The announcement featured grandiose sound-bytes like, "the best of TV and the best of the web in one seamless experience" and "spend a lot less time finding what you want and a lot more time watching what you want." Conspicuously missing, though, was any information about advertising via Google TV.
Turning to Google TV partners doesn't shed any light on potential ad formats. (It does, however, expose a potential branding problem Google has on its hands, as Sony calls it Internet TV and Intel calls it Smart TV. Only Logitech calls it Google TV.)
Sure, as a consumer, I love the idea of Google doing for TV what it's done for the Web but, as a marketer, I also want to know how Google will do for TV what it's done for the Web.
By that, I mean, how will Google TV make television advertising more relevant, measurable, and profitable?
The only mention I could find related to advertising on Google TV was from the beginning of the presentation at Google I/O, when Rishi Chandra points out that there's $70 billion spent annually in the U.S. alone on TV advertising. So, clearly, TV advertising is on Google's radar. But nowhere in the rest of the footage from I/O -- including a panel moderated by Eric Schmidt with the CEOs of Intel, Sony, Logitech, DISH Network, Best Buy and Adobe, and all the official material posted online -- is there any discussion of how Google (or anyone else, for that matter) intends to capture a bigger share of that $70 billion in U.S. through Google TV.
Is it possible that Google, as it did with Web search, will launch a product without any advertising as a way to generate adoption? Perhaps. Although Google stands to reap plenty of revenue from search ads if more people use the Web on their TV sets.
Nonetheless, on the off chance Google hasn't yet figured out the proper ad format for Google TV, I thought I'd share some suggestions.
First, let's go back to my point about Google doing to TV ads what it's done to Web ads. Critical to achieving success for all constituencies with TV -- advertisers, content developers, networks, Google, and technology partners -- alike is incorporating four key attributes of search ads:
1. Non-interruptive. With search ads, marketing messages don't obscure the content, they sit unobtrusively in the margins. And, with sponsored search listings, they reach people in between pages on the Web -- i.e., moving from one Web site to another. This is an aperture when people are generally more open to receiving third-party messages. With Google TV, it's critical that people don't have to leave the content they are consuming to view and/or interact with an ad.
2. Consumer initiation. With search ads, consumers are able to choose which ad (or advertiser) they want to engage with. And they don't have to engage with any at all if they don't want to. They can very well just click on an organic listing that best represents what they're looking for and bypass the ads altogether. With Google TV, there's opportunity to change the paradigm from forcing viewers to watch ads to letting them decide they want to. The onus should be on advertisers to make their messages appealing enough and on Google et al to display them in a relevant context.
3. Mass customization. With search ads, marketers can show a different message to each consumer based on what he/she is looking for. This is possible because we have overt intent data from search queries along with other cookie and, sometimes, registration data. Google TV brings a greater emphasis on keyword search and, accordingly, will yield a treasure trove of query data by which marketers can better target their messages. As Google notes in its I/O announcement, there are 4 billion TV users worldwide. The real opportunity is to reach them one at a time.
4. Performance-based pricing. With search ads, marketers only pay if/when their ad is clicked on. This ensures marketers are generating actual engagement with customers and potential customers, and not paying on the off chance that an ad resonated (or was even viewed). Google TV must incorporate some sort of performance metric in its pricing to bring accountability to the platform.
With these features in mind, here are three desired ad formats for Google TV:
1. Hotspotting. The technology to make specific items in video clickable has been around for a long time. I remember seeing this demo in Microsoft adCenter Labs at least three years ago. Call it product placement 2.0 or true content integration. This format certainly checks the non-interruptive and consumer-initiated boxes -- and there's no reason the message that appears when you click something can't be customized and performance-priced.
2. Ticker-text ads. Let's bring AdSense to the big screen. We're used to news tickers and, now, tweets, scrolling at the bottom of our TVs. Why not toss in some ads? Just make sure they're related to the content playing at the time. And keep them confined to the box at the bottom and not overlapping any content. Additionally, when people click on the ads, let them choose if they want to play a commercial for the brand or be taken straight to the Web site.
3. Personalized video ads. There's no doubt the reason TV ads are so popular is because of the opportunities to deliver sight, sound, and motion on a big screen. Well, that and the aforementioned reach. Those opportunities should still be available with Google TV. We just need to put viewers in control of which commercials they want to see and when they see them. I'd like to see click-to-play video ads appear only after entire blocks of content play. In other words, when a show is over, display related ads and content that viewers can watch next, and let them choose. I wouldn't even be opposed to requiring one or two ad views (of the consumer's choice) before the next piece of free content can be accessed.
I'm sure with more time -- and word count -- I could come up with a few more ideas. Perhaps I'll pick this back up in my next column. In the meantime, what do you think the killer ad format would be for Google TV?