As the TV moves to the Web, control moves to the users

I’ve become a fan of Heroes, an ongoing series by NBC. Interestingly enough, I time shift, medium shift, and control the content in the way I want to. The first season, I didn’t watch on TV, we rented the episodes from the local Blockbuster (not online). For season 2, which just started, I’m watching the episodes online from the NBC site.

The have pre-roll ads, that are about 30 seconds, which you cannot fast forward. The advertising videos are actually interesting, as they change them up for different sponsors and there are links to learn more. For example, last week, there was an interactive game in addition to the video for a new Nissan crossover. This week, Bertolli is launching a frozen dinner product, and there are links to video recipes, very interesting. After the spot plays, the user is required to click on the add to advance. 3-5 times during each episode a 30 second spot is run, which I can’t fast forward.

I’m in control of:

1) What I watch
2) When I watch
3) What medium I watch
4) How I watch (I can start and stop)
5) Where I watch (mobile)

In return, a few 30 second spots, that are related to my interest don’t bother me at all, although I would prefer if I could select (rate and comment too) the types of commercials I want to watch, increasing the opportunity for the message to be on mark.

Most of the control over TV medium is now in my hands, although the 30 second spot doesn’t seem as intrusive. The web and TV continue to intersect, with the control moving to my hands, the savvy media brands realize, embrace and change.

  • Who do you see as the leaders in the space of web / TV convergence?

  • Len, I’d defer to FORR analyst Josh Bernoff who is an EXPERT at this space (he covered the TV media for many years)

    But in my personal opinion, it’s happening slowly at the media and browser level.

    The bigger push requires that heavy pipe be made available so we can consume HD at home. Downloading bits of media overnight isn’t fast enough for the ‘I want it now’ consumer, and streaming just looks sub-standard on HD TVs.

    I’ll take a stand without having any data, In 5 years, the web and TV could be well integrated as nearly one medium.

    What do you think?

  • Oh – I completely agree with you. Frankly, it’s the aspect of online that gets me the most juiced. The opportunities are endless… I’m surprised we haven’t seen more progress in this space, although – as you point out – bandwidth is clearly a factor.

    I’ll tune in to Josh’s work…


  • To bad I am not allowed to download from my loaction (Norway), because I really enjoy it!

    Most Hero fans who know how to use peer to peer download this series illegally in Norway. Then of course they get to see it whenever they want with no ads at all.

  • I watch Heroes on good old plain old tv…..and by that I mean a 42″ HDTV via my DVR. Yes, I enjoy watching it my way and on my terms (day, time of day, etc.)

    I am curious as to others response to forced pre-roll. You were not bothered by the forced pre-roll….you seem to embrace it. Are others embracing it as well? Is it my imagination that pre-roll is a death sentence for video that isn’t also on prime time good old television?

    An interesting conversation…I look forward to hearing from others.


  • Ludvik, my new Norwegian friend, it’s streamed on the browser, give it a try!

    Tony, I don’t embrace it, but I find it interesting, and worth the experience of having all the other control benefits. You can’t have it all.

    Keep in mind, the ads COULD be improved by giving me control over what types of ads I want to watch.

    It’s all about me, and you!

  • Jeremiah,

    I’m not entirely convinced that you are in control of:

    1. What I watch.
    Did you sit down to watch (how interesting can they be?) Bertolli and Nissan ads or did you sit down to consume your Heroes content? If you can’t fast forward through stuff that you didn’t sit down to watch, how in control are you really?

    2. When I watch.
    A big plus point. Although don’t we already have the ability to do that with TiVo and Sky +? And that technology gives us the choice of fast forwarding through the interesting Bertolli ads. All on your plasma.

    3. What medium I watch.
    Not sure what you mean here. Do you mean streaming vs. media player downloads? Don’t you have to pay for NBC donwloads? Mobile screens vs. 42″ plasma? Would you pay for a cinema ticket if the screen was 2″ x 2″?

    4. How I watch (I can start and stop)
    Isn’t this the same as “2. When I watch” ?

    5. Where I watch.
    If it’s a download yes, but being able to watch it anywhere streaming is dependent on coverage to your mobile and your data plan.

    The point I’m making is this. There is plenty of energy being put into developing new ways to monetize online video content with pre-rolls, overlays etc., etc. despite the screamingly obvious that increasingly time poor consumers are demanding more and more control over interuptive advertising. Hasn’t media avoidance actually been one of the key things driving up the amount of time we spend online?

    The development of spam filters was consumer driven. Pop-up blockers were a consumer driven response to so called ‘targeted’ messages.

    The developement of platforms like TiVo, Sky + and others was driven by consumer demand for a way of watching content when they wanted, AND being able to just fast forward through the ad breaks.

    Silent telephone numbers, ex-directory listings and no junk mail stickers on letterboxes are all ancient methods devised by consumers to take control over the amount and type of so called ‘targeted’ messages.

    It’s interesting that the only media format that has yet to be bettered in terms of the control it offers consumers over the advertising they are exposed to, is not online.

    As a format, you can read a print magazine on the plane, in the bath, up a mountain, on a boat or curled up on a sofa. And what do you do if you see an advert in a magazine you don’t like, or don’t have time for, or that interupts your flow? You simply turn the page.

    On the other hand, what do you do when an ad break comes on during your favourite TV program? Well have no control over it, so you visit the bathroom, make yourself a drink, check the TV listings for what to watch later or change channel. What did Larry Sanders used to say…”No flipping!”.

    And it’s that unequalled level of control designed into the DNA of magazines and combined with super relevant, niched, high production value content that engenders real loyalty and enthusiasm amongst consumers, even today.

    Of course, the fixed overheads involved in print is now clearly starting to put real pressure on the circulation of magazines, but as a blue print for giving consumers full control over relevant content, it’s yet to be bettered. Yet.

    It’s that unequalled level of control that we should be looking to develop for online content, written, video and audio. Just concentrating on how to monetize interruptions better rather than delivering great content with engaging user control doesn’t work (Facebook apps anyone)

  • Adam

    Fantastic points here, I wake up to hear some truly stimulating comments, always pleasant.


    1) Yes. I was suggesting the same, I’d love to give preferences for what Ads I’d like to see.

    3) The comparison was between TV and Laptop. Hardly a limited choice. I stand corrected.

    4) Yes, they’re related

    I think we both agree that there’s been quite a few leaps forward in say the last 5 years of media consumption. As we move forward will user control move compeletly to our side? Not likely. But the pendulum is shifting over.

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  • Tom

    While I admire the idea of the NBC player (I also went there as a recent fan of Heroes after finishing season 1 on DVD), I find the execution of the player to be so poor that I can’t even use it.

    1. While I definitely don’t mind 3-5 30-sec spots over the course of an entire program, the fact that the player bounces me out of full-screen mode each time is extremely annoying. So 3-5 times per episode I need to get up and walk across the room just to click the player back to fullscreen mode after the ad has played. I find myself getting angry and frustrated rather than sitting back and absorbing whatever advertising content was aimed at me.
    2. The player chokes like crazy. I’m watching from a high-speed wired connection, and the player still routinely freezes on me. More than once it has never recovered and I’ve been forced to abort my viewing and go to BitTorrent for the episode.

    So while I’d be game to absorb some advertising through NBC’s online environment, I find myself getting angry and leaving. As a brand, I’d be very worried about viewers leaving the site with this impression whilst semi-viewing my marketing content.

    Maybe this is an isolated experience for me, but I’ve routinely used ABC’s player for Lost with no issues, as well as Joost and other streaming sources. In my eyes, no marketing/advertising (as forward thinking as it may be) can be effective in an environment that doesn’t cater to user experience.

  • Some updated news on this arena. An Israeli TV station and a subsidiary of NBC Universal are implementing an Israeli technology that will allow users to download episodes of television shows to watch and to distribute freely (including to peer-to-peer programs and social networks).

    The technology encodes the ads into the episodes so that they can’t be skipped over and the networks are notified when a show is viewed so that they can monetize it.

    It also gives users the option of submitting additional personal information for more targeted/localized ads. Jeremiah, the thing I think you’ll enjoy the most, is the name of the Israeli company providing this information is HIRO-Media Ltd.

  • These are interesting suggestions about welcoming systems that send information back to a source to track usage.

    A decade ago, Circuit City attempted to force a non-standard DVD system on the public that would require DVD players to send back data on usage of specially encoded DVD’s so that the DVD’s could be decrypted and displayed (the system was called, oddly enough, DIVX). People screamed bloody murder about having a central “mother ship” monitor DVD usage. Such opposition was one reason that Circuit City was finally forced to take the product off the market. How times have changed!

  • Matt Levit

    I like the Heroes series too! I watch it on television, which I love because you can fast forward the commercials after I’ve dvr’ed it. I heard about that Nissan game with the Rogue in it. How was it? I like their commercials on NBC. I think their pretty clever-

  • Oh – I completely agree with you. Frankly, it's the aspect of online that gets me the most juiced. The opportunities are endless… I'm surprised we haven't seen more progress in this space, although – as you point out – bandwidth is clearly a factor.

    I'll tune in to Josh's work…


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