GSN to Showcase Interactive Spots

Mar 13, 2006  •  Post A Comment

GSN plans to unveil a new form of commercial break known as an “interactive pod” during its upfront presentations that start this week.

Within some of its commercial breaks, GSN will include short vignettes-produced by the network-that wrap around a 30-second spot. Both the vignette, which will be related to the spot, and the commercial will feature interactive elements, allowing viewers to play along with or answer questions about the brand via their computer. The interactive pods will look like regular commercial breaks, with the vignette and the interactive spot woven in.

“We are looking to do this with select clients going into this year’s upfront to create a more immersive experience that extends the brand experience, and it’s data-rich and has accountability,” said Chris Raleigh, senior VP of advertising sales for GSN.

Like Mr. Raleigh and his colleagues at GSN, many television executives are on an increasingly intense hunt for ways to keep the attention of viewers and advertisers at a time when they have more new options than ever on which to spend their time and money.

This upfront, most networks are upping the number of advanced media packages that link video-on-demand and broadband to take advantage of heightened interest in nonlinear programming.

GSN’s twist on the commercial break appears to stand alone among these new media offerings because it is more than a package-it is a new advertising form.

The potential reach of the interactive ads is limited for now because viewers must use GSN’s Web site to interact with the network’s programming.

While the number of viewers willing to interact online while watching GSN on their television sets is a small portion of the GSN audience, it has also proved to be an engaged audience and one for which the network commands a premium for advertisers to reach.

Interactive ads that are part of an interactive show generate six times the usage of stand-alone interactive ads, according to GoldPocket Interactive, which powers GSN’s interactivity.

This is one way GSN can take further advantage of that engaged audience, GSN’s Mr. Raleigh said.

More than 80 advertisers, including Suzuki, Kellogg’s’ Cheez-It crackers and Burger King, have already run interactive ads on GSN.

New Ad Form

With the new ad form, GSN could, for example, create a 30-second vignette about travel that would include interactive questions for viewers. That vignette could then be followed by an ad for an online travel site, Mr. Raleigh said.

“It lengthens the amount of time they are interacting with the brand,” he said.

Eventually, cable operators plan to introduce one-screen interactive capability more widely so viewers will be able to interact with the GSN ads using a remote.

Gaming content is a natural fit for interactivity, but other programming genres can also work if the right hook is found, said Mike Bloxham, director of testing and assessment for the Center for Media Design at Ball State University. News and reality shows are also considered strong candidates for interactivity.

GSN developed this new ad innovation based on the results of a study it undertook with Ball State University late last year that found consumers actually want to interact with the advertising when given the opportunity.

The results are unprecedented in terms of the interest consumers have shown in engaging with an advertisement, Mr. Bloxham said.

“The biggest surprise for me was the extent to which the level of involvement and the enthusiasm carried over into the interactive advertising,” he said. “We are conditioned to believe people don’t get that involved in advertising in any form, and in the years I have done this, I don’t think I have seen people so enthusiastic about any form of advertising.”

GSN has offered interactive enhancements to its programming for more than four years. The study confirmed qualitatively the quantitative data on ITV usage that GoldPocket provides for GSN, Mr. Raleigh said.

But the fresh results from the study have also given the network confidence to unleash the new interactive pod strategy. If viewers like interactivity in ads and programs, it’s a natural next step to offer them more interactivity-via the short vignette-to extend the interactive experience, he said.

Advertisers Interested

Advertisers seem keen on the potential of this new ad break.

“Gradually it is becoming more and more important for brands to draw viewers deeper into a customized experience and to gain insights in the process,” said Tracey Scheppach, VP and video innovations director for Starcom USA.

Some Starcom clients who have placed interactive ads on GSN include Allstate, Sara Lee and Best Buy.

The challenge is that, on average, only a small percentage of the audience plays along. That means such an offering may not drive advertisers to GSN, but this opportunity could push advertisers over if they’re on the fence, she said.

Mr. Raleigh said the interactive pods will be premium-priced, but will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. “There is not a set price nor a preset premium. It will, however, be recognized in the overall [cost per thousand],” he said.

The added interactivity is a “good calling card” for GSN with advertisers, said Mitch Oscar, executive VP of Carat Digital. But it’s also a necessity for a smaller network that does not have much content across other platforms, such as VOD, wireless or broadband, he said. “It’s something they have to do as a smaller network with niche programming. But that’s also where the advertiser gets more added value.”

The study was conducted for six weeks in December and January. The participants included a demographic cross-section similar to GSN’s audience. Ball State researchers observed participants watching TV and interacting in their home in order to simulate as closely as possible the home viewing experience.