The iTV Doctor Is In!: The iTV Research Agenda

Dear Readers:

I was on my way up to New York the other day for Craig Leddy's terrific "Cable Interacts" event, run in conjunction with the NYC Chapter of CTAM. And on the way, I found myself consuming a lot of media.
Before I left the house, I did a quick TV channel scan for sports headlines, news updates and weather. Then on the drive to the train station, I listened to the local news/talk radio station for more sports, news and weather--a lot of it branded and licensed. And on the train I read the morning paper with even more licensed, syndicated, co-authored and jointly produced content. And for all that conspicuous media consumption, d'ya think any of those content providers know who I am?
Now admittedly, I also check a lot of content sites on the laptop and the BlackBerry. So I raise my hand to the content providers when I consume Web media. But on the traditional media side, I'm just one of zillions of fans who consume tons of content and buy from hundreds of advertisers.

Valuable but anonymous.

A number of years ago, when I was just starting to work in the interactive television space, I was chatting with Tom Freston (CEO of MTV Networks at the time). I was trying to figure out what, if anything, he needed from the nascent iTV technology. His response was pointed, and rings true to this day: "I just want to know who's watching my stuff."

In this oddball, wonderful and convoluted business of ours, the network needs the local affiliate to distribute their content, and the affiliate maintains the customer relationship. That is a cornerstone to the distributor's business, and those who forecast that OTT signals the end of the cable/satellite/telco distribution model just don't get it. Wired Schmired--it doesn't matter. It's the customer relationship that

Now you wouldn't be surprised to know that the good doctor consumes quite a bit of television. In order to meet the needs of my clients, I subscribe to every distributor available to me: Cable, DISH Network and DirecTV. And I'll get Verizon FiOS when it comes down the street.

And there is a lot of duplication of channels in that mix, but none of those networks know who I am. And as we eventually solve the authentication conundrum (I recommend the excellent piece by Brian Santo
in the March/April edition of CED Magazine) and as "TV Everywhere" morphs into "TV All Over God's Green Earth," it doesn't get any easier.

True, I may be able to "port" my Showtime subscription, courtesy of a multichannel distributor, over to a variety of devices so that I can watch Jeremy Irons ("The Borgias") extend his domination of 15th century Europe to my iPad. But I'll still be picking up the majority of my Showtime content from my cable/satellite/telco subscription; and for all that, my good friends at Showtime Networks won't be any closer to knowing who I am.

But one of these days we'll figure out how to easily and intuitively capture consumer profiles across media, maybe even establish fan loyalty programs that work. We will deepen our relationship with those who consume our programs, to the benefit of our advertisers and sponsors. And, done correctly, it will strengthen the loyalty of the distributor who "owns" the consumer as well as the passion for the content itself to the benefit of the content provider.

Most of the tools are actually there now. Right now I could respond to a TV network's app on all three of my television platforms and join the fun. Properly motivated, I could fire up an audio content recognition program on my smartphone to "listen" to a radio show in my car. And I could use my smartphone again to scan a QR code to enter a contest or get a freebie from a magazine or print ad. Or go to a restaurant. Or buy a product. Or just about anything.

Then I just need a dead-secure profile mechanism to make sense of all those "touches" from all that media.

And if we could actually deliver our content to people we know, the entire concept of media fragmentation simply evaporates. After all, there are only marginally more people now. The trouble is we all have vastly more ways to consume content. Imagine the possibilities when a content provider can simply say, "Hey. We know him. He's our guy. This is what he watches. This is what he reads. This is what he listens to. This is what he downloads. And THIS is what he buys."

Mike Bloxham (the elusive and mysterious one himself--what is he DOING now he's left Ball State???) has just invited The iTV Doctor to join a panel at BSU's Viewing+Research Conference in New York on April 19. We're going to do a bit of prognostication on the future of this wacky business. Here's a link: ([itvt] Editors' Note: The people at Ball State University's Center for Media Design have a track record of great work in the interactive TV space, so this event should be well worth attending.)

And we will certainly get the answer to that and a number of other perplexing questions at one of three panels on Automatic Content Recognition at the TV of Tomorrow Show, May 17-18 in San Francisco. Here's a link: http:/ Channing Dawson is looking at the programmer's side, Michael Collette is going behind the screen with the CE manufacturers and the good doctor is getting under the hood with the software folks who provide the tools to make it all work. Even if you've never been to the TV of Tomorrow Show, you gotta go to this one!



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, and the first visit is always free. 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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