Twitter approaches Holy Grail of interactive TV advertising with new partner ad tool

By Cory Bergman 

For two decades now, interactive TV advertising has been an albatross. Dozens of companies with hundreds of millions of dollars have failed to create a true, scalable interactive TV adverting platform. Then social TV emerged, combining the scale of the second screen with the popularity of social media. With the recent purchase of Bluefin Labs, a ratings deal with Nielsen and the release of its advertising API, Twitter is clearly the most serious new player to pursue the Holy Grail of interactive television ads.

We’re starting to see some of the early products, and as is customary with Twitter, we’re seeing it first with an API partner. TBG Digital was given an early run at the adverting API, and this week it announced a new product called “Calendar Live” which gives marketers the ability to buy Promoted Tweets in sync with TV shows. While marketers could already do this manually — for example, buying tweets against show-related hashtags and scheduling them around the show’s airtime — TBG Digital has compressed it into an easy-to-use tool with more granular time-targeting abilities and trend monitoring.

(See a couple more screen grabs over on BusinessInsider.)

By scanning a program grid, you can select which shows you want your Twitter ads to appear. “If you run tweets around live events or TV shows, you get better engagement than if they’re just generic tweets [running] all the time. It’s helping advertisers think about Twitter in real time as a second screen,” said TBG Digital CEO Simon Mansell in an interview with AdWeek. He said Promoted Tweets around live events see an 18 percent higher engagement rate.

TBG tracks engagement in the tool, and marketers can also use it to track trending topics that emerge during a TV show or live event. They can quickly react — for example, #blackout during the Super Bowl — and buy ads against the emerging trends.

Pretty powerful stuff, especially as Twitter continues to scale as the second screen experience of choice. You can see why it’s strategically important for Twitter to ensure TV partners leverage Twitter to its fullest potential — for example, American Idol’s recent addition of real-time Twitter polls, powered by Mass Relevance — because that creates more targeting scale. As people participate or react to a TV show, they’re telling Twitter they’re watching that show, which enables Twitter to target ads to those viewers as they’re watching. The more viewers self-identify with a show, the bigger chance Twitter’s model will succeed.

You can also imagine how Twitter ad products themselves will evolve, and we’re seeing some early clues. TechCrunch spotted this example Promoted Tweet (above) with a call-to-action: a “get it now” button that acts as a lead-generation engine for advertisers. Applying this approach to TV, Pepsi could buy Promoted Tweets targeted to the TV shows it’s sponsoring. Its TV ads could promote a contest or offer a coupon, and the Promoted Tweets would encourage viewers to “enter now” or “get it now,” agreeing to let Twitter pass along their contact information to Pepsi (see the disclaimer above).

Just like that, interactive TV advertising is here.