Four Cablers Fly on Interactive ‘Runway’

Dec 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

In one of the most ambitious interactive television projects yet, Bravo has rolled out interactive voting and polling for “Project Runway” across four cable operators, a move that represents a critical first step toward standardizing cable technology for advanced advertising.
Using Navic Networks technology, Bravo is letting “Project Runway” subscribers to Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and Cox systems use their remotes to vote on questions posed on screen during each episode of the network’s hit show, now in its fourth season.
The initiative is sponsored by Brother International Corp., the company that makes typewriters, printers and fax machines as well as the sewing machines used in the fashion reality show.
The interactive features are currently running in seven cable markets across the four operators. Because the interactivity stretches across so many cablers, it likely will serve as a proving ground for the industry. To date, widespread rollout of interactive ads on-screen and on video-on-demand has been hampered by the lack of a national footprint across cable operators.
Because cable companies use different set-top boxes and technology in their systems, advertisers and networks have been unable to roll out far-reaching advanced ad campaigns. If the Bravo project is successful, cable operators will be better positioned to lure more national networks and advertisers to sponsor interactive advertising campaigns.
“To have a real long-term sales opportunity, we need to have a single platform that goes across all the major MSO footprints to get scale for us to be able to generate some incremental revenue,” said Brian Hunt, senior VP of marketing and sales strategy for NBC Universal.
The cable operators are eager to prove to advertisers and programmers that they can work together to establish standards, said Joan Gillman, president of media sales at Time Warner Cable. “The real opportunity is to move to a standard technology anyone can publish to, and that will really open the market,” she said.
The endgame is a one-stop shop for advertisers and programmers across the cable footprint, agreed Billy Farina, senior VP of Cox Media.
Bravo has experimented with interactive features before, but not on this scale. The network enabled interactive polling and voting for the first two seasons of “Top Chef” across a handful of Time Warner markets and with EchoStar for the third season. Consumers responded positively to the interactive features, with more than 25% of viewers participating in some cases, the network said.
The Bravo project could open the floodgates for interactive ads to flourish on TV.
“This is a meaningful step with a meaningful content provider,” said Mitch Oscar, executive VP of Carat. He’s not involved in the Bravo project, but has shepherded other interactive TV efforts with Navic and cable operators. “It’s a big step for marketers. Every time something happens, it means the next thing is possible. This is a prototype for operators to work together.”
Navic’s software links the systems so the interactive features can run easily across different headends and cities, said John Hoctor, VP of business development at Navic.
That was Bravo’s goal. “What we really wanted to prove was an ad-sponsored ITV application could be done with multiple operators in different markets and look exactly the same,” Mr. Hunt said.
The “Project Runway” interactive features launched when the season premiered Nov. 14. The real-time voting and polling is available to Cox customers in Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., San Diego and Las Vegas; Charter customers in Los Angeles; Comcast customers in West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, Fla.; and Time Warner Cable customers in Greensboro, N.C.
Viewers can respond to trivia questions and vote for their favorite “Project Runway” designs and contestants.
Bravo has offered voting before for “Project Runway,” but consumers had to use a computer or cell phone to participate. Voting with a remote control is a simpler prospect.
“You just pick up and click, and that’s why you have high engagement levels, because it’s your remote and it’s sitting right in front of you,” said Lisa Hsia, senior VP of new media at Bravo. “People finally have an opportunity to voice an opinion, and increasingly people want to engage and have their opinions be heard.”
Navic will report back to Bravo on how many viewers interact with the show.


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