For Rick Mandler, who runs ABC's Enhanced TV Division, interactive television is not a question of if but when.
Mandler's division has been high-profile of late, engaging thousands of viewers on such ABC events like college football bowls, the Super Bowl, and the Academy Awards. He said it's been a long time coming, but that the promise of interactive TV has arrived and is now being demonstrated with Enhanced TV.
"Interactive television has been a great opportunity that's going to happen any day, and it's been that way for many years. There's definitely reason to believe that the current situation is a better place to fulfill that promise," Mandler said. "Today there's a significant installed base on interactive-capable set-top boxes in both digital cable and satellite. They're not high-powered boxes, most of them, but they provide the platform for applications. Interactive TV has definitely arrived."
A lawyer by training, Mandler came to ABC 11 years ago, starting out in the legal department at ABC News. He went from there to the network's business affairs department, negotiating talent for ABC. He's also worked with ABC Radio, helping to transition it to the Internet. He then advised ABC's owned-and-operated television stations on relaunching and improving their websites and businesses. He's now vice president/general manager of Enhanced TV at the Walt Disney Internet Group.
"We look at the growing digital infrastructure of television as a real opportunity. We can start to reach into the $200 billion-plus spend that currently happens in direct marketing," Mandler said. Enhanced TV is focused on using the tools that digital TV offers -- its infrastructure, directed advertising, copy splitting, and fine geographic targeting. "Enhanced TV has two technologies, its own for two-screen interactive TV and another for single-screen interactivity through a deal with Open TV/Wink. Mandler said Wink has a "critical mass" in the interactive platform that no one else does. He added that it and other technologies are ways to provide new and more effective methodologies for advertisers to reach consumers. "They're able to find out what's happening at the point of brand message, while also tracking both the number of unique users and the time spent connected to an interactive TV application," Mandler said.
Mandler added it's not surprising that viewers are more willing to interact with content than advertising, but to the extent that one can support the other, it might be a win for everyone. For instance, the Coca-Cola promotion for ABC's coverage of the American Music Awards used Wink to provide contextual, integrated sponsorship opportunities. "It's clear to me that some shows lend themselves to interactivity, and others don't," Mandler said. He said that, while sporting events and game shows -- along with reality programs -- lend themselves better so far; it's a tougher call with sitcoms and drama, but they're working on it.
"More and more clients are asking for something in addition to just a television spot. The great thing about interactive TV is that it is that and more. It's a way to fulfill the clients' needs, but it's still more. It complements the television buy and improves it," he said.