TV stencil by USB, via Flickr

Author: Matthew Kershaw (@mattski2000), Content Director, BBH London

There is a frothy bubble of excitement growing around the future of Connected TV.

At CES back in January, it was announced that the connected TV category is forecast to ship over 123 million connected TVs  a year by 2014. With overall ownership to reach 1 billion by 2015.

Just this month,  Philips announced that they have 1 million active Net TV users.

And all the major players are piling in: Google are still behind Google TV, YouView are finally preparing to launch with the ultimate boss, Lord Sugar, Virgin have just launched their Tivo service, Sony made a commitment early and even Apple are still just about in the game with their AppleTV device. And then there’s Anthony Rose, the genius behind the  BBC iPlayer and ex CTO of YouView, now championing two-screen interaction.

With all this hype and excitement, you’d think that us ad folk would be talking about nothing else, combining as it does ad land’s two big obsessions: the power of television and the interactivity of the internet.

So why are we holding back?

Is it just a hangover from the ‘red button’ experiment? Or perhaps, having got on board with the message that ‘TV is dying! The internet’s the future!’, combining both of them is just too big a step to get our heads around.

There is certainly a problem with the way it’s being sold to us.

Since its inception, television has had a delightfully simple and focused proposition: you turn the box on and you are pushed rich, engaging video content. If you’re bored, you can change channel and watch something else.

Recent developments like Sky+, HD, 3D and especially video-on-demand are all effectively enhancements of the same principle. TV, but better (or more convenient).

Too often though, the way Connected TV is marketed obscures and complicates all that is great about TV.

It gets in the way of the video content; displaying a bunch of stuff over the programming. Or worse, turns what should be a shared screen into a one-viewer experience.

I wonder whether people really want to get a Twitter stream cluttering up their TV screen. Or surf Facebook. Or get the weather. Particularly when there are better screens available to do it on.

But don’t get me wrong, underlying all of this there are two incredibly exciting developments in the world of TV. One is being spontaneously driven by audiences, in a completely uncontrolled way.  The other, in complete reverse, is being created by The Man, the conglomerates who control television.

The first is that, without any official prompting, people are grabbing their smartphones, laptops and iPads and using them to interact with the TV to unheard of levels:

  • 42% of American consumers surf the internet while watching the television (Deloitte)
  • 86% of US mobile Internet users are using their mobile devices at the same time as watching TV (Yahoo!/Nielsen)
  • 72% of under-25 mobile internet users in the UK post comments on TV shows using Twitter, and 56% do it on Facebook (Digital Clarity)

So people definitely want to interact with their TV – they just don’t necessarily want to do it through their TV.

In other words:

It’s not about people watching connected TV.

It’s about connected people watching TV.

At the same time as viewers are spontaneously socialising around TV, the powers that be are also adding some extraordinary technology, using broadcast infrastructure to do incredible things.

Broadcasters like Sky, Cablevision and DirectTV are all on the verge of being able to play out targeted advertising using demographic data they hold on their customers.

We’re talking here about proper TV ad breaks, targetted at specific households.

Taken to its extreme, in this new world, the Royal Household might think that the new face of Robinsons is Sophie Dahl while the rest of us get Stacey Solomon.

Or while we’re getting adverts for the Audi A1 (on-the-road price £13,950)  the Abramovich family see adverts for the Audi R8, (on-the-road price £87,350).

Put simply, all the behaviours that currently accompany advertising on the web are going to be brought across to TV advertising:

  • The formats, the measurement and analysis
  • The real-time changing of copy and iterative approach to creative
  • The laser-like focus on ROI and direct response

In other words TV advertising is about to become; fully targeted, completely measurable and highly interactive. It’s like the Brian Cox of advertising. The rock and roll of his ex-band D:Ream married to a career as a theoretical astrophysicist. And everyone loves Brian Cox, don’t they?

And that my friends is a revolution. It’s the future we’ve all been promised. The winners will be those who can change how they plan, create and produce their output to engage with consumers in this new world.

So what does this mean for agencies specifically? More on that in the next instalment, which will be about five actions creative agencies need to take to contend with the TV of the future.