Networks Get Creative With New Online Tools

NEW YORK TV networks, which continue to lose viewers and are struggling to make a mark online, are busy looking for inroads (read: ways to make money) in the digital space. The latest salvo: digital units designed to facilitate the interactivity of both new and repurposed ads.

In January, Turner Entertainment New Media will launch the Digital Promotions Group to help clients develop brand campaigns that can span Turner’s portfolio of online assets. In mid-November, ABC.com rolled out an online ad template that helps make 30-second TV spots interactive. In October, NBC.com introduced the “branded canvas,” a Flash-based application embedded in its Web video player that enables clients to add and refine components to creative executions.

Out of the three, Turner and NBC also have the capability not only to facilitate the creative, but shape it.

Turner’s Digital Promotions Group is being described by the network as a consultancy that helps clients develop a plan across the Turner portfolio of online brands. Assets include TBS.com, TNT.tv, thesmokinggun.com, courttv.com, HotCorner at MLB.com (a broadband channel at MLB.com) and cartoonnetwork.com.

“If that means us taking on a greater role in the creative function, we will have the capability to do that,” said Walker Jacobs, svp of Turner Entertainment New Media ad sales. “But, if the client’s in-house creative or their agency partner has the people and the tools to handle the work, we want to partner with them to help give them insights and help them in the ideation phase.”

Jacobs would not speak specifically to pricing for the group’s services, but did say it was part of a client’s overall media plan.

When NBC unveiled its new and improved video player for nbc.com two months ago, one goal was to create better ROI metrics. The Flash-based application gives clients the literal space to add components such as games and contests to creative work. This means room for additional product information as well.

The network is also functioning as a consultant of sorts in that it provides advice to clients on which elements work, and don’t work, creatively in that space. “We really have to provide perspective, visibility and as much feedback as we are able to offer to advertisers,” said Nick Johnson, vp of NBC digital media, “so that they come into the relationship with some best practices and some examples of things that worked really well—and maybe examples of things that could use some improvement.”

Michael Lao, vp of global media for MasterCard Worldwide, which has worked with the branded canvas application, said, “We are looking at our media partners to become more and more of just that—partners. They understand their space and that medium and how to work within it.”

MasterCard worked with NBC earlier this year on both on-air and online efforts centering around prime-time drama Life. GSD&M Idea City brought the idea of a network partnership to MasterCard, and then the brand’s creative agencies, McCann Erickson and MRM, handled much of the creative. One- to two-minute ads incorporating characters from the show were created to fill entire broadcast pods and carried over online. NBC helped facilitate a smooth integration of the package.

As for cost, NBC’s Johnson said only, “It’s going to command a higher CPM.”

ABC’s new template works with its full-episode video player. It has files that automate otherwise cumbersome chores, such as writing codes that are necessary when placing a link or logo around the repurposed or new TV ad.

ABC does not charge a fee for the use of the pod containers since all of the creative is done by the advertisers and their agencies.

“Thirty-second spots are fabulous commercials for television,” said Rick Mandler, vp, digital ad sales and new media at ABC. “But they don’t necessarily leverage the power of the Internet. If you can make something that leverages the power of the Internet that’s interactive and allows you to engage a viewer with your brand, that’s going to be much more effective.”

“This puts the onus on the advertiser to be creative and get users to stay with the ad,” said Cynthia Poncé, svp, general sales manager, digital and new media for ABC. There’s room for improvement, she said, estimating that only about half of the network’s current advertisers do a good job of creating ads for online use.

“I want to make clear that while people are asking for assistance, it’s not so much that it’s moving against the creative agency because we all have to play nice in the sandbox. The creative agencies are oftentimes alongside the media agencies, inundated with so much work that we’re helping them streamline the process.”

“Everyone is realizing that there is a real interdependency in digital,” said Amanda Richman, svp and director of digital services at MediaVest USA. “And because of this, there’s a realization that there has to be more collaboration in the entire creative process.”

Carrie Frolich, digital practice lead at Mediaedge:cia, said of the ABC endeavor, “I think the technology and the application of the technology is positive for marketers.” However, she added that the creation of an ad template might be better served coming from a third party. “That way it could be used more universally,” she said.

ABC’s Mandler said the universality issue is important and one network officials are weighing. “It’s out of our hands to a certain extent. It doesn’t feel like it’s something we can solve on our own, and we don’t really have a definitive strategy on how we could lead the industry to some kind of universal solution,” he said.

“Right now we’re at the bottom of the first inning,” said Tracey Scheppach, svp, video innovations director at Starcom USA. “We have to have this period of exploration to figure out what works. Once we get to about the fifth inning, that’s when we’re [really] going to need standardization.