No Escape From ITV Commercials

Posted on: 09 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

TV viewers will no longer be able to fast forward through advertisements under a new ITV plan to embed them during programmes.


Are you one of those television viewers who always changes channel as soon as the commercials start? Well your flipping may soon be futile.

Broadcasters have been coming up with a new system that gets their brands noticed, and in such a way we’ll never get away from them.

In fact, the big bosses are putting the final touches to technology that will show television commercials during real-time programmes in a massive overhaul to television advertising.

The new technology, developed for ITV, is called ‘automatically placed overlay advertising’ and uses computers to seek out suitable spaces on screen. Areas such as blue sky or blank walls in programmes can be identified as a place in which commercial logos and messages can be placed.

It has been developed by Californian firm Keystream in response to increasing concerns from advertisers that set-top boxes allow viewers to record programmes and then fast-forward through advertisements, reducing or eliminating their impact as well as threatening advertising revenue.

The overlay advertising is currently being tested on news footage on the ITV Local website.

Advertisers taking part in the trial include USwitch.com, the price comparison website, and Freesat, the digital satellite service. On the internet, viewers can click on the logo to be taken to the advertiser's website.

However, ITV claims there are 'absolutely no plans' to introduce the system on to its TV shows.

A senior source at the company said it would not legally be allowed to use the system under current regulations. They stressed it was simply an online application that they are trialling.

"There's a lot of potential. If there's a scene in a programme where there's time, then it could give us a chance to get an ad away. But obviously on television you won't be seeing one of these appearing at a crunch point in a drama,” says Simon Fell, head of future technology at ITV.

"The technology looks at moments in the video where it finds segments that are big enough to get a non-moving logo in. Rather than an editor sitting through it and finding space, and all the effort that takes, this does it all automatically.”

"We're trialling it online, where it's a manageable area and allows us to get feedback from both advertisers and viewers. It gives us another tool in the arsenal, and it's subtle."

But Ofcom is preparing for a shake-up of its advertising rules which could lead to major changes in the regulations.

Broadcasters inserting adverts into the middle of dramas and documentaries would come under intense fire from viewers and programme-makers. Subliminal advertising is banned on British TV along with product placement.

It is unclear whether the new scheme would face opposition from regulators Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority.

"Consumers are becoming a lot more clever in avoiding advertising, and now that they've got the technology to do it it's become a big issue for advertisers. They need to be smarter,” says Colin Maclead, research director at the World Advertising Research Centre, an independent advisory body.

"Anything that they are able to use to attract viewers' attention they will welcome, but as long as viewers feel comfortable about it. This potentially could cause some friction between broadcaster and consumer."

What do you think of the new advertising plans?

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