still to be addressed is the habit of the consumer/viewer.  What are the habits that need to be changed?   What environment has to be created for  consumers to watch a show and spend money while they’re in a relaxed, passive mindset?  That habit needs to be addressed before programmers will be able to create an environment ripe for the future of commerce-enabled interactive TV.

My bet: There needs to be a sea change in the TV landscape in order for this to happen.  If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s still 15 years away.

6 comments on "The 'Myth' Of Commerce-Enabled Interactive TV ".

  1. Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate
    commented on: May 9, 2012 at 10:02 a.m.
    TV programming guru Paul Klein advised years ago that 'people don't want to interact with their televisions.' He's never been proven wrong.
  2. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media
    commented on: May 9, 2012 at 10:35 a.m.
    15 years is a great inside bet. And with the adoption of the 3rd screen/tablet, probably longer, if ever. And what Darrin Stephens said.
  3. Rick Monihan from None
    commented on: May 9, 2012 at 11 a.m.
    No question. As younger generations feel increasingly comfortable interacting with their screens, this situation may change. Currently, however, TV viewing is passive entertainment. In 1995 I attended a conference on convergence of digital/TV/phone. Several firms were pushing the envelope, calling it 5 years away. Only one firm stepped up and said 15-20 years, and not because of technical limitations, but generational shifts in behavior/adoption. As we know, the 15 year bet was closest to the truth. We can't expect behaviors to shift overnight, even if we are technically capable of doing things a certain way. These behaviors have to develop with a younger generation and feed 'upward' into older demographics. There's always the chance that Darrin's Paul Klein statement is correct, too. I believe there is some truth to it, but making it an absolute is entirely likely to make it incorrect.
  4. Raymond Galis from Media Artemis
    commented on: May 9, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
    Dead on Cory. Until consumer habit evolves this platform is just ambitious with great potential, but it will be a while before its viable.
  5. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct
    commented on: May 9, 2012 at 6:04 p.m.
    Absolutely. As an ex-hi tech guy in TV advertising I've followed this for 20 years and watched failure after failure follow the incredible hype. In part, visiting a website or calling a service number is far too easy. One reason this interactivity fails is that it doesn't offer any significant value to a large enough audience. And, consumers prefer the slight delay time of checking online - its an important shopping cautions that we've all learned by being far too impetuous. If this is to work anywhere, it will have to be in a trusted shopping channel like QVC where there is habitual purchase and watching TV is solely a shopping activity. Yet even there is has been slow to catch on. Is this, perhaps, just one more example of a technology looking for a reason to exist?
  6. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff
    commented on: May 9, 2012 at 8:17 p.m.
    The closer we get to screwing with the stuff at the core of what makes TV work — lean-back, relax, and let yourself be entertained — the more carefully we should tread. It’s easy to criticize TV for being mindless entertainment. But sometimes that’s exactly what people crave most: an escape from their lives. I predict 100 years from now people will still be watching reruns of "The Honeymooners" -- and we'll still be wondering when Commerce-Enabled 3D holographic video will at last hit its stride.

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