A partnership between two technology firms may lead to improved set-top boxes and a new tool for advertising. Gist Communications and Etronica recently announced the deal, which would allow viewers to find specific programs on related subjects.
Electronic program guides are nothing new. They’ve been available on cable for a while, often with an infomercial playing in a small window somewhere in the screen. They’re also a staple in satellite TV. In the years since the Internet gained popularity, they found their way into websites where viewers can find what they want to watch in the 500-channel universe. Gist’s site has more than 4.8 million registered users.
“With digital advertising, the ability to time-shift programs with TiVo and ReplayTV, and video-on-demand libraries, people are beginning to be overwhelmed with navigation of content. They need more than the two-dimensional time grid,” Etronica CEO Jim Saake says.
Gist.com will be testing Etronica’s enhanced search features, which not only provide exact-word matches but also deliver results that are contextually related. Saake says Etronica’s software uses an algorithm based on analysis and word frequency to extract words that are relevant to the meaning of the text. In the application for interactive television, the program descriptions are analyzed and keywords are metatagged. Not only can the metatags be used to help viewers find programming and related content, they can be used to target advertising.
As viewers interact with the content and the electronic metatags associated with it, the communication can be personalized for them. Etronica and Gist are keenly aware of privacy concerns, which could squelch the advertising aspects before they get off the ground. Saake says the companies have no interest in tracking the television programs that people watch; they’re interested only in tracking the tags associated with that content to help viewers.
For instance, a viewer profile could show that someone in the household has a high frequency of watching golf programs. Over the course of weeks or months, the profile would be built to show the preference. If there was a high frequency over a period of time, then advertising or other messages could be served (with the viewer’s permission) that would interest them. And unlike other technologies that purport to do the same thing, this wouldn’t require any level of participation by the viewer. Profiles can also be time-stamped to determine the viewership in a given home.
“We don’t know where the market’s going to go at this juncture,” said Jim Cantolini, CEO of Gist Communications. “The mission of Gist is to help the TV viewer, once he picks up the remote control, to find out what he does with his time. We are there to get them to get the right solutions. In one fashion or another, we’re going to develop that.”
Gist’s concern is how to get the advertising community comfortable with the technology. But Cantolini is under no illusions that it’s going to happen tomorrow or even the next day.
“I think it’s going to be a matter of growing awareness,” Cantolini says. He says it will depend on the advertising community’s willingness to use it, the technology, and the consumer’s wanting to participate. Right now the Gist website is trying an entertainment-oriented approach with a series of trivia games that deliver advertising in an appealing form.
Cantolini says that ultimately, the idea of directing people to programming will help the advertiser in the growing world of TV channels and video on demand.
CurrentThinking: The Mind of the Market
by John Gaffney
This one is way out there. Or maybe “way in there” is a better way to phrase it. A new book slated for publication in February has a fairly innocuous title: How Customers Think: Essential Insights Into the Mind of the Market (Harvard Business Press). But it’s much deeper than the title. The thinking behind this thinking is actually at the subconscious level.
Gerald Zaltman takes on the daunting task of penetrating the consumer unconscious to find out how the brain sends messages that lead to advertising attraction, and hence product attraction. (Don’t try this on a white board at your next meeting.) Zaltman focuses first on the concept of metaphors: “Metaphors direct consumers’ attention, influence their perceptions, enable them to make sense of what they encounter, and influence their decisions and actions,” Zaltman writes. “Understanding and influencing consumers’ thoughts and decisions — and designing more valuable offerings for them — requires an exploration of the metaphors they use.”
Among the more famous advertising uses of metaphor is Prudential’s Rock of Gibraltar, or MSN’s butterfly, or the Travelers’ umbrella. The neurological implications are explored, but planners and buyers will most likely get more out of research studies that show the practical effectiveness of metaphoric thinking. Example: A Mind of the Market study has shown that clients, creative staffs, and consumers respond unconsciously to neoteny, the retention of juvenile characteristics in adults. Anime figures, with oversize round eyes, are neotenic. “People perceive messages transmitted by a baby-faced person as more sincere because they see babies as innocent and honest,” writes Zaltman.
Take what you can from this scientific exploration of consumer reaction, and leave the rest. Plants work well in communicating growth. Games signify achievement. But war signifies aggression. You’ll start to pick up your own patterns from Zaltman’s theories. They will at least provide interesting happy hour discussion.
HotProperty: The WB
Nets’ Formula for success – go young and younger.
by Paul Gough
With a laser focus on its core demographic — ages 12 to 34 — the WB Network is the surprise hit of the broadcast season. No longer a second-tier network after the Big Four, The WB is the leader in network television kids’ programming. It has had a great upfront five years in a row; its ratings made gains in the new season through the November sweeps; and it is showing strength in new areas this season.
The WB started Jan. 11, 1995. Today it bills itself as the fastest-growing network among young adults because of the success of programs such as Seventh Heaven, Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Charmed, and Gilmore Girls. Although one of its first hits, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is no longer on The WB, Smallville and Everwood, two of its newer entries, are doing well.
The network, part of AOL Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System, is available in 88% of the country. It programs every night but Sunday, plus weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings for its kids’ lineup. “We’re having a great year. This has been a dynamite year,” says Paul McGuire, a senior vice president at The WB. The numbers bear him out: By early November, The WB was ahead of last season in total viewers (up 16% to 4.8 million) and was the fastest-growing network on television. Gilmore Girls and Smallville have reached all-time highs in demographics.
McGuire says The WB’s success this season is due in part to a strong schedule and regular series. “We haven’t done stunting or throwing specials and short-term players in where you can come in and out to get big numbers. We haven’t had to do that,” he says. He also says The WB’s overall success has been due to the vision and guidance of the network’s top-tier executives, Jamie Kellner, Garth Ancier, and Jordan Levin. The people who watch The WB know what it is and like it.
“The strength has been in developing originally scripted shows that get an audience and can become hits. The network has, by its own measure, created hits,” McGuire says. The WB’s biggest hit this season, Smallville, takes a new slant on an old character, Superman. In keeping with its demographic, it follows the Caped Crusader during his teenage years. This is its second season. “Smallville has been a monster hit for The WB,” says McGuire. It’s part of a lineup that makes Tuesday The WB’s best-performing night.
A new show on Mondays, Everwood, is considered a hit too, and not just with the young demographic. McGuire says Everwood, starring 50-something actor Treat Williams and two teenagers, has done well not just 18 – 34 but also 35 – 49. It follows the success of Seventh Heaven, which features both older and younger actors. “It’s a cross-generational piece and our third highest-rated teen show,” McGuire says of Everwood.
The WB is also doing some new things with its programming. It’s in the second year of a trial with TNT, another AOL Time Warner company, to run Charmed and Angel the week after they premiere on The WB. And it’s turned to a longer Sunday — from 5 to 7 p.m. — for reruns of Seventh Heaven and Everwood.
What’s next for The WB? Head of programming Jordan Levin told advertisers in October that despite its success in the 35–49 demographic, it wasn’t going to change direction. The network wants to build out on its success and shore up places where it’s not particularly strong, like Fridays. The WB recently broke into comedy with Reba McIntire’s show Reba and is trying to develop a audience following for a comedy with a former Nickelodeon star.
HowTo . . . Buy a Supersign in Times Square
by Amy Corr
New York's Times Square gets you an estimated 1.5 million pedestrians and 56,000 vehicles on a daily basis. Start by taking a walk through Times Square. Get an idea of where you’d like your sign to be, and what message you want to send. Next, talk to a sign company, such as Clear Channel, Sherwood Outdoor, or Countdown Entertainment, a promotional company representing 1 Times Square. Brian Turner, president of Sherwood Outdoor, emphasizes that a supersign is for branding and not advertising a new product. “Supersigns should be big, bold, and simple, and not have a written message on them. People are walking by your sign and will not stop to read its message.” The buildings at 1 and 2 Times Square — where the Coca-Cola and Budweiser signs roost — are considered the “gold posts,” or elite supersign areas.
It takes anywhere from nine to 12 months to build your supersign. Dimensions vary from 65 feet high by 41 feet wide to 10 feet wide by 50 feet high. Gold post signs are under a minimum 10-year agreement, and all other signs usually have one- to three-year leases. Monthly rents range from $30,000 to $300,000. For further information, contact Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, at 212-382-1083.
StartupCloseup: Red Eye
Chicago Tribunelaunches RedEye for young adults
by Ken Liebeskind
In an effort to capture the young adult market, a key demographic for many advertisers, The Chicago Tribune has launched RedEye, a separate morning tabloid edition of the paper published weekdays. The premiere issue hit the stands on October 30.
"It's a way to take the Trib in a new direction, and we're always looking to reach the 18-to-34-year-old demographic," says Tom Schager, advertising sales manager of RedEye. The paper has pursued other initiatives to reach that age group, including metromix.com, an online entertainment guide launched five years ago, which is tied to RedEye. Advertisers who buy full-page ads in the paper will get free impressions on metromix. "This advertising age base is so mindful of online, so we want to send them back and forth between the two properties," Schager says.
Metromix entertainment news will be featured every day in RedEye, with a special 20-page pullout on Wednesdays. The rest of RedEye is a mix of hard news, sports, and features such as health and fitness. The paper has hired a separate editorial staff to create it.
The Tribune plans to distribute 75,000 to 100,000 issues of RedEye, which sells for 25 cents at newsstands and will not be sold by subscription initially. Schager says the paper will be at least 40 pages per day and 60 on Wednesdays, with substantial color.
Schager believes a mix of new and traditional advertisers will be drawn to the new venture. Lookingglass Theatre Company, Caribou Coffee, and Village Cycle Center were among the new advertisers in a preview issue. The first issue featured ads from traditional advertisers, including Carson Pirie Scott, a large department store; Pontiac; General Motors; and BMW. Alternative-products advertisers who shun the Tribune, such as bars, nightclubs, and liquor, will be drawn to RedEye, Schager says. To encourage advertising between the two products, discounts will be offered on same-week RedEye and Tribune ads, Schager says.If RedEye is successful, the Chicago-based Tribune Co. could launch this targeted tabloid into the 11 other markets in which it owns daily newspapers.