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ONE ON ONE: Dalen Harrison, CEO, enseQuence

Active for a number of years internationally in the U.K., interactive TV specialist enseQuence has recently expanded its work in the burgeoning U.S. interactive TV market, with work for Major League Baseball, EchoStar, Nike, Comcast, Cox and others. In an edited transcript of a lengthy interview with the editor, CEO Dalen Harrison demonstrated how their tools allow operators and content owners to easily create interactive TV applications for a number of devices and talked about some of the problems that have long slowed the development of interactive applications and advertising.

Q: How do you see the interactive TV sector today and how does enseQuence fit into that?

A: We’ve always believed that if we could bring interactive qualities to television, it would be huge for advertising and whole television experience.

But when we started seven years ago, it was clear that adding interactivity was a nightmare technically. Even across Europe, where there has been a lot of interactive TV, and there was only a handful of middlewares, it was deployed across all sorts of different boxes. That made interactivity a planning and programming nightmare.

So we’ve always had only goal: We wanted to be the interactive television company that enabled companies to put content and interactive services in an easy, seamless way on every television platform out there.

That has come to mean not just digital television in a traditional sense but also VOD, mobile platforms, broadband, DVRs, and any other devise that can run video.

We cut our teeth internationally in the U.K. with BBC and BSkyB and now we’re back in the U.S. working with the major cable and satellite operators.

With ETV-BIFF and all the standards for OCAP, we think we’re about to see a sea change in the U.S. in the next couple of years. As it expands, advertisers and content providers are going to be able to look at the market and say there is now a critical mass of coverage on cable and satellite [for new interactive TV applications and programming.]

Q: How do you see the demand for interactive TV advertising developing and why has it been so slow to realize its promise?

A: If you think about interactive advertising for a second, it is astonishing how successful interactive advertising in its current form has been. You are making the ads interactive on their own, but not the content and no one turns on television to watch the ads.

Sky has done a great job but the reality is that they are focusing on enhancing just the ads and doing it in a template format, which limits the creativity.

So they’ve had more success than I would have guessed.

In contrast, the Nike ad that we did Weiden+Kennedy advertising agency has lots of great content to explore. We had 22 video clips in this Nike ad [which aired on EchoStar with the content stored on the DVR.]

Once you make it easy to add interactive features and make it cost effective, then I think markets are going to catch onto this.

Q: You mentioned costs, which have always been a big issue in the slow development of interactive advertising. How much are costs coming down?

A: For what you are already paying out for a standard TV campaign, you can quite easily make it fully interactive for an additional 10%.

And for an additional 10%, you are not only making it interactive; you are also making your media buyers far more measurable and productive.

The other thing that has stopped interactive media buys in the past, is that it would x number of months for a bunch of engineers and programmers to develop it.

We were able to do the work on the Nike ad, which was the most advanced ad campaign to ever go on air, in just two weeks. It allows the creatives to work without having to use a template and dozens of engineers.

Q: In Europe, where interactive TV is much more available, most of the interactive TV deployments were on satellite. Are you now seeing more interest from cable?

A: Three years ago 95% of our efforts were with in day to day working with satellite. Today, that is the 60% is with cable. There is a sense that cable is moving as fast as they’ve ever moved towards interactivity.

Q: Is that also the case in Europe?

A: In Europe, cable has been slower, but over the next 12 months they will also moving in that direction. By the next IBC conference, you’ll see a real difference in the interest.

We are also working with several IPTV deployments that we haven’t officially announced in the U.S. and Europe.

In the past, it hasn’t really been possible to do a lot of interactivity because it takes too much time and expense for engineering teams. But when it is easy to do and cost effective, then it makes sense for the operators to offer it. And, as the consumer experiences it, they’ll be spending more time interacting, which makes it valuable to advertisers.