Adverts online will become supremely personal

Television viewers in the UK may have noticed something strange last night. One of the most popular television programmes for the past 25 years is clearly becoming much less important to the nation. The programme is the weekly chat show “Parkinson”, hosted by Michael Parkinson.

In a much publicised move a couple of years back, the programme switched from the BBC to ITV. Parkinson is a national institution; at one time most of the adults in the country watched Parkinson on a Saturday night. But watching last night it was clear that the programme is now an “also ran” in the world of TV. The reason? Well, it was obvious no-one wanted to advertise. In the first advertising break there were two promotions for other ITV programmes and two short adverts. In the second advertising break there were only promotional items – no advertising.

Commercial television is undergoing a huge downfall in advertising revenue at the moment and is struggling. Last night’s Parkinson was a clear indicator of the trouble that ITV is in. If no-one wants to advertise in a flagship programme like Parkinson, then the writing is clearly on the wall for commercial TV.

Nowadays in the UK broadcasters are elated if they get 8m viewers in peak time viewing. Ten years ago they would have been getting two to three times that level. Audience levels have plummeted in the last decade because people are finding other ways of being entertained. Mass audience entertainment is disappearing; niche audience entertainment is in.

So what does this mean for advertisers? How will they get their products noticed by potential buyers? Luckily this week both Google and Microsoft have provided answers. Google has bought Feedburner this week for a reputed $100m. Feedburner is a system that allows blog entries to be syndicated to readers directly. If you subscribe to news and information via Feedburner it is made available directly to you, without you having to revisit various web sites. For Google this is a great opportunity to deliver adverts that are precisely targeted at reader interests. If you get information via Feedburner the adverts will be closely related to your personal interests, as shown by the information to which you subscribe.

Microsoft has added a further way this week showing us how personalised advertising of this nature will take hold. They have developed the computer table – a desk where there is an interactive screen that recognises physical objects, which you can manipulate with your hands and which is connected to the Internet. One idea is that these tables could be used in restaurants. You order some wine, the bottle is placed on the table where the screen recognises the wine, presents you with various web sites on that particular vintage and adverts of where you can buy your own case of it, for instance. In other words, not only does this make advertising personal, but it means that advertising can be related to your specific interests at that moment in time.

Commercial television cannot deliver personal advertising. With technological advances making personal adverts all the more likely, you can take a pretty safe bet that ITV – and other commercial TV stations that are based on advertising – will be dead within the next decade. And that will certainly give Parkinson something to chat about.

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