The iTV Doctor Is In!: Are Fans More Likely to Interact than Casual Viewers?

Dear iTV Doctor:

The more I read about cable networks "going interactive," the less I understand about how they select which programs to work with. I understand that some shows are easier to fire up than others, and that some advertisers drive the selection. But doesn't the viewer count for anything? It would seem that some viewers are actually FANS of the shows they watch. Is there any data to show that fans are more likely to interact than casual viewers? (And if so, how do we find those fans?)

Fan of iTV


Dear Fan:

Yes, there is both anecdotal evidence and substantial data to show that shows with a real fan base can generate greater iTV usage. But often that data is buried under reams of data about tune-in, tune-out, opt-in, opt-out (did I just quote Timothy Leary?) and navigation within the application. But there are people who are deciphering that data to get to the answer to a very important question: "How do we attract more iTV users and keep them engaged longer?" Bill Seely, an Ensequence alum like me, has a point of view that we should listen to. Here's what Bill has to say:


From cases I've seen, an interactive experience with features carefully tailored to the interests of the core audience for a program--the show's fans--will have significantly higher opt-in rates and interaction durations than you would see in an application offering a less targeted experience. I'd estimate that targeting fans this way would add 30% or more to the average session duration, and 40% or more to the opt-in rates over time. For one-time events, this would only move the opt-in rates if the nature of the experience were apparent to the viewer before they initiated the interactive experience. This means you'd either have to promote the interactive experience, mention it in the program, or describe it very well in the interactive prompts or triggers.

Designing iTV applications for your hardcore fans works like "activating the base" in a political campaign. When you design an experience for the true believers in your show's audience, they don't just adopt it themselves. They talk about it, and they pull other people into it by telling their family and friends about it and commenting about it to their online social networks.

"Activating the base" with interactivity requires that you know something about your fans, and what really motivates them. For example, if you have a sports news program and you find out your hardcore fans love fantasy football, then you could build a focused interactive application that delivers stats and information in a way that makes it easy for your fans to follow their fantasy teams' performance.

Taking this idea all the way to bright, if you were willing to invest more heavily, you could build an interactive fantasy football platform with features supporting league formation, draft, trades, scorekeeping, and messages between players. This could keep your hardcore fans on channel for hours and hours a day.

To fully harness the power of the fan, though, I think you need to move beyond just maximizing opt-in rates and durations. Fans want interactivity to go beyond an application: they want talk back to the program and have an influence on it. Providing fans with opportunities to influence the program moves them from affiliation to ownership. Fans who feel like owners are the programmer's greatest resource.

(Note: Bill recently started Practical Marketing Analytics to offer interactive marketers and programmers measurement advice and analytic support, to both measure and maximize the return on their investment in interactivity. Go to their Web site at to find out how they can help you.)


The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at

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