EBIF at the Starting Gate Some Cause for Optimism

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

The year ahead shapes up as a major watershed in the history of ITV. The cable industry has built a field if not of dreams at least of practical scale and utilitarian value, which if it performs as claimed will provide the long-awaited reach and easy-to-deploy functionalities that have always been crucial to getting ITV off the ground.

So will they come?

Any long-time reader of ScreenPlays knows these pages have reflected considerable skepticism as to the industry¹s ability to meet its timelines and to coordinate execution on the complex EBIF infrastructure, including all-important validation of transactions and app performance across so many diverse networks. Indeed, there¹s still plenty of room for skepticism, given the EBIF proposition has yet to be tested in commercial implementations on a national scale.

But there¹s also reason to expect the existence of a market base numbering at least 20 million set-tops and growing rapidly will prove irresistible to the legions of entities, from individual developers to big consumer goods and services sellers, who want to bring digital commerce to the TV screen. Ironically, in this sense, over-the-top has been a boon to cable goals, because the efforts of consumer electronics manufacturers and facilitators like Yahoo! and Google TV have wetted suppliers¹ appetites for extending what has been a PC- and mobile-based market for apps, e-commerce and interactive advertising to the TV set.

Granted, EBIF doesn¹t deliver anything approaching the razzle-dazzle of graphic-rich apps on state-of-the-art connected TVs and set-tops. Indeed, that¹s the whole point. Do you want razzle-dazzle or do you want scale?

The betting here is that scale will prove extremely attractive notwithstanding the rudimentary text-based nature of presentations to users. The question is what in the way of low-key messaging will work in the 30- and 15-second-spot world where millions are spent on creating the most outrageous, visually arresting modes of pitching products ever seen?

Click your remote on this button to request more information about this product? Right. And be sure to sort it out when it shows up in your junk mail.

Click to buy? Click to receive a discount coupon? Click to talk to someone who can help you book your dream vacation? Click to find out where and when you can watch this movie in your area ­ and buy your tickets in advance? Maybe so.

As reported on page 1, the advertising community is full of big ideas about how to transform advertising to work in a connected multi-device world. These are ideas that will take much experimentation and hard work to put into play, not to mention patience waiting for the connected TV to deliver its share of the mass market base advertisers are looking for.

Meanwhile, there¹s a mass market of bargain hunters and impulse buyers who just might bite on the chance to take advantage of a deal, especially when clicking on the prompt button to find out what¹s on offer adds some variety to sitting through a spot they¹ve seen a hundred times. If there are enough offers with sufficient incentive behind them to build a mass market sense of expectation when those prompt buttons appear, engaging in television commerce could become as routine as e-commerce is today. In fact, the uptake could eventually cause advertisers to embellish their spots with messaging that induces people to check out the offers. At which point the plain-Jane interactive component would have the full-screen video clout of Madison Avenue¹s creative forces behind it to drive consumer engagement.

The good news for cable operators and advertisers is the t-commerce support system is ready to deploy, as evidenced by the progress icueTV is reporting in putting its platform to use with various cable interests (see p. 17). What remains to be seen is whether a sufficient number of players will take advantage of what the cable industry has put in place so as to begin educating the public that there¹s something worth looking for behind those prompt buttons. It will take awhile, but the opportunity to do something beyond linear TV advertising in the near term could be just what an advertising industry hungry for something different needs.