Commentary

Imagining the Interactive Land Just Beyond 'Oz"

According to industry reports, “Oz the Great and Powerful” prequel has been just that. Its box office grosses topped all others for two weeks until it fell, but just to third, this past weekend.

In the online advertising business, “Oz” has another distinction.  Sony Entertainment’s Crackle, the multi-platform entertainment network, teamed with Innovid, the interactive video advertising firm, to use the movie to launch cRoll. That effort coordinates interactive ads across all platforms-- online, iOS and Android mobile phones and tablets, connected TVs and game consoles.

The movie’s gross so far is $177.5 million domestically and $314 million worldwide—with $150 million of that coming in the first three days of release. That would mean by now, “Oz” has made back just about everything it cost the Walt Disney Co. to make and market it.

In the byzantine financial world of Hollywood, that’s got to be somewhere between not bad and pretty good.

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Viewers who engaged with ads for the movie were invited to dig deeper, sending viewers to a photo gallery and biographies of the characters, for example. The ads themselves were placed in Crackle’s feature films and television shows and original content channels. 

Interactive ads across platforms is the future in the eyes of Zvika Netter, Innovid’s CEO, and he’s getting some confirmation of that with the “Oz” deal and more. Innovid recently raised an additional $11 million Series C round of financing, from existing investors Sequoia Capital, Genesis Partners, and T-Venture, and newbie Vintage Investment Partners. That’s a tangible vote of confidence.

“I think in the last month or so, with money from Sequoia and starting to do things on TV is kind of a signal to the market that we’re a much more mature global organization, that we’re the real deal,” he says.

“Oz” is a lot like hundreds of other Innovid advertisers, from auto companies to consumer packaged good manufacturers. The companies interactive schemes create a more involved consumer, who opts in watch a 15 second pre-roll and ends up deciding to spend another 30 seconds, or even more, watching interactive elements Innovid and the advertiser plug in.

When Innovid, founded in 2007, started cracking the interactive ad market, Netter recalled, “We had massive technical issues. Everybody had their own proprietary technology back then so it was very, very tough. And then, after that, mobile came and that was its own screen.”

 Innovid has thrived by learning how to deal with them all. But now, Netter is at the entrance to the next frontier—connected TV and OTT, where he’s sure the future is going. 

“It’s pretty clear at this point the basic way it will work, though I’m sure something interesting will pop up to change it some,” Netter said. “More and more content is being delivered IP. It may look like a TV, but at the end of the day it’s a a computer. There is a computer in all new TVs and that unit is becoming more and more powerful and can do a lot of things. It’s already there today but it’s a little bit clunky and people are not aware of it. But I think in a year or two it will be a lot more functional and more and more content will be delivered through that mechanism.”

And that, make no mistake about it, is good news for Netter’s Innovid, which at least in on a practical scale, was an early pioneer of interactive video, and stands to benefit when interactivity permanently adds another great, big screen.

But he thinks in the next couple years, the TV will take on more aspects of the smartphone, that “extremely powerful computer in your pocket. It has all your information in it, it’s very personalized.”

That’s what he sees connected TV becoming, too, as it becomes a part of the total media landscape and as connected TV becomes something a little more practical than something he today says is “more in the realm of science fiction or a CES demonstration. It exists today, but it’s not really useful.”    

 It’s more attitude than function, he seems to be saying. Smartphones, by now, are “a part of the mass culture. It’s not about the device or the technology. It’s the fact that my dad, who wouldn’t touch a computer, is now waiting for the [Samsung] S4 like he’s waiting for Obama’s visit to Israel...It’s no longer just a Nokia environment where somebody says, ‘Here’s the physical device, here’s the volume, here’s the channel and here’s what you’re supposed to do with it: Now make calls.”

He says he’s “99% positive” connected TV will be a far more intimate appliance, like that phone, and it will become part of the interactive tapestry consumers use along with their smartphones and PCs. But he’s not so sure advertisers will just rush in to the brave new world of online, interactive video advertising in one massive wave.  

“TV budgets are not going to switch to online video overnight. You’re P&G, you’re Coke. Whatever new tech comes out there, you’re not going to change what you’re doing right away.  [They say] ‘iPad! That’s, great. Let’s do another $100m, or here’s another $10 million.’ That’s nothing compared to what they’re going to spend on TV. I don’t expect a tsunami of budget shifting right away.”

No. Not right away.  But it’s coming.  Netter laughs:  “That’s how I sleep at night.”

pj@mediapost.com

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