Challenges Shift As Shows Spread Across Platforms

Not so long ago, a typical cross-platform ad buy might have meant a TV program with a network Web site component and maybe a print element. But at this year’s upfront, which begins later this month, Fox’s Family Guy will offer ring tones, mobile wallpapers, streaming media and a mechanism for purchasing show merchandise online.

And the animated sitcom is by no means unique. According to a new report from Interpublic Media’s Consumer Experience Practice, the average number of total platforms per program across all TV media is 4.7 for 2006, up from 3.3 a year ago.

The report compiled the number of existing and planned digital platforms for more than 2,200 TV shows across the major broadcast networks, 50 cable networks and major syndication companies. The report is one of the first attempts to quantify the rapid expansion of new platforms for traditional TV content.

“It’s realistic that most shows will get to between 10 and 15 extensions within the next two to three years,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, president, Consumer Experience Practice, Interpublic Media. “It could happen faster, depending on the pace of technology advancements.”

Family Guy alone plans to, within six months, offer free video-on-demand via cable systems; a high-speed Internet TV feed; electronic tags that will allow consumers to respond to ads via their TV sets; text-message polling; and wireless voice reminders.

By the time Fox rolls out those offerings, the report says, network shows will average nine different content platforms for marketers to ponder—each one representing a different marketing vehicle for advertisers.

The report identifies 33 different “touch points” currently available to content providers, though none of the shows surveyed tapped into all of them. “Fan cultures change from program to program,” said Koerner. “Producers pick and choose platforms based on the interests of the show’s following.”

Program producers are introducing all the new extensions in part to try to recapture audiences that are straying from mainstream TV, but also to prevent further erosion by giving loyal fans new ways to engage with their favorite shows.

And Koerner said that it is critical that advertisers use these new platforms. “The ad industry needs to shift as well,” she said. “Just because the consumer wants to avoid you [by skipping through ads] doesn’t mean you should just lie down and say, ‘OK, the answer is product integration, where they can’t avoid me.'”

Indeed, the rapid growth of these new platforms raises a host of issues that beg resolution, not the least of which is coming up with acceptable metrics to measure the viewer experiences with the different platforms, so that business models can be developed. “This is the first upfront where we are going to see negotiations based on all of these touch points,” Koerner said.

Andy Donchin, evp, director of national broadcast at Aegis Group’s Carat, said his main task in this arena will be to match the right extenstions with the right clients, based on their marketing goals and comfort levels with each platform. “The business model will evolve in time,” he said.

Another major issue: Crafting effective advertising messages for the different platforms. “You can’t just take a 30-second spot and leverage it across the platforms,” said Koerner.

Creative executives said they’re on the case. “You have to look at things differently,” depending on the platform, said Bill Bruce, chief creative officer, BBDO New York, which recently created online interactive ads for client Cingular. Soon, he said, “a Web address will seem so 2005. It will be a Bluetooth world, and the way you engage the consumer will be very immediate. We relish the challenge.”