Consumers Want TV-Based Messaging

Do people want instant messaging and other interactive services to cross over from computers and wireless devices to the television? According to a new study, a market exists for such a move.

Comverse Technology Inc.’s Comverse unit, which develops network-based multimedia enhanced communications services, contracted with market-research firm RoperASW to gauge the U.S. market demand for messaging services and other interactive television (iTV) features for both digital-broadcast satellite (DBS) and cable-television (CATV) subscribers.

The results are both intriguing and encouraging for DBS and cable companies. Marketers wishing to use alternate channels to reach what promises to be a middle-to-upper income, tech-savvy audience may also want to note the results.

The study found:

  • Over 33% of those surveyed expressed interest in sending/receiving e-mail messages and voice response to e-mail over TV, and would pay $1.80 per month on average for such a service
  • About 30% expressed interest in instant messaging (IM) and chat services over TV, and would pay $1.70 per month on average
  • More than 28% expressed interest in voicemail over TV, and would pay $1.80 per month on average.
  • About 35% expressed interest in caller ID over TV, and would pay about $3.00 per month on average.

Combining all of those services into one package may be the way to go for carriers, though. Thirty-seven percent of study participants expressed interest in a converged iTV messaging service package, including e-mail, instant messaging, chat, caller identification, and voice reply to an e-mail. What’s more, they’d be willing to fork over an additional $5.40 per month on average for such features. The bundled/combination of services had a greater appeal to the end users than the individual feature offerings, Comverse/RoperASW said.

The study involved 800 digital TV subscriber households in the U.S, and measured their levels of interest, reasons for interest, and willingness to pay for specific iTV messaging services.

It’s important to note that Comverse has a vested interest in the results of this survey. The company’s TVGate interactive TV division offers cable TV and DBS a technology “whereby the TV is effectively transformed into the TV Home Communications Center” with the iTVGate platform. The system lets the operator offer subscribers a wide array of applications including iTV messaging (e-mail, Picture Mail, chat and IM), TV telephony (voicemail, voice response to e-mail, two-way SMS), multi-user games, TV-based commerce and enhanced advertising.

The implications for DBS and cable systems are obvious. New iTV services and technologies represent another revenue stream for their bottom lines.

For marketers, iTV and its features could be used for branding and advertising. Hopefully, DBS and cable operators would be willing to free up space for such content, which could bring them even more revenue.
What’s more, the attraction of superimposing an iTV ad over a very expensive network or cable ad that runs during normal programming — because a subscriber clicked on the ad while watching a show — may be too much to resist.

Marketers are already taking advantage of TV advertising that doesn’t run during programming. Gemstar-TV Guide International , for example, runs two iTV related services that offer a variety of ad positions. Cable customers generally use directional buttons on a remote control to “click” on banner-like ads and box ads that appear in on-screen guides. Once clicked, the user is taken to more information on the advertised product/service.

Two big names have already jumped into the iTV arena. AOL Time Warner’s America Online and TiVo are working together to integrate AOL features like instant messaging (IM) and live chat into the new TiVo Series2 DVRs, which were introduced earlier this year. Also, both companies aim to provide AOL members who are also TiVo subscribers with the ability to schedule recordings on their TiVo from the AOL service.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.

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