CTAM in NY: Showtime Wins Interactive TV Showdown

Showtime Networks' interactive TV app -- which lets subscribers order the premium network with one click of the remote -- won an audience vote as the best out of a field of five contenders in the "iTV Idol: Groundbreaking Applications" session here at CTAM In New York.

More than 30% of orders to Showtime now come through the ITV app in markets where it has launched, said David Preisman, Showtime's vice president of interactive television. He added that those subscribers have identical churn rates to subs acquired via traditional call center ordering.

"Once it's launched, there's money coming in every day," Preisman said.

Showtime's app is live with four affiliates -- Cablevision Systems, Dish Network, Oceanic Time Warner Cable in Hawaii and Verizon FiOS TV -- with additional partners in the pipeline. The app is available on four different ITV platforms: CableLabs' Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format, ActiveVideo Networks, OpenTV and Lua, an open scripting language used by FiOS TV. Interactive TV developer itaas created the EBIF version of the app for Showtime.

"The idea is really to improve the way people buy premium channels," Preisman said in his presentation. "Today you have to call up, navigate a phone menu and talk to a customer rep -- it shouldn't be like that in 2011."

Most frequently, when you tune to Showtime channels as a nonsubscriber, "you get a blue screen with an error message on it," he added. "Think about it -- if you go to Netflix, they try to sell you on the Netflix service."

In addition to ordering Showtime, the app lets viewers sample full episodes and other content. The programmer has promoted it using different techniques, including interactive advertising on 30-second ads and banner ads in the program guide that link to the Showtime portal.

The win by Showtime "shows persistence and going to a lot of platforms and sticking at it," said Mark Hess, Comcast's senior vice president of advanced business and technology, who emceed the session. He was filling in for the scheduled host, Canoe Ventures chief product officer Arthur Orduña.

The 100-some audience members awarded second place to a multifunction app developed for WeTV, Fuse and MSG by Ensequence, which can provide quizzes, polls, tune-to channel and social-media integration, among other features.

"What we love about this application is on an a la carte basis we can pick and choose which interactive features we want to use," said Will Keller, president of interactive TV consulting firm WE Keller Group, who helped with its development.

The other three entrants were: Itaas's tablet computer app that lets users to discover and tune to content, create playlists and set reminders for upcoming content; an app from The Weather Channel, developed with Nielsen MediaSync, that uses audio watermarks in the show to unlock synchronized content for original series From the Edge; and Intrasonics' app for smartphones and tablets that lets users engage with TV shows and ads.

The "iTV Idol" competition is co-sponsored by Canoe and CTAM. The 2010 winner was Rebecca Lim, formerly senior director of interactive for Starz Entertainment, who is now with Turner Broadcasting System. Showtime finished in second place in last year's voting.

After Preisman's presentation, Hess commented, "I love Showtime. I'm addicted to the whole Borgias thing -- those old popes."

Hess also exhorted the audience members to launch more interactive apps: "Launch more EBIF. It's like the [Chick-fil-A ad campaign] with the cows, ‘Eat more chicken'... You have a decade or more to take advantage of this platform."