Friday Sketching: TV and Search Merge

As I've promised in the past, from time to time I will test your collective patience by running some sketches up the flagpole and seeing what you all have to say. So this post will be a bit longer than usual, but I'm trying to imagine a scenario where search's…

as seen on TVAs I’ve promised in the past, from time to time I will test your collective patience by running some sketches up the flagpole and seeing what you all have to say. So this post will be a bit longer than usual, but I’m trying to imagine a scenario where search’s business model infects television, and for whatever reason the Google Desktop application gave me an idea as to how. So here goes (remember, this is a *future* scenario)….

Compared to the unpredictable and untraceable value of a magazine ad or television spot, search looks pretty damn compelling. But at the end of the day, three lines of text sitting next to a set of results is a pretty meager way to declare your brand or inform a consumer about your new products or services. Clearly, there is room for both kinds of advertising – intent-based (search), and content-based (TV). But what if the two were to merge?

Before you dismiss the idea as mere speculation, let me lay out a scenario in which such a beast exists. First, imagine that a majority of households have a digital video recorder of one kind or another (such an event is predicted to occur by the year 2009, according to Forrestor). Further, imagine that this DVR has a “search history” of everything you’ve watched and are planning to watch (this is already done by most DVRs). Further still, imagine that this history is – with your tacit approval – blended with an edited profile of your online searching habits, forging a marketing precise of your likes and dislikes, your wants and needs (doing this is a matter of a marketing deal between DVR providers and search engines). Perhaps you use Google Desktop Search, or A9, or Ask, or Yahoo – it matters little, all of them create a search history already.

Now, let’s set this scenario in motion. Let’s say you are a young father to be (as I’ve been a few times). It’s 9 pm and your wife has settled, uncomfortably, onto the living room couch. Clearing her throat, she politely reminds you that you’ve been a bit distant lately, that you haven’t done a hell of a lot to help her around the house. You cringe. She continues: she’s eight months pregnant, for God’s sake, and when are you going to get around to reading that copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that she’s left none to subtly in your briefcase six months ago?

Now, you’re in your den, avoiding dealing with the sheer terror of becoming a father by checking your email for the tenth time in so many minutes, but a pang of guilt finally reaches your venal heart. So you start searching the web, trying to get smart quick. You Google “pregnancy baby” and head to the first link,, where you read up on the eighth month. You then find a link to an article that lists ten things you can do to be a better husband. The fourth suggestions reminds you to read the books your wife has purchased, so you head to Amazon and buy another copy of What to Expect…, as you left the one your wife gave you next to the Gideon bible on your last business trip.

“I’ll read it, I promise,” you tell your wife, and then add – “I’m on Babycenter right now, in fact.” Pleasantly startled, your wife springs off the sofa – well, lumbers, perhaps – and peers over your shoulder. In a flash of inspiration, you intuit that there might be something you could watch together on TV that relates to the whole parenting thing. “Let’s see if there’s anything on TV that might be good,” you say.

tivoPCYou click over to your Tivo homepage, which lets you manage your television service much as you manage your weblog reading – through a search-based interface. You search on “parent childbirth newborn” or somesuch and find that there are five shows in the next week that focus on the course of pregnancy, three of which are on the Learning Channel. You tell Tivo to record them all, noting that the first one will be available to download tonight, in half an hour, no less.

In the background of your computer, as you jump from site to site and page to page, several marketing-related actions are occurring. A cookie previously set by your local cable company notes that you’ve visited several sites that trigger “marketing potentials” –,, and, all sites that indicate significant intent to purchase products or services. You’ve also alerted the system that you intend to download five new programs, and the system takes note of content tags associated with those programs, cross referencing them with your recent search history.

The cable cookie shares this information with a marketing application running in the background of your computer, perhaps as part of that Google Desktop Search program you recently downloaded. Alerted by the marketing potential that your recent surfing has created, GDS instantly uploads these potentials as database entries in Google’s central advertising marketplace – a marketplace that looks and works an awful lot like AdWords works right now.

Up on Google’s ad marketplace, millions of similar entries are aggregated and presented to hundreds of thousands of advertisers for sale in a computer-mediated real time auction. Most of those advertisers have preset their spending levels, demographic preferences, and most importantly, intent-based targeting profiles. In the time it takes for an average Google search to complete – less than a second – three advertisements have already been sold against each of the five programs you’ve selected.

Peg_Perego_Strollers-PicHalf an hour later, you and your wife turn on your television to catch the Learning Channel show. As it starts, a small box appears on the bottom of the screen, alerting you to several advertisements that have appeared in your programming feed. You know that should you decide to watch them, your local cable bill will be reduced by a buck or so (or, alternatively, you’ve selected the programming option that gives you free cable, but requires that you review ads at preset intervals). No matter, that’s not really the reason you might want to pause the show and check out the ads. Turns out, you rather like watching them, as they are often extremely relevant to your wants and needs, not to mention informative, linked as they are to robust websites and interactive features. So you pause the show, hit the ads button, and scan the commercials. Only, they’re not just commercials, they’re offers as well. The first is from Gerber for a free month’s supply of formula (pass, you and your wife have agreed that breast feeding is the way to go). Next up is a Pampers ad offering a free box of diapers (sure, why not, you accept that one, click the box which allows the system to send your details to the Pampers marketing machine). Then comes the killer ad: “Click here for $50 off a Peg Perego Stroller. Ships in 24 hours!” Huh, you think to yourself. That’s the one my wife said was the “Mercedes of strollers.” Maybe I can afford one after all.

“Sweetheart,” you ask her, “What do you think, should we go for it?” Her eyes light up (you had said no to this exact request twice – $300 for a f*cking stroller?!! – were your exact words) and you click to accept the offer. Your wife snuggles into your side, pleased that for once, her husband actually gets it. You return to the program, and…scene!

Is such a scenario possible? While the details will inevitably vary, I honestly think this scenario is not only plausible, it’s inevitable. And it is the infrastructure of paid search as we understand it today, coupled with tiny desktop apps like GDS – that will make it happen.

18 thoughts on “Friday Sketching: TV and Search Merge”

  1. Nice article and interesting ideas. I really like the idea of better searching for television but bottom line is, given the choice I will always skip and block the ads… even if they offer me $1 off my cable bill. Given the power, tools and options I will block out all advertising as will most people.

    Unless ads are forced on us they will not be accepted. The only way to accomplish this is by inextricably linking them to content — product placement in television shows, etc.

    Your post is idealistic and a marketing dream world but it’s unlikely you’ll see it.

  2. anticpipating such a post, I changed my completely unfollowed “search” blog to be called “media”


    Its “point-to” already.

    You ‘ve put it right.

  3. Great post!
    Free stuff for eyeball attention will always be a marketing “winner” — especially among those whose marginal value of attention is low. (Prolly not those who understand that concept.)

    I think the Digitized shows on demand might well be a similar scenario, with an Amazon/ Google/ CNet list of highly rated DVD titles available.

    I think you’re missing the desire for content quality advice, to separate quantity by review ratings. The stroller ad/ buy is a good example — there is much more likely a list of strollers at or near that budget, with ratings and reviews and even values.

  4. What makes your vision particularly interesting and realistic, is how lil’ the participants actually have to do to participate. Most people do not want to go read reviews and do a lot of heavy research lifting for all purchasing decisions, hence this solution is the easy way out. That makes this scenario very believable. Separately, people w/limited incomes (a majority of our country these days, thanks to our incumbent administration ;-), would quickly go for a discount on their cable bill if they could get it for just watching an ad. Those who say they’d happily pay to skip ads or wouldn’t take advantage of such offers, obviously are better off financially then many in our country to whom such offers are generally valuable.

    Your scenario is elegant in that it touches on what is actually happening already and simply extends the metaphor to TV adapting for some new capabilities there. Your consideration of trends of working people who don’t have much time for just surfing around the Net and their desire to get a break on utility bills when possible, really rounds this out nicely.

    Should be an interesting 5 years to watch and see how much of this actually comes to bear.

  5. I wrote something about this in my post:

    Ideally I think the targetted ads would need to be resistant to ad-skipping to be effective. They could be inserted into the content at intervals and those specific frames flagged to disallow adskipping(a la broadcast flag, i know its selling our geek souls, but business is business).

    There’s some hints to what we might expect in companies such as who are working on dynamic tv ads customized to the individual viewer.

  6. I remember an experiement a few years back called “” (as in As Seen In), that linked e-commerce to product placement on TV shows. What was that sweater the character was wearing, where can I get a toaster like that, etc. So extend your TV search scenario to the indexing of shows based on physical content of the shows, tie that to query memory, record shows based on search results, highlight the items, link to ordering. Product placement interferes with art when the branding is so obvious. Here the branding can be either subtle or overlaid on request.

  7. dont forget the other side of the equation…the intial “alert to the marketing potential” is a often initially a demo/trend tracking human

    revisit Neal Stephenson’s short story “Spew” for a creative spin on this emerging reality…

  8. Great sketch. Like you said, the details will vary, but the concept is inevitable. It’s all about targeting. Just like on the net, when TV advertisers realize they can get BETTER results by putting their ad dollars into this type of marketing, things will move toward the scenario in your sketch. BTW – “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” – Great book…been there, done that!

  9. I thought you might find of interest in this context. Designed originally as a tool to support image search (by reading the textual *content* within images), we are now involved in video search (and in interactive tv applications). Being able to read words on-screen, even in complex scenes, allows eg more effective indexing of content as well as quantification of advertisement ‘visibility’.

  10. You are exactly right on this, John. I’ve been thinking about the same scenario myself.

    While Hollywood becomes obsessed with TiVo allowing us to bypass ads, both by publicly pleading with viewers not to skip them or they’ll lose free TV, and creating DVRs that will not let you change the channel or fast-forward while an ad is playing, the real solution is obvious. Make the ads interesting, don’t show the same ad so much, and target them. Perhaps Google will show the way.

  11. Great sketch. Like you said, the details will vary, but the concept is inevitable. It’s all about targeting. Just like on the net, when TV advertisers realize they can get BETTER results by putting their ad dollars into this type of marketing, things will move toward the scenario in your sketch. BTW – “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” – Great book…been there, done that!

  12. There’s an up-and-comming application called GlooTV ( that will allow for the searching and identification of products in shows. The key is to catalog everything within a show and make that the product that people want, not the 30sec spot we all skip.

    From their website (soon to be launched): GlooTV is the place to go for simple and effective searching, browsing, comparing, and buying of products and services you see and hear on TV, in the movies, in magazines, music videos, and so much more! GlooTV cuts through glam and celebrity style fluff, delivering essential information about products and services as they are envisioned by designers, set decorators, and the fashion gurus

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