Ads with a personal touch

Universal Pictures is partnering with personal video recorder (PVR) supplier ReplayTV to conduct an interactive advertising campaign aimed at users of the free ReplayTV service, the first such pact between a marketer and a personal-television service.

Some of the promotional benefits that Universal will derive from the deal are similar to those enjoyed by ReplayTV programming partners, such as Showtime Networks or its new MSO ally, Time Warner Cable. Beginning in October, Universal's movies will be promoted in banner ads within ReplayZones, ReplayTV's category listings for different types of programming.

But Universal will also have a dedicated channel within a ReplayZone that it can use to deliver behind-the-scenes footage, clips or other promotional material exclusively to ReplayTV viewers.

"The last channel in the Zone will be dedicated to Universal, for them to create messages, provide information and creative [content]," says Michael Teicher, senior vice president of advertising for ReplayTV. "They completely control that inventory. We're calling that an information button."

While some of the content within the information channel will "absolutely be a call to action to the consumer," ReplayTV's phone-line-based service will not be providing Universal with any "t-commerce" capability, says Teicher. But that may change as the ReplayTV service becomes more robust, he adds. Integrating ReplayTV's functionality into a cable set-top, for example, would hold "massive" potential for both delivering clips and conducting transactions "because you're not worried about the phone line anymore," he says.

For now, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company will be loading Universal content, such as movie trailers, onto its PVRs' disk storage during manufacturing. "When the consumer loads material on the first night," says Teicher, "there will be on the hard drive trailers and other unique content from Universal."

Says Universal Pictures President of Marketing Marc Shmuger, "Working with ReplayTV makes it feasible for us to build and maintain an in-the-home relationship with our consumers by delivering our latest theatrical and home-video previews directly to ReplayTV households."

Some industry analysts have predicted that PVRs, with their ability to rapidly skip through commercials, will significantly erode mass-market advertising and jeopardize the future of major broadcast and cable networks. Others believe that advertisers will simply produce more-creative commercials to combat the push-button deletion of 30- and 60-second spots. For his part, Teicher says, ReplayTV expects several more advertising deals in the near future. Its main competitor, TiVo, is also expected to announce advertising partnerships.

"The big sell at this point is we're in a category where ReplayTV can be fully exploited as a red-hot consumer trend to provide deeper control and personalization of programming," Teicher says.