"Intelligent" STBs to make life difficult for media planners

MUMBAI: The implementation of the conditional access system (CAS) will definitely make life difficult for media planners and buyers. The opportunities available for advertisers will increase dramatically. In fact, media independents and ad agencies will have to create specialised teams that will deal with the post-CAS scenario. Morever, they will have to analyse data from the rating agencies such as TAM as well as data compiled by the MSOs.

At a CAS seminar organised by ETC Networks in Mumbai, Broadband Pacenet India CEO S Ravindran and chairman Jagjit Singh Kohli (also ETC Networks director) stated that CAS will provide ample opportunities for branding. The opportunities will include options such as EPG (electronic programme guide) and OSD (on screen display) that will become a part and parcel of every household that owns/invests in a set top box (STB).

The plain vanilla STBs that are being offered to consumers in the initial stages of CAS implementation can provide opportunities such as:

* On screen display while the STB is in the process of booting or starting

* Messaging service including targetted OSD (on screen display) depending on the profile of the household or the subscriber.

* EPG (electronic programme guide).

Addressing a gathering of media planners and buyers in Mumbai today, Kohli said: "OSD will be a great opportunity for media planners and even the cable trade constituents. Consider a scenario where a cigarette ad will be displayed on the TV screen of a subscriber who smokes. Pharma companies can target the households of doctors. Selective dissemination of messages is a distinct possibility as the MSOs/cable operators have the expertise to collect data about consumers."

When a member of the audience, Initiative Media planning director Anita Kotwani asked the panelists whether rating agencies would become redundant, Kohli said that the rating agencies would still provide data on the non-CAS homes (those households that don't invest in an STB). He added that these rating agencies and media agencies will have to eventually coordinate with MSOs for research findings and consumer insights.

He emphasised that MSOs have started thinking seriously about data collation and mining.

BPI's Ravindran added: "Abroad, there are STBs that are empowered to act as peoplemeters. In India, the basic boxes that are being currently offered by several MSOs don't have this facility. But all Broadband Pacenet India manufactured STBs will have the peoplemeter facility as well as Ethernet output." BPI is the only MSO that won't be importing STBs but will be indigenously manufacturing STBs and providing it to Indian consumers.

When a certain media planner asked: "Why would the consumer pay for a costlier STB that can act as peoplemeter?", Ravindran clarified: "Eventually, broadcasters will lure consumers with loyalty programmes. For instance, Zee TV can coax consumers to buy STBs with peoplemeter facility; urge them to watch Zee TV for 'X' hours a week; offer them discounts on the Zee bouquet package rates for the subsequent months!"

Kohli added: "India is a very lucky country as it ends up getting the best and latest technology. Several developed countries go through various stages of evolution but India adopts the latest technology right at the outset. Nearly 90 per cent of the CAS roll out in India will be digital and sophisticated."

However, this would present challenges to media planners and buyers. " The intelligent STBs that will make their appearance in the Indian market sooner or later will definitely complicate media planning and buying. It will be a real challenge and media agency representatives will have to study data provided by the MSOs in addition to that given by the broadcasters and the rating agencies," stated Ravindran.

Ravindran added that further complications will occur due to the impending arrival of MPEG 4 - that provides object level rather than frame level (MPEG 2) that is currently available. "MPEG 2 involves merely compression techniques whereas MPEG 4 is more advanced. Advertisers will get a chance to blend interactivity with content. Ad agencies will have to develop creative content that is more focussed," Ravindran emphasised while alluding that ad media planning business will become creatively integrated.

Kohli explained: "The ability to develop and deliver messages in a certain context gives an advantage to advertisers and offers challenges to ad agencies. For instance, it would be possible to change the on-screen hoardings in different households based on the profiles of these households - irrespective of the actual hoardings in the stadium." Looks like CAS is going to give headaches to the ICC (International Cricket Council) and a new meaning to "ambush marketing".

However, Kohli pointed out that the cost of the backend support for activating such services will be humungous. He also says that globally, there are few instances of broadcasters adopting and implementing MPEG 4 at present. It is being used primarily by the broadband operators.

Kohli stated that several options will be immediately available to ad/media planners and buyers as of 14 July 2003 and others will make their appearance as CAS is accepted by consumers. "Everything will depend on the pace at which the uptake of STBs reaches a critical mass," added Kohli.

BPI's Nayan gave a parting shot that could be another headache for media planners when he said: "Remember, CAS will empower several households that couldn't afford to buy a computer earlier as the STB will give them a chance to surf the net through their TV sets."

Indian media independents seem to be already aware of the complexities. MediaCom associate buying director Gracy Fernandes informed indiantelevision.com that the agency has appointed a team of people who are examining the impact of CAS on advertising. This dedicated team is communicating with clients as well as with internal constituents. WPP Media has already released one CAS impact report. Initiative Media is in the process of releasing its CAS impact report as soon as the broadcasters announce the individual rate cards of pay channels.

Welcome to a new order where there will specialised CAS planners and buyers in media agencies in India!

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