New-Media Ad Guru: TV’s Future Is Now

As chief innovation officer of Publicis Groupe Media, Rishad Tobaccowala is driving the TV/Internet convergence strategies for Publicis’ big media shops Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia Group, as well as those agencies’ clients, which range from Procter & Gamble to Coca-Cola Co. In light of the recent flurry of TV-programming download deals, B&C’s Joe Mandese spoke with Tobaccowala to see where the business will go next.

You predicted that either “TV would become the Internet or the Internet would become TV.” Is that what we’re seeing happening now?

Television is becoming on-demand, which is what the Internet delivers. Companies are putting thousands and thousands of programs, entire libraries of content, online for free. The only thing limiting broadband before was that there was so little video inventory. Now that has been solved. Television delivered over IP or on-demand, that’s the future. And it’s now.

How concerned should the ad community be that many of these first steps—Apple/Disney’s iPod video deal, the networks’ broadband video previews—don’t include advertising?

The ad community should be profoundly concerned. This is one thing that threatens to destroy us if we can’t figure it out. Our business, unless we adjust, is doomed. What needs to happen is, we need to figure out the choice situation. If you can get an episode of the greatest program on earth for 50¢ or for free in exchange for watching a single, one-minute, highly targeted commercial that is not cluttered and incredibly measurable, where do we fit it? We need to get creative.

Will advertising become the content?

I think the biggest opportunity for our industry exists for pure, wildly entertaining advertising, even if it’s two, 10 or 30 minutes in duration. When I’m buying a Cadillac, for instance, and I can get a free 30-minute video on how to choose a luxury car, I’ll watch hours of it. Consumers, according to research, aren’t “offended” by branded content, but we can’t score that as a victory. We have to figure out the relevance equation, and victory may be ours.

Some advertisers appear to be bypassing the content part altogether, making downloads their message, like Burger King’s iPod Video. What does that say for conventional TV programming over the Internet?

People will pay a price or agree to watching an ad in exchange for good content. The consumer can determine what they want to watch, when and on what platform. People who like TV will want TV. People who watch snippets will use iPod or broadband. Remember, there is no cost or difference in streaming the content to any format. The consumer will choose what experience he/she wants in viewing. At least in the near term, the majority will want to do the TV experience.