Digitas' Lozito Sees Opportunity In iTV And Second Screens
As head of Digitas’ tech operations in North America, Joe Lozito steers a team looking to transform brand interactions across multiple platforms. Of course at Digitas, the emphasis is mostly on PCs, smartphones and tablets. But Lozito envisions the digital agency helping clients take advantage of the TV screen – whether through interactive advertising, second-screening or other tactics. (It’s already producing TV spots.)
A visit to the Digitas Innovation Lab in New York -- a source of pride for Lozito -- offers some insight into the agency’s plans in the TV space. The Lab provides an opportunity to check out TV content synched with an iPad and remote control functionality with voice recognition.
Lozito, senior vice president of technology, took some time to discuss the evolving TV experience from a marketing perspective with MediaPost.
An edited transcript follows:
Digitas has focused on engagement with digital and handheld devices. How does the TV differ? Is it just another platform that allows you to extend what you’ve been doing or does it offer unique opportunities?
TV is a passive experience, it’s a lean-back experience. The phone, the tablet, the PC are all lean-forward -- every few seconds you’re touching them or changing them or making the content behave in some way for you. So the question becomes, how do we bring that interactive experience to what is just a flat-screen viewing device?
You could imagine the TV becoming basically an enormous tablet on the wall, so it has that same type of interactivity. It’s less about the set-top box and the remote control as we know it -- and it’s more about almost an operating system behind that TV device. But I think that’s pretty far in the future.
So what we’re looking at in the near-term is the second-screen experience. So, using one of these lean-forward devices as a companion to the lean-back TV experience.
Do people really want the TV to offer a lot of interactivity? In a frenetic world, maybe the passive experience becomes even more appreciated?
People want to escape, sit back and watch entertainment. I totally buy that. But there are statistics that people are using a second screen, another device, 60% of the time when they’re watching TV.
I think there are going to be different types of TV watching experiences. There’s going to be appointment viewing as it used to be called. Things like “Game of Thrones” or “Mad Men” or these events like “American Idol.” But then there’s going to be other shows, maybe reality programming like a “Jersey Shore,” where people aren’t going to devote their full attention to it. They’re enjoying it and they’re watching it, but they might be tweeting, they might be looking up stuff about some of the stars, they might be engaging in some kind of community activity. TV is not a one-size-fits-all thing.
Then, when you get into sports it’s a whole different ball of wax because I think it’s really a communal activity. To be able to engage with a larger community while you’re watching your favorite team, that’s where a second-screen device could really come into play.
No question lots of people are using a digital device while watching TV. But how do you get them to move away from Facebook and email and experiment with synched viewing, where an advertiser could really benefit? That seems to be quite a marketing challenge.
For me from a technology standpoint, I need to enable our big marketing brains at the agency to know what tools are in the toolbox, so that they can make those creative decisions. But I think what you’ll hear from marketers is (second-screen content) has got to be relevant, it’s got to add value. It can’t be disruptive. It can’t be something that we’re just trying to throw out and force people to use -- even if it’s something that seems to be offering some sort of incentive.
We’ve got to get some brands that are willing to test and learn to see what people are using and start to tailor some relevant and value-added content to this behavior that’s growing. To take it to the next level, there’s one other barrier. Second screening requires you to start some sort of app on your device in order to synch with the TV and that’s a real barrier to entry.
But we’re working with technology vendors like Qualcomm that can embed the ability to synch with the TV into the (digital) device itself, so I think in the future that what’s you’ll see happening. The device becomes a lot smarter and the burden is less on the consumer to have to figure out how to sync and it becomes just more of an augmented experience -- that’s where you would see engagement getting higher and higher.
You may not be able to mention particular clients, but when you talk to them about second-screening do they want to experiment to get ahead of things in case it takes off or are they excited because they see some ROI within a period of months versus years?
There are two (clients) in particular that sponsor sporting events and see second-screening coming in the very near future – like six months. So, this year you would see a second-screen experience potentially on a sponsored sporting event that would provide some value-added content to the user experience. I think they see it as something that would boost acquisition as well as brand engagement obviously.
At Digitas, interactive TV could be another prominent service you’d offer. As being a full-service agency means continually adding capabilities, how important is that?
It’s vitally important. Everything we talk about now is around this multi-screen experience. We don’t create destination Web sites anymore. It’s flipped now. The destination is actually the consumer and for us it’s about creating a brand experience that can manifest itself on any screen. We have this sort of unprecedented contextual ability to touch consumers via whatever kind of screen they’re in front of -- if it’s their phone, tablet, desktop or now TV ...
There’s a lot going on with the remote control. It’s no longer all about punching buttons. What opportunities does that offer to make the TV viewing experience better?
The last couple of years at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) we’ve seen gesture recognition and voice recognition. I still haven’t seen it get to a place where either will usurp the value of the dedicated handheld object that changes the channel and volume for you.
Imagine gesture. For anybody who’s played with an Xbox Kinect, it’s a lot of fun and cool. But it’s not the most precise thing in the world and you can imagine it getting a little bit hairy when you’re lying back on your couch and you’re trying to change the channel and you’re waving your hands all around and it’s not responding.
On voice recognition, anybody who’s tried to have a computer recognize your voice knows it’s not the most intuitive thing in the world. If you’ve got your kids in the room and you’re having to scream at the TV, I don’t think that’s quite there yet either.
Then, there’s the ability to use these second-screen devices as remote controls and that’s a reality now, too. Most of your set-top boxes have an application that you can use like a remote control, but I think that gets in the way … because you don’t want to stop whatever you’re doing with a tablet and bring up a remote control.
So, there’s this battleground for the remote control right now, but I don’t think anything has kind of bubbled to the top to take the place of this dedicated piece of hardware, which I think works really well.
Look ahead five years, how important will interactive TV be in the marketing mix for Fortune 500 clients?
Immensely important. It’s going to be another very valuable channel. TV in 5 years is going to look a bit different than it does now, it’s going to be more than just a single viewing experience. There’s going to be more going on than just the show you’re watching and, of course, that’s going to include opt-in (opportunities).
This has nothing to do with TV. But in your Innovation Lab, you’re experimenting with 3D printing – a very intriguing technology lots of people are talking about. Explain what it is and what an agency might do with it?
Basically it’s the ability create physical objects from a 3D model ... it’s actually spitting out plastic. It allows us to create anything with a printer we can model -- which is more or less anything.
There are competing 3D printers out there with slightly different variations on how to print the physical object, but by and large it’s the same kind of thing. This completely disrupts manufacturing and distribution the way Napster disrupted the digital music industry. It gives us the ability to print out any sort of thing potentially for free.
Right now the models that we print out are pretty rough. They’re not the quality that you would get at Toys R Us with an action figure. But you can imagine in the next couple of years as these printers become better and better and cheaper and cheaper – right now they’re about $2,000 – if we can’t figure out the copyright laws around this, and people just use a Napster-like site to upload models of their favorite figures, and people download them for free and print them out and there’s your holiday gift …
There are some really kind of dangerous aspects to this that we as marketers need to get in front of. The reason it’s in our Innovation Lab is we have to make sure our brands are thinking about this -- maybe we start even offering 3D models of certain of our brands’ stuff. We can get in front of it and say, ‘Hey you can get it straight from us, you don’t need to get it from the underground.’ We can start to get people engaging with the brand with this new technology.