Digibox threatens ad revolution

Advertisers are being warned they face a radical rethink of how they reach Middle East television viewers following the introduction of mass-market digital video recording technology.

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By  Tim Addington and Steve Wrelton Published  February 26, 2006

Advertisers are being warned they face a radical rethink of how they reach Middle East television viewers following the introduction of mass-market digital video recording technology. The prediction comes as pay TV operator Showtime launched its ShowBox, which it claims is the first DVR device in the Middle East. The technology is available to subscribers in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, enabling users to pause live programmes and easily fast forward through advertising breaks. The device records up to 40 hours of programmes and, via an on-screen programme guide, also allows for more straightforward programming of recordings than traditional video recorders. A survey of DVR users in other parts of the world in September 2004 suggested that they spent 60% of their time watching recorded or delayed programmes, in which they skipped 92% of commercials. But Simon Dore, senior vice president of technology at Showtime, said he was “not worried” about the potential loss of advertising revenue DVR technology might have on the company. “You can roll through ad breaks easily, but the one thing I have noticed is if there is actually an advert that you are interested in, you can watch it again and again, and get information such as telephone numbers and other details. That is how I would pitch it to advertisers.” But media planners say advertisers will need to rethink traditional spot advertising and make greater use of sponsorship bumpers, which appear immediately before the programme resumes. David Sheridan, regional director at MindShare, predicted: “I think it’s a technology that will become standard in the Middle East. “It is something to worry about in the long term. Advertisers are going to need to increasingly look at an integrated approach to advertising and will need more contact points to build their reach.” Tim Baker, client services director at Initiative, said the limited subscriber base of Showtime, which he put at 400,000, will not immediately threaten traditional TV advertising, but said advertisers will have to be more clever in the way they advertise on TV. He said: “The threat is in the level of clutter. Sponsorships are definitely the way to go, not at the expense of running spots, but there’s more and more pressure from agencies and clients to find ways to get closer to programming content. But even in sponsorship you have to find ways to be clever. It’s not just about break bumpers — you get sponsorship credits, ads in between the programmes themselves and whatever else you can get negotiated into them as well. “If the boxes start to become free, then potentially it starts becoming a threat, but it’s a long way off and may never happen.” Karen Hargreaves, marketing director for the Middle East and North Africa at MasterCard, said: “I believe that it could create an issue, but advertisers should bear that in mind when planning a campaign with Showtime. From a consumer point of view its definitely added value. From an advertiser’s point of view, let’s wait and see.”

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