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Interactive TV Test Starts to Click

After a quiet couple of years, interactive TV efforts are moving forward again, as a pair of stations in Montgomery, Ala., have launched Clickable TV—the latest shot at TV’s holy grail—from BCM. Raycom’s WSFA and Woods Communications’ WCOV have deployed the technology, which allows users to click an icon on the screen to get more information, be it advertising, news or other content, sent to a personal Web portal. Knology, the No. 2 cable operator in DMA No. 117, is handling the distribution.

Knology has nearly 30,000 subscribers in Montgomery, well behind market leader Charter. BCM has deployed Clickable TV for Knology’s HD customers, meaning a little more than 9,000 subscribers can access the service. BCM plans to add Knology’s standard-def customers later this year.

WSFA is an NBC affiliate that commands close to half the revenue in Montgomery; with parent Raycom also based in town, group honchos are surely studying the launch closely. WCOV is a Fox affiliate. Station bosses suggest the campaign has big upside, with enhanced commercials for advertisers, measurable responses, and even potential for Groupon-style couponing. “We believe in the technology,” says David Woods, owner and president of WCOV. “We believe interactive television is very important.”

Formerly known as BackChannelmedia, BCM in 2008 and 2009 signed up station partners at a rapid clip, including those owned by Gray Television, Fisher, Hearst TV and LIN. As many as 70 stations agreed to test the concept, as general managers were eager to try new things amidst a dismal ad market. Station execs say they were impressed with the technology, which worked over the air via what BCM Chairman/ CEO Daniel Hassan calls a “juicedup set-top box.” Garnering revenue from the platform, however, proved elusive. Some felt the concept would only attain critical mass with their market’s major subscription-TV operator on board.

BCM is running commercials for Knology subscribers in Montgomery, prompting them to sign up for Clickable TV. (“The commercials are spectacular,” WCOV’s Woods says. “The creative is awesome.”) Advertisers pay for each remote click from viewers, with the revenue split between the station, the cable operator and BCM.

Hassan says Clickable TV isn’t just about revenue. “We can make local news interactive, allowing consumers to learn more about a news story,” he says. “That gives them a deeper relationship with the content.”

Many in television roll their eyes when interactive TV is mentioned, as a number of vendors over the past few decades have spoken of enabling viewers to order pizza or get more information on automobile dealers with a click or two of their remotes. No one has figured out the right formula yet, though many—from Warner Cable’s old Qube system to the current Canoe Ventures—have sunk major resources into it.

Montgomery station executives say the idea is worth a shot. WSFA recently showed the service to advertisers, many of which instantly warmed to the idea of running spots that are interactive and measurable, with no up-front costs to them. “What it does is amplify their commercial on-air,” says Collin Gaston, WSFA VP and general manager. “It adds another layer of depth to their ability to connect with consumers.”

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