This week saw Thinkbox CEO Tess Alps become executive chair after six years leading the TV body’s strategy. She spoke to new media age about the future of TV convergence and how far the industry has evolved.
How much has the TV industry changed during your time at Thinkbox?
When I first started at Thinkbox 6 years ago my shareholders were all miserable about the internet, but this has changed as the market’s confidence has grown and everyone realised actually Google doesn’t own the internet. They have seen it is a landscape they have every right to play in too and are building fantastic online businesses as a result.
I think TV was very fast to take advantage of the internet, unlike the music business - they put their content online very quickly for free - and you have to thank the BBC for leading the world in that with the iPlayer.
How would you describe the relationship between TV and online now?
One of our top strategic ambitions has always been to stop this stupid ‘TV versus internet’ thing. They are not separate, they are different - the internet is not an equivalent to TV it’s a massive technology, like electricity.
There is also no sign of the internet damaging TV viewing or revenue - linear advertising revenue is as high as it has ever been and internet TV is an additional, fast-growing part of TV. The scale of investment in TV from online brands is extraordinary. If you look at the top ten TV advertisers three of them are online brands. Most advertisers understand this positive relationship.
But this argument has moved on massively. It still exists in pockets - those who wish death on TV, we call them internet fundamentalists. There are a few nutters still out there, but we never hear anything negative from the likes of Google or Facebook, both of which go out of their way to be positive about it, and just look at Twitter, it relies on it - social media and TV are now very close.
What are the most exciting future developments for TV?
We are big believers in second screen. This whole area, although far from being something mass audiences partake in, is very exciting for TV as it provides a return path, whether directly through a connected TV screen or via a second screen, TV companies will make money out of that where they hadn’t before. TV has traditionally driven search but they didn’t benefit from the money out of that search. Now they can through closed garden apps that relate to TV shows with all sorts of commercial opportunities, including click to buy for example.
This will also mean they can gain proper attribution. One of the frustrations has been the concept of accountability in the online world. I think this term is confused with ‘countability’ - the tracking of things, which means an illusion of accountability is being sold.
For example, you can look at the analytics to track a consumer journey but what is often forgotten to be accounted for is the fact there has been a big radio ad or double page spread in Vogue that has driven it. So I get frustrated about not building the offline journey into supposed accountability. However connected TVs and second screen give TV the chance to get better attribution.
How significant a part do multiplatform formats play in enriching the TV experience?
There is a big debate in the TV industry over what deepens the experience and what is distracting. So something like the playalong gameshow format Million Pound Drop works very well, but other genres don’t lend themselves well to it, so something like Homeland wouldn’t work - for example people prefer to tweet about it afterwards rather than during when they want to concentrate on the show.
Shazam, is a perfect example of a second screen app that takes people directly, without fear of being diverted by something else, to extra content. It also offers the option to ‘buy it now’, so it seems the perfect route to take people from that feeling of excitement from the TV ad straight though to purchase - that’s a dream for me.
TV is becoming more of a point-of-sale medium, as well as doing the big brand awareness, it can do instant call to action.
Social media is also an important part of TV now, not on the main screen, which it is not appropriate for, but on the second screen.
What do you think of Google’s TV proposition and where will it sit in the market?
Anyone that wants to put money into original content is extremely welcome, although from what I understand it is mostly trying to be a platform and user interface with search recommendation. However, what YouTube has announced for content, $100m globally, is quite a small sum in the overall scale of things, given for example Sky spends £1.8bn in the UK on content alone.
What you get in the broadcast ecology is programmes that make lots of money that can then fund other programmes that are important but make less money. So for example Location Location Location pays for Channel 4 News. What would be sad though is if people came in and without any broadcasting obligations they cream off little bits of content without putting the money back into other important and worthwhile content in the broadcast schedule.
If Google wants to be in the TV industry, and clearly it does, which is fantastic, I just hope it doesn’t cherry pick content. For example if it managed to take over the Premier League and made lots of money from it which then just went to its bottom line, that wouldn’t be welcome. Whereas Sky makes money out of the Premier League but funds a lot of original British content.
Isn’t YouTube trying to make waves in this area by giving producers pilot funding?
Yes and that’s brilliant, although some producers have told us they are quite shocked at how small the pot of money is and how many hours YouTube wants for quite a small sum of money.
What is interesting is YouTube has taken a linear TV approach with its scheduled channels.
How excited are you about addressable advertising, models both Sky and Virgin Media are pursuing aggressively?
Very excited. I think we are actually more excited than advertisers and agencies, which is a bit sad. People are probably approaching it in the wrong way. They are trying to equate it to online behavioural targeted advertising, picking off people and sending a highly “relevant” ad to them. But in advertisers’ heads that’s not where they are with TV yet. They think of TV at the start of the big funnel - it’s the big communication that captures everybody and as you get closer to purchase you talk to fewer people and eventually then tip people over with a final email that nudges them to purchase.
There is no way we want to stop talking to everybody but eventually we want to be able to talk to the guy who booked a test drive but didn’t buy a car - we do that now through direct mail or email maybe we can do that through an addressable TV ad. For linear TV we don’t think it will happen that way - it’s not about segmenting viewers in order to not talk to people. We think it will be used more for highly customisable messages on very simple A-B-C principle, so splitting homes into different segments for example. This would mean different ads would be shown to people who shop at Sainsbury’s and have a Nectar card to those who are Tesco clubcard holders.
Her comments come as Thinkbox kicked off its first Shazam-enabled ad for its Harvey and Rabbit campaign, which will run on ITV (pictured above).