ITV’s Overlay Advertising Trial Panned
Troubled ITV is experimenting with ‘automatically placed overlay advertising’ to help revive flagging revenues. NMK’s Chris Lee canvassed opinion from around the new media industry about the move.
ITV is trialling advertising technology on its online news site which it hopes will help it reverse falling ad sales. The ‘automatically placed overlay advertising’ technology, developed by Californian firm Keystream, intuitively seeks out empty space on the screen – such as walls, roads or sky – and fills it with unavoidable advertising, such as branded images, logos and company messaging.
Simon Fell, head of future technology at ITV, told The Times newspaper that the technology had a lot of potential. “If there’s a scene in a programme where there’s time, then it could give us a chance to get an ad away. But obviously on television you won’t be seeing one of these appearing at a crunch point in a drama,” he said.
Keystream’s tool does not require an editor to find space, it does it automatically. It can even allow viewers to click through to a vendor’s site via the advert.
“We’re trialling it online, where it’s a manageable area and allows us to get feedback from both advertisers and viewers. It gives us another tool in the arsenal, and it’s subtle,” Fell added.
Consumers have been able to by-pass advertising during programmes since the inception of the video recorder, making it harder for brands to capture their audience’s full attention. Technology is going to be crucial for advertisers to avoid being skirted over by viewers, experts agree, although subliminal advertising is banned in the UK.
The new media industry gave a lukewarm reception to news of ITV’s trial, with some sceptical as to how much message absorption viewers can really stomach.
Ed Bartlett, UK Vice-President of in-game advertising provider, IGA, told NMK that ITV’s plan was nothing new and could, in the long term, prove detrimental. “Hollywood has done this for years in post-production as a veiled form of product placement. Such obvious, unnatural inclusion of unrelated information is almost certain to look forced, and is likely to lead to complaints from viewers and a further reduction in audience figures,” he said.
“This move smacks of desperation in a time where advertisers are looking for engagement, context and measurable ROI, and ITV would be better off focusing efforts in this direction rather than simply trying to fill space with logos,” Bartlett continued. “If ITV wants the kind of revenue it is hoping its new scheme will generate, it needs to ensure any advertisements create impact, not intrusion.”
One Big Turn Off
IMD (Independent Media Distribution) works with many of the UK’s top creative and media agencies, post production houses and broadcasters. The company’s CEO Simon Cox believes that embedding ad content raises important practical questions and content providers needed to be careful not to ruin programmes.
“Overlay leaves advertisers far too exposed to causing an adverse impact on their target audiences – why risk doing something audiences could feel is intrusive? There are currently other ways advertisers and broadcasters can up their game and they should be looking at those,” he said.
For Cox, being more intuitive is the key to attracting viewers to advertising.
“Broadcasters should be working on solutions like enabling last minute changes to ad content to reflect changing market conditions and making the advertising more relevant and powerful for consumers. For example - giving advertisers the ability to insert an ad last-minute to counteract a competitor’s price cut, or congratulate fans right at the end of a match. The key is in improving the ability and efficiency of existing advertising opportunities.”
A Watershed for online advertising?
Paul Harris, a partner at law firm Speechly Bircham, has seen automatically placed overlay advertising in action and believes that it also occurs elsewhere. He doesn’t, however, conclude that ITV’s trial of Keystream’s technology necessarily signals a sea change for the new media industry.
“[ITV’s use of automated placed overlay advertising] is not novel at all and certainly isn't a ‘sea change’ in advertising itself,” Harris told NMK. “What might be is that ITV contemplates having programmes that are uninterrupted on terrestrial/digital TV, which would be a very different approach for them.”
ITV’s experience could very much dictate how other media outlets decide their advertising strategy, Harris argued.
“Some will [follow suit] and some won't. It depends on how it is managed. For example, Channel 4 and Sky Sports have been successful in dealing with cricket coverage, such that they get in (arguably) sufficient adverts per hour, without upsetting what are probably fairly conservative viewers previously used to the BBC's coverage. So it can be done,” he added.