In mid-November cabler Bravo began utilizing interactive TV technologist Navic's interactive voting and polling application for its popular prime-time program "Project Runway," a reality-based show featuring 15 designers vying for a chance to show their stuff at Fashion Week, win a $100,000 prize and develop their own line of clothing. The network enlisted carriage agreements with four cable operators -- Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and Cox -- across a variety of their markets. The interactive applications allow viewers to vote for their favorite "Project Runway" designs and contestants, as well as answer trivia questions, by simply using their television remote control.
In my opinion, this is an important step in the evolution and deployment of iTV applications in the digital television realm. Think about it. Representatives of four major constituencies -- cable operators, content providers, technologists and advertisers -- had to agree upon its value proposition and coordinate the effort without bruised egos hampering the initiative, as has so often been the case in the germination of past endeavors. Even though the numbers aren't in -- or if they are, not shared publicly -- the effort should certainly bear fruit:
Content Providers. NBC Universal owns 14 TV networks and 10 owned and operated (O&O) TV stations as well as affiliation relationships with a couple of hundred TV stations across the U.S. If its management deems the Bravo foray a success, wouldn't the next logical step be the migration of the model to its siblings? If that is the case and emulation is the sincerest form of flattery in the entertainment community, shouldn't we expect rivals to vie for deployment shortly thereafter -- and innovate to promote their distinctive personality.
Technologists. Navic has persistently evolved applications and deployed with the blessings of the cable operators: "voting and polling," request for interaction (RFI), telescoping, microsites, and its latest product to market, the TV ad auctioning, contextually program based Admira. Other technology companies, including Visible World and Invidi, are starting to experience traction with their new products as well. More applications, more opportunities for advertisers to engage and lavish the cable operators and content providers with revenue that might have been allocated to other mediums and/or to rivals within their sectors.
Advertisers. Brother International Corp., a company that manufactures sewing machines used in "Project Runway," is the sponsor of the initiative. To be honest, I'm not familiar with their name nor have I ever heard of them involved in the iTV universe prior to the Bravo sponsorship. Advertisers are continually looking for ways to engage TV viewers to interact with their messages -- with the ultimate interaction culminating in the purchasing of their product. Enticing iTV features, deployment, contextually relevant program environment, measurement and interaction are the keys to glean incremental revenue from existing TV clients and introduce those that have been shy of the medium to its salient qualities.
Cable Operators. In some media circles this initiative might be construed as a predecessor for a different project codenamed Canoe, which the cable operators have initiated to "standardize iTV technology so that it is scalable across all of their footprints" as well as showcase the power of interactive advertising to ultimately garner more TV ad revenue for their coffers. For all intents and purposes, the Bravo Project should help alleviate some of the cable operators' apprehensions about partnering with cable networks.
In a TV Board blog I penned on Nov. 13 entitled "A Project Named Canoe," I recommended that the operators explore cable network iTV partnerships: "We know what we will propose next is an anathema to some operators but we recommend that you engage with the national cable networks," I wrote. "They have content that advertisers wish to be associated with. If their inventory becomes interactive then it is a way to glean more revenue from the allusive national advertisers. A good one stop shop experience will spill over to local unwired cable system deals that are not tied to national programs but rather feel local but extend nationally - multiple markets at a time. The national guys already have a financial relationship with the national advertisers, who are investing more in cross platforming and digitally extending their reach. Revenue splits could garner more for both network and local organizations."
Hopefully, this "Project Runway" experience will serve as a prototype to further explorations between the two constituencies.
In my fashionable opinion, the beauties of Bravo's "Project Runway" are the cable operators, the cable network, the technologist and the sponsor... and, of course, the models. Bravo.