The iTV Doctor Is In! Michael Finn of BrightLine--A Perspective on iTV
Most of the folks in the industry owe a debt of gratitude to the groundbreaking interactive television work done by DISH Network. We've spoken to most of the key DISH interactive TV folks in the past few months (except for the elusive Scott Higgins), and today we get to speak with the guy who had responsibility for iTV revenue at DISH. Michael Finn has a long and broad-ranging career in television advertising, and like many of us has caught the interactive television bug. His comments provide an interesting perspective on where television advertising has been, and where it's going. But Michael is no longer at DISH Network. Earlier this year he joined BrightLine as their new president.
iTV Doctor: So, you're now at BrightLine--when did this happen?
Finn: I'm in my fourth month.
iTV Doctor: How's it going?
Finn: It's going great. I love it. It's certainly a learning curve, moving from the operator side to the design/execution side, but ultimately a lot of what I've been doing translates over. I'm still going out there advocating for the power of iTV and digital set-top box data--and that's continued down the same road I was on at DISH.
iTV Doctor: In terms of set-top box data, DISH is one of the most sophisticated providers of all that, is that right?
Finn: Absolutely! Four years ago, when I joined DISH, the main driver of that decision was joining a group that had 25 million set-top boxes deployed around the country, and that data being the backbone of the business on the ad sales side. Before I arrived, DISH had already cut a deal with Google and had 5 million set-top boxes of data being collected and processed. And that has continued up through today
iTV Doctor: When that Google deal was made, I went online and walked myself through the purchase of ad time on DISH through Google (right up to the point I had to pay, and then I bailed out). I found it fascinating and frankly (for somebody who didn't know squat about buying advertising), astonishingly easy to use! Is that buying process still in place?
Finn: That process is still in place with Google. But they've been surprised (along with DISH and some of their other partners) by the challenging adoption rate from advertisers buying ads on that system. One of the things to keep in mind is that the Internet is very different from TV, and TV buying has been taking place for 50-60 years, and you have legacy processes and values in place. Then an automated system comes along, and sometimes it's difficult for it to take hold. TV has a value proposition and process in place, and it's difficult to fit the Google buying system into that space
iTV Doctor: You started at DISH four years ago. Where were you prior to that?
Finn: I was at MTV Networks for 11 years--working with VH1 the entire time.
iTV Doctor: When you were at MTV, interactive television didn't exist.
Finn: It didn't exist for me. When you're at a network, you only concentrate on your total number--which was at that time 85-90 million homes. You're selling time, award shows, sponsorships and other types of events. That's the driver of ad sales for a network. There was no talk about interactive television. But I started paying attention when set-top box data started popping up in a lot of my discussions. Then I had a discussion with DISH, and I realized the data and the iTV platform were national and had real scale. It didn't take long to realize that if I were at DISH, I could bring in national network guys and increase the value of that inventory pretty quickly.
iTV Doctor: So you come over to DISH. Prior to DISH, you are a traditional ad sales guy. Now you get into DISH where you have a large inventory and this growing undercurrent of interactive television (which had actually been there for quite awhile). And you're balancing those two, and then four years later you jump over to BrightLine and it's like, "Hey Mom, hey Dad. I'm the iTV guy!" That's quite a leap.
Finn: Well, you know, over those four years, more than 75 percent of the interactive television campaigns that DISH put up where designed by BrightLine for a large number of advertisers. And what became clear over time was that those campaigns were performing better than others because of the design that BrightLine was putting together for those advertisers on multiple platforms: DISH, DirecTV, Xbox 360 and all the other platforms. And putting it together for a national advertiser in just one report.
iTV Doctor: With the DISH platform, you had the opportunity to provide for what I'll call "straight" television advertising with enormous amounts of data. And then you could do even more when you were doing anything with interactive. Is that right?
Finn: The core of our business every day was selling spots. That's what brings in the money. There were more than 5 million :30 spots that we had our hands on across of the networks every year. That 2 minutes per hour that we got from the networks was incredibly valuable just to sell on its own. Selling spots on "Monday Night Football" and everything else was really where the main money was coming from. The data and interactive television portion were really leverage points to drive greater sales and bring more advertisers to the platform.
iTV Doctor: Well then, I have to ask the question: with that kind of a background and that kind of experience, why did you jump off the bridge and go full-boat interactive with BrightLine?
Finn: What I saw was that the campaigns that were taking place on DISH, that were fueled by BrightLine, were really providing astounding results. Results that within a week or two were hard to wrap our heads around! It could be anything from sampling, to coupons, to watching video to playing a video game. It seemed as if the value that was being created for these national advertisers was something above and beyond anything they'd experienced in the past. Advertisers spend millions and millions of dollars on their :30 creative, and at the end of the day what they usually get is a Nielsen report that says how many people actually saw the spot. What I saw with iTV is that you not only get your Nielsen report with your impressions, but "Here's another 500,000 people that actually clicked on the :30 spots and spent five minutes inside the ad--in just one week!" When we started to look at what that meant, and the feedback from clients, and from discussions with Jacquie (BrightLine chairman and CEO, Jacqueline Corbelli), it made a lot of sense to me. (Doctor's Note: Here is a very interesting recent interview with Jacqueline Corbelli from Fox Business News: http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/4163839/creating-interactive-ads// )
iTV Doctor: Admittedly, there are challenges that face an advertiser, whether a BrightLine client or not. You have the whole "What can run where, when, and what does it look like?" And then backed up into that you have, "How can I design an experience that works for my brand, that delivers for me what I want to do, and can fit in all those oddly shaped little holes in the desktop?" It's like you have one of those kids' games with the squares, diamonds, stars and everything else, and you have a little round peg and you're trying to pound it in with a hammer, and the sucker doesn't fit. You gotta get the right piece in the right slot! You have an enormous challenge in making it all work with a wide deployment, designing, deploying, getting the data back. Where does BrightLine stand out in all that, compared to other guys in the space? Is it in the creative side, the design of the experience, or is it more in the execution side?
Finn: Well, both sides are critical. Each distribution platform has different capabilities that are not uniform across the space. And it takes someone like a BrightLine to deeply understand the intricacies of the platform to be able to make it simple to deploy for an advertiser. But without question, the most important piece that BrightLine brings is the design. BrightLine looks at the design as being fueled by the audience behavior, through the set-top box data. They've designed and executed close to 300 campaigns over the past eight years, and all of those campaigns came with set-top box data showing how viewers interacted with the ads. Which channels they clicked on, which dayparts, which hours of the day, which pages they navigated to, which video they clicked on. All that detail (on top of the technical requirements required to deploy these campaigns) has been collected so that the designers that are sitting outside my office (of which there are 45 of them now) have a desktop data application that, when they start to build for a client, they can actually put in the demo target, the budget, and a structure can start to format just from the data. That's where the design then actually starts. It moves from there to a creative process that is so robust that BrightLine can actually go to a client and predict a result on how many people will interact with the spot. And then they will very consistently hit or exceed those results.
iTV Doctor: Cool! If you haven't gotten completely bored with my column recently, you know that I keep pounding on the companion device as possibly a necessary component for a complete interactive television campaign. If you can find a way to hand off to the iPad, iPhone or Android, you might be working on a platform that is certainly more robust than the set-top box, and is designed for interactivity. What's BrightLine doing in that space right now?
Finn: BrightLine's approach, since it was founded back in '03, has been to focus on how the behavior is changing where TV's concerned, rather than predicting whether audiences will or won't "cut the cord." So they/we are, and have been, active in including any device that can improve the TV experience in our applications. So having campaigns that cross over to include the connected TV space is fairly typical for our company's clients at this point. We're still keeping it on the television--that big box is still really popular despite what you hear--but constantly using other devices in the ways they can fit in and enhance the experience. Almost all BrightLine campaigns have text codes on the screen so you can interact with your cell phone for example. So if you're in the Hellman's application and you want the recipe that you see on the screen, you can text code it in and the recipe shoots immediately to your mobile phone.
iTV Doctor: What are you biggest challenges right now?
Finn: My personal focus right now is to enhance the new biz team. My job is to expand the business to meet what we're seeing as continued growing demand for our type of solution. We're the best at what we do, now everybody knows it!
iTV Doctor: I assume we'll see BrightLine at the 2011 TV of Tomorrow NYC Intensive conference on December 5th?
Finn: Wouldn't miss it!
The iTV Doctor is *Rick Howe*, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org