IPTV: Promises made, promises unmet… still, consumers say they want interactive TV

I promised my golf partner yesterday that I'd hit all of my drives 300 yards, stay in the fairway and never, ever, 3 putt. I promised him that I'd play at least one shot better than my handicap (which I really want to be a 2, but isn't) and that we'd win every hole in the league in which we play each Monday.

I lied. Well, I actually didn't lie, I intended to be all of those things, and he certainly wanted me to be all of those things, but, well, it just didn't happen.

Kind of like the promise of IPTV.

There was a study released last week from Strategy Analytics that revised--downward--forecasts for the global adoption of IPTV. Analyst Ben Piper (see an interview with him here) said that by 2014, 68 million people would be using IPTV, which sounds great until you realize that's 20 percent less than his previous forecast.

Why the revision?

"Undelivered promises," Piper said. "For years, it seems, we've been hearing about how IPTV was going to change television as we know it. Proponents pointed at its inherent two-way nature, addressability and interactivity as key features that would blow the competition out of the water. What we've seen delivered so far has been rather unremarkable."

One of the things that was supposed to draw consumers--and advertisers--deeper into IPTV was the ability for a user to have a "lean-in" experience while watching what has traditionally been a lean-back experience, to have a hand in directing how they view content and how they get involved with the advertising that supports that content.

Piper points out that one aspect of the lean-in experience that has been functioning in the U.K., the "Red Button" offered by satellite service Sky that allows a user to push a button on his remote and get more information on a product by mail, is biting the dust; "humanely euthanized," said Piper.

"The idea of addressable advertising is a good one," he said. "Now someone needs to make it work in a television environment."

Consumers say they want interactive TV

And, not surprisingly, consumers say they want interactivity in their programs and their advertising, and they say they'd switch providers to get it.

Interactive TV company Ensequence, today is promoting the results of a survey that says among viewers, 55 percent want to interact with televised dramas, a whopping 74 percent want to be able to interact with reality shows (yet only 55 percent want to cast a vote, go figure); and 70 percent of viewers would like to interact while watching their sporting event.

Whether that's changing camera views, asking questions, chatting with other viewers or throwing virtual tomatoes isn't clear. But the message is: consumers want it. Or at least say they want the ability to have a lean-in experience.

But--and here's the money--nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of viewers say they'd like to interact with TV commercials for a product they are interested by using their remote control, 58 percent of them would request free samples, and 43 percent would locate a local retailer who carries the product.

And, a pretty significant slice of the market, nearly 1-in-5 viewers surveyed, said they'd be willing to switch to get the interactivity.

"Consumer interest in interactivity is substantial," said Peter Low, president and CEO of Ensequence. "Interactive television presents an important strategic opportunity for programmers, advertisers and service providers to increase the value of their respective businesses."

True, and true again.

But why the disconnect? Why--if consumers say they want interactivity--would Sky kill its "Red Button?" What's wrong with this picture?

The difficulty, is sorting out what consumers--and operators--say they want, and what they do. After all, a promise made should be a promise kept.

I'm going to practice my putting; I'll never 3-putt a green again. Ever.-Jim