Interactivity Gives Stations a Revenue Lift

Local stations are getting into the interactive game. And technology company iPowow, which has helped TV networks develop segments that allow viewers to participate in live on-air programming, says it’s finding that station groups want to play.

Those groups are airing segments that make viewers more engaged and generate revenue through sponsorships.

Gavin Douglas, iPowow’s CEO, said the company is working with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tribune Broadcasting, Raycom Media, Univision, Fox Television Stations and Graham Media Group. The relationships range from testing iPowow’s technology to airing segments every day and making money. It is also in discussion with another half-dozen groups, he said.

At a time when smartphones are making it harder for TV to get people’s attention, iPowow aims to capitalize on those ubiquitous mobile devices.

“The whole premise here is that 85% of people watching a show are on their phone already, clicking through Facebook, doing emails, on Pornhub, Twitter, Instagram, you name it,” Douglas said. “We want to get them to interact with their phone with what’s on television because not only can you then bring a sponsor to bear on it and everybody makes money, but also then you start getting great analytics and metrics on the back end about who’s watching your show. And then you can retarget them.”

In New York, Tribune station WPIX recently started airing interactive segments that will be part of its broadcasts of Yankees baseball games over the next three months.

During games, a graphic pops up asking viewers a question, such as whether the Yankees ought to trade for more pitching or more hitting. The announcers talk about the question and urge viewers to vote. Later in the game, the voting closes and another graphic with the results is displayed on the screen, and those results get discussed during the broadcast.

Interactivity Made Easy

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s really dead simple interactive television,” Douglas said. For sponsors, it offers an in-show presence, not just a 30-second spot, he said.

“What’s even more groundbreaking is that WPIX managed to generate mid-six figures over a three-month flight in terms of new revenue,” he added.

The sponsor for the segment during Yankees games is the Tri-Honda Dealer group in the New York market. Before viewers could vote, they had to answer a few questions, including whether they were in the market for a car. So, in addition to exposure on the broadcast, the sponsorship generated a list of qualified prospects.

“We have implemented iPowow’s polling features during baseball broadcasts on PIX11 in New York, and we have seen success with viewer engagement,” station general manager Chris Wayland said. “The technology also allows us to create unique ways to bring in additional revenue for the station.”

In Los Angeles, Fox’s KTTV runs iPowow segments as part of the sports reports in its newscasts. In the mornings, the sponsor is Carl’s Jr.; at lunchtime, it’s Jack in the Box; and in the evening, it’s the local Honda dealers.

iPowow also works with agencies, such as Horizon Media. In one case that led to Bob Evans Restaurants doing segments on some Sinclair stations, Douglas said.

Rich Goldfarb, the former head of ad sales for National Geographic Channel who now works with iPowow, said the company’s approach isn’t one-size-fits-all. iPowow usual gets a license fee for its technology, but “one thing we’re talking about is a hybrid model, which involved both the license fee and some sort of revenue share,” Goldfarb said.

Receptive Station Groups

Recently, it has been easier to get deals done with stations than with networks. “There’s a nimbleness to the local station or even station group hierarchy,” Goldfarb said.

On the national side, iPowow is working with ABC on its series Boy Band and with CMT on Hot 20 Countdown. It also allows viewers of Fox’s syndicated Punchline to vote their funny bones.

iPowow has also launched its system to put segments on Facebook Live streams from TV stations. “This is the same back end for the TV producer and the ad-sales guy,” Douglas said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.