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Interpublic Aims to Speed iTV Development

Ad agency conglomerate Interpublic Group is hoping to make interactive TV more palatable for media buyers, advertisers and consumers through a new agreement with post-production outfit Liberty Livewire.

The alliance, which New York-based IPG calls "Covered Bridges," will bring the companies together to create joint research, help shape the direction of the iTV industry with "vision-building" efforts and hopefully develop more practical applications.

IPG said the effort is intended to make it easier for marketers, media companies and consumers to move from traditional mass media to emerging media -- hence the name of the project, which is meant to evoke the idea of safe passage.

Spokespeople from IPG and Liberty Livewire aren't also sidestepping the fact that the two companies want to be known as leaders in the industry.

"Convergent TV and computer applications will inevitably emerge as one of the major available media choices in the near future," said Ira Carlin, who is chairman and worldwide chief executive of Universal McCann, an IPG-owned media buying agency that will be working on the project. "Both research and actual usage data are telling us this loud and clear."

"However, because this is still an evolving practice, we want to become very active now in ensuring that our clients will be among the early leaders in applying these convergent technology opportunities effectively to advance their business goals," he added.

So far, insiders concede that the alliance is little more than talk. But if it has teeth -- as both IPG and Liberty executives promise -- then the industry as a whole could see real benefits, since both partners bring considerable industry clout to the table.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Liberty, which handles programming distribution as well as post-production, brings relationships with producers, broadcast and cable networks to the alliance.

Meanwhile, IPG is committing its largest agency group, McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, to handle the effort from its end. Kathleen Mulhern, from McCann's WorldGroup Ventures unit, will head the alliance as managing director.

Like Liberty, which is dabbling in iTV programming on its own and in other joint ventures, McCann already has a significant amount at stake in the fledgling industry. UM Futures and UM Interactive, units of McCann's media buying agency Universal McCann, each have worked out iTV buys, and several McCann clients, too, have experimented with iTV -- including Coca-Cola, Gillette and General Motors. With prodding by the agency, they're likely to be receptive to new initiatives in the future, said sources at IPG.

Carlin said IPG had elected to work with Liberty Livewire because it's often in post-production where "decisions are made about adding value to the actual delivery of programming and advertising."

Liberty Livewire's Bill Airy said that it's likely that the partners' work will include production in the HyperTV format -- a content distribution platform the firm is creating with Alley-based iTV player ACTV.

But in the meantime, Airy said the company's explicit aim "is to develop commercially viable convergence opportunities for Interpublic, its agencies, and their clients."

"We believe our new alliance is a concrete and significant step in this industry because it combines two leaders in their respective fields who are coming together to create opportunities that are sustainable and that add real value to marketing efforts," said Airy, who is vice president for interactive services at the firm.

"Interpublic [offers] a wealth of expertise in understanding marketing client strategic needs, in developing TV programming, in using media for audience targeting, and in analyzing interactivity as a consumer benefit," he added.