Editor's comment: Red button's valuable legacy

LONDON - The marketing director of a car company once told me he loved the 'clunkiness' of interactive TV because it meant consumers persistent enough to watch his red-button ads really wanted to buy.

His opinion was not shared by many, though; in an age of iPhones and 50Mb broadband, iTV looked like a redundant option for brand-owners.

With this is mind, last week Sky decided to pull the plug on its red-button service, nearly a decade after Unilever ran the first iTV commercial.

As we explore on page 15, the great time and expense associated with bringing a red-button ad to air were rarely outweighed by the benefits of allowing consumers to watch an extended version of the TV spot or book a test-drive.

It's no surprise, then, that Sky has called time on red-button ads. What is hard to believe, however, is that it has taken an organisation renowned for its commercial rigour so long to acknowledge that it has been flogging a dead horse.

Red-button advertising has been perceived as clunky ever since 56k modems were superseded. It has consistently failed to generate worthwhile revenue and most of the brands brave enough to try it have long since reinvested elsewhere.

However, all this time Sky has had its eye on a far bigger prize. Red-button technology may have been fundamentally flawed, but over the years it has conditioned both brands and consumers to expect something more from TV - something beyond the usual passive viewing experience.

Now, with Sky's green-button service allowing viewers to call up ads whenever they choose and broadband-enabled set-top boxes becoming the norm, iTV will finally be able to live up the hype.

Red-button ads will ultimately be assigned to the scrapheap along with Teletext, but should be remembered as a crucial stepping stone on the path to a rich iTV future.



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