1. 6. 2022
Czechs are not the only ones discovering the TV world behind the red button. HbbTV has come a long way since its launch in 2011 and has rightfully become one of the most dynamically evolving global TV technologies of today. It is popular with TV stations, viewers and advertisers all over the world - demand from all parties is rising and the already wide range of options is expanding accordingly. It is because HbbTV combines the biggest advantages of TV and the internet: a wealth of quality content intended for the big screen and unlimited access in terms of space and time. What are the opportunities hidden behind the red button?

What exactly does the acronym HbbTV stand for? Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV - a platform that takes the best of both the TV and online worlds while ensuring that both environments retain their specific identities. In terms of technology, it is a hybrid combination of television broadcasting and broadband internet connection. It is a kind of extension of what is running on the TV screen. It can be viewed as a gateway to more and more content.

 From the history of HbbTV

The history of HbbTV began somewhat tentatively back in 2006. The idea of hybrid broadcasting combining the advantages of classic television with the broad possibilities of the internet based primarily on HTML scripting was first presented at a workshop of the German commercial broadcaster ARD.

Yes, HbbTV is an entirely European project initiated mainly by German and French private broadcasters associated under the umbrella of the IRT research institute.  It took a few more years for the concept to be refined and perfected enough to be tested and subsequently introduced to the general public.

After several demonstrations at various trade fairs, the name of the new technology and its logo were introduced in 2009. Later that year, the first live test took place during the traditional Roland-Garros Grand Slam tennis tournament. France Télévisions and its two partners developing set-top box technologies were in charge of the live testing.

The real turning point came in 2010. In June that year, European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), which oversees the TV market across Europe, commented on the HbbTV project for the first time. ETSI is also a body granting all necessary licences and permits. Its opinion was favourable and nothing prevented HbbTV from taking off. Logically, German broadcasters were the first to include it in their offer with the most important ones being Arte, Eutelsat, RTL and Pro7Sat1.

In the following years, the concept was adopted by additional leading European TV networks. In 2011, the first joint project was carried out in the Czech Republic - it was a cooperation between the Czech public television (Česká televize) and its private partner Antik Technology.

Today, the association of broadcasters engaged in HbbTV has over 80 members. In 2020, a new directive was introduced, which seeks to harmonise the existing business model. The purpose is to open up HbbTV to as many advertisers as possible. This provides new opportunities for creative advertising formats based mainly on the method of precise targeting.

 A platform of “infinite” opportunities  

Advertising in linear TV is in fact a category where you either hit the target precisely or miss it completely. You essentially build a model of your audiences from approximate statistics about their habits. Unfortunately, you will never get a complete and accurate picture of what a particular viewer likes or is interested in. HbbTV turns the concept inside out. Advanced ad targeting methods are the greatest benefits that the new way of watching TV content provides to marketers and advertisers.

Advertisers in the HbbTV environment are not as much looking to reach the largest number of viewers as they are to reach the largest number of viewers who are interested in their message and motivated to take some ideal consumer action. An advertisement for a new car model will logically attract a car enthusiast rather than his neighbour who does not have a driving licence and on principle, rides a shared bike to work. For this reason, profiling individual households based on viewer online behaviour is a very convenient utility of HbbTV.

Video: HbbTV advertising options

Such advertising can be highly personalised and achieve set goals precisely. The digital footprint is infinite and can provide much more information than linear broadcasting. Thanks to HbbTV, the negative aspects associated with advertising per se can be eliminated. Users receive messages that correspond to their interests. They will not experience the feelings of frustration because of an advertiser being too intrusive. On the contrary, they will easily obtain information that they would otherwise have to search on their own, which might be quite difficult. It is a win-win solution.

HbbTV will provide advertisers and ad customers with better and more comprehensive feedback. By combining traditional television and the internet, their ads enter a fully data-driven environment. The data include the basic information such as age or gender as well as more specific data such as consumer preferences, financial background, hobbies, interests, etc. An HbbTV campaign is therefore regularly followed by a very comprehensive report that identifies precisely what worked, how, and for whom. And of course, it also shows the opposite results - where and how the advertiser’s efforts failed.

Another undeniable advantage of this approach is the complementary nature of campaigns. There is no reason why thematically targeted advertising running on HbbTV could not work on a TV channel with a specific focus. Advertising messages run side-by-side on TV and HbbTV. In the first case they target specific audiences, in the latter they can try and attract those who might not be (but definitely could become) passionate enthusiasts.

Traditional and innovative advertising formats

The connection between the TV medium and the internet has naturally influenced the very form of advertising messages. After accessing the HbbTV app, you will find that you are suddenly in an environment that has nearly nothing in common with classic linear broadcasting.

While TV advertising has to be attractive and have carefully prepared programming in the first place to keep viewers’ attention, HbbTV also requires other qualities from its authors. Clarity and user-friendliness are the primary values to be highlighted as they are the basic prerequisites for viewers to feel comfortable and get the feeling that they are the ones who control the application rather than being controlled.

It is obvious that advertisers are betting on similar logic. HbbTV gives them a wide range of ways to reach viewers but they should still keep in mind that their advertising must not be intrusive and - God forbid - annoying. Therefore, everyone should first think about what they want to communicate to the target audience and how original the way they are trying to sell this information is.

The internet has a great advantage over television - it provides space for immediate interaction with the user. If you do not have a breathtaking message to convey, at least try and give it an interesting form. Or if you know that you have just made a creative masterpiece, treat it like a typical TV ad. In short, there are more than enough options. It is up to your discretion and budget which way you will choose to reach your target group.

The following advertising formats are the most used and most popular in HbbTV:

  1. Banners

It is a format that we all know from the internet. Although it is common, it takes on a new dimension in HbbTV and helps you reach entirely new target groups. It mostly takes the form of a classic square or rectangular information box and usually pops up somewhere on the side of the screen - most commonly on the right or at the bottom.

Depending on your budget, you can afford to occupy a large or small portion of the screen. The largest banners take up to 25%. Whether viewers want it or not, the pop-up catches their attention despite the fact that the streaming video is still running without interruption. It is also the oldest HbbTV ad format, which has been associated with the platform since its launch in 2011.

  1. L-band ads

L-band is also a type of banner - but one that gives you more space for your message. Moreover, it uses a relatively unconventional format. Its name speaks for itself - it is displayed as a pop-up message on the screen, usually from the top right or left corner to the bottom. There it takes the form of a classic banner bar. The result occupies a large portion of the screen. Therefore, it surely gains the attention of viewers, at least for a while, to the detriment of the content they are watching.

This format gives more room for creativity - you can fill the advertising space with texts, images or interactive elements such as polls, animations, etc. However, there is one thing L-bands and banners have in common: both of these (let’s say) unsophisticated formats do not interfere with the ongoing stream. On the one hand, they cannot be considered too disturbing. On the other hand, they are still ads that do not hold viewers’ full attention as a classic TV ad can.

  1. Video Overlay Ads

Now we move to formats that completely interrupt the intense and concentrated experience of consuming content. A video overlay ad shatters the illusion of immersion in streaming content because it works like traditional TV advertising to some extent. Simply put, you are watching selected content and suddenly, there is time for a commercial break. Instead of the show you are watching, a video ad is displayed and when it is finished, you return to the programme again. Logically, such advertising requires not only 100% of the screen space but usually also the viewer’s full attention.

Again, there are arguments that such advertising is as disturbing as TV ads. But if your message is original enough and has an attractive design it is a way to make the most of a relatively overcrowded environment. Moreover, HbbTV  provides opportunities you can only dream of in linear broadcasting. It is not surprising that marketers are coming up with various ideas to attract the attention of the audience and direct it towards the brand they are presenting. They also have ideas that can disrupt their concentration completely and redirect the viewer’s attention elsewhere.

Video: HbbTV - Volvo

For example, Volvo addressed its potential customers in this way, presenting its new V60 model. At first sight, it was an ordinary advertisement we are used to in the automotive segment. But thanks to HbbTV, viewers were able to interact with the video. One click on the “OK” button took them directly to the website where they could fill out a contact form to get more information about the product. It is no coincidence that the authors of the campaign won an HbbTV Award in 2018.

  1. Switchrolls

In linear TV broadcasting, it is not unusual for broadcasters to offer viewers more than one content station. It is not surprising that they wish to give them the same option in HbbTV. Users can easily switch channels if they get tired of what is offered on one of them. It is the goal of every broadcaster to offer its viewers a sufficiently variable range of content from which everyone can choose easily without having to leave for a competitor. In this respect, HbbTV provides space to reach consumers quickly and in time.

Switchrolls use the specific moment when viewers decide to interrupt their non-stop concentration to search for other content. The advertisement - most often in the form of a video - is shown when the viewer switches to another channel. Switchroll perfectly fills the space between two blocks of intense watching, getting the viewer’s maximum attention for a short period of time.

 From the Czech TV landscape  

As already mentioned, the Czech public television flirted with the idea of HbbTV in 2011. It teamed up with Antik Technology, a private company, and together they launched a hybrid service in 2012. It became known as “ČT bod” (Czech TV point). As such, the Czech Republic entered the red button era.

Private broadcasters did not wait long. Soon they came up with their own applications - for example, the music television Óčko seized the opportunity, followed by the largest Czech commercial TV networks Prima and Nova. Today, hybrid broadcasting is offered also by Seznam TV and the religious channel TV Noe and other channels are considering joining HbbTV as well.

Video: HbbTV demonstration - ČT

Although Česká televize played a pioneering role in the popularisation of HbbTV, today it is far from being the only local innovator. The position is taken by two largest commercial TV networks, Nova and Prima. The former uses the red button to offer access to its archive as well as to the Voyo app, TV guide, weather forecast and thematic station broadcasts - TN Live (news TV) and Nova Lady (lifestyle TV). It has recently introduced a new functionality, the Social TV, connecting television with social media.

Prima does not lag behind, making the most of HbbTV opportunities. Prima’s red button includes iPrima, an application that has been increasingly popular with advertisers. In 2020, the red button was available to more than 2 million viewers with more than half a million of them using the application actively. Compared to 2019, the number of ad campaigns  delivered on HbbTV increased by 47%. We can assume that the figures have increased in recent years.

Video: HbbTV spot - TV Nova

These two players on the Czech market come up with the biggest advertising innovations, such as the splash screen format, which ensures 100% visibility for the advertiser, or regional targeting. This is particularly important in the Czech Republic because it allows marketers of smaller companies to target directly the region in which they operate. This has an impact on the effectiveness of campaigns and on spending money reasonably. Regional targeted campaigns are cheaper and are likely to hit where required.

The dynamic switch-in is another option, updating user profiles based on users’ online data. This format can work with values that marketers adjust in various campaigns. Dynamic switch-in gives them the opportunity to address users who share the same values as the particular campaign. Kinet Creator is a must-have utility in HbbTV. It is a useful and simple campaign editing tool. It is currently offered to clients for free by Media Club and Nova.

Video: HbbTV spot - FTV Prima

One of the largest local revolutions in HbbTV occurred last year when Nova and Prima introduced an advertising format Max Reach. It is again a combination of both media - TV advertising and the internet. In this case, however, the internet campaign is a direct follow-up to the TV spots. Ads in HbbTV are shown primarily to those users who have not seen them in linear broadcasting.

For example, Nova used this approach to run the campaign of the Sazka betting office and Prima has a similar collaboration with the food company Znojmia. In both cases, HbbTV delivered a high number of addressed users. Both campaigns were successful as a whole, reaching several million impressions. Specifically, Znojmia reached 2.77 million viewers by its TV spots with HbbTV adding another 1.1 million viewers. Sazka’s campaign achieved a strong result of 3.03 million viewers addressed plus additional 919 thousand reached by HbbTV.

Video: HbbTV campaign - Znojmia’s spot

Czech firms are getting used to HbbTV campaigns quickly. A few examples of good practice appeared in the aforementioned 2020, which was considerably affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in general. The role of HbbTV increased significantly during that year. For example, Coca Cola came up with its campaign at that time, using the services of HbbTV Creator. It helped the company create a template for its contest promotion with a QR code. Recipes of the competition partners were displayed in the accompanying video window. České dráhy (Czech Railways) was not idle either, providing the opportunity to scan a QR code into a mobile phone directly from the TV screen. Magnum accompanied the launch of its new Magnum Ruby chocolate flavour by a prize quiz that could be completed directly on the HbbTV app.

The above shows that we have become accustomed to the possibilities of the world accessible through the red button quite quickly. Which does not mean, however, that we do not discover its limits. Czech innovators are not the only ones who are constantly coming up with new concepts to make HbbTV even more effective, more targeted, and more user-friendly for all parties. It is a proof that the imaginary limits are far more distant than they might seem to be at first glance. Be it as it may, it is definitely an excellent opportunity for all advertisers and it should not be ignored. The TV landscape is changing and HbbTV is a trend that can significantly boost advertisers’ brands and sales. But first of all, they must be willing to learn how to work with these revolutionary formats.
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