In my last post I was talking about internet TV, how I am convinced this is the future of home entertainment, and how in my next post I was going to try and tie this into ways it may eventually impact online travel. But first, I had thought I was ahead of the curve by having my Blackberry as my TV remote control, but then I saw this app from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (can’t wait to talk to the one airline exec who I know was there, as I wasn’t attending). The Unify4Life app seems to do all that my phone can, plus it lets you view the TV guide on the small screen whilst you watch a program on the big screen, and you can even  activate it prior to getting into your car / motorbike so that when your phone is within range of your home, the garage door automatically opens.

That is the type of technology that when you use it once, you are likely to be hooked, especially the TV guide browsing and remote control aspect – maybe not so much the garage door part. As I wrote in the last post, this is my personal experience from internet TV (ie. I’m hooked), and so now that I am convinced it will go mainstream (for me, 2010 was the year of NOT jumping on all hyped up technology), I am thinking a lot about what implications that might have for the airlines I talk to and their direct sales business.

One of the initial implications I am pondering is for airlines looking at more of a presence on the left of the Bow Tie Model in the travel inspiration space. Last year we spoke a lot about the future of travel search, whether the new travel search and inspiration were one in the same, and really analyzed in detail what travel inspiration actually meant. But we never looked at the impact of internet TV, so today I’m throwing one more variable into the mix.

I saw this week that VFM Leonardo were expanding a business unit that has a heavy focus in online video for hotel chains, and I’ve heard a lot of people saying 2011 is the year of online video – my take on it is that online video on the PC or mobile or tablet is a very different medium to online video via internet TV. The website hosting the video may be identical, but the frame of mind of the consumer is very different, and therefore the way an airline can benefit from this trend is also very different.

TV is unique in that it is often a shared experience, whereas PC, phone and tablet are typically running sessions unique to one person. For someone planning to travel alone the difference may be irrelevant, but for anyone traveling in a party of more than one, it could be significant.

Most of my recent learning in this area is coming from Hulu.com and how I am experiencing the ads they serve to me whilst watching TV. In short, they offer shows with less advertising than normal, but sometime I have to actively choose which one of three ads I want to watch, and other times they give me a choice to fill out one survey and watch the rest of the show ad free. The one of three ads concept is the one that has most caught my attention due to its great appeal for influencing undecided travelers.

I did some more research, and it appears Hulu is far from the only one embracing this advertising model; the actual team behind the technology appear to be from VivaKi who are connected to Publicis. The video below featuring Curt Hecht, President of VivaKi Nerve Center is interesting to get a more in depth understanding of who is behind this and how it all works. I don’t normally cover marketing here, but this video is quite interesting if you have an interest in marketing and especially advertising.

Internet TV is only going to go more mainstream as the user experience improves – just look at the seamless experience of switching between the iPad and Apple TV today. But understanding whether the ads are being shown via a TV in a multi-person household and a PC with a single user may be a challenge the people like VivaKi are yet to address – I don’t really know. But follow me as I develop an idea for what is possible.

Today on a multi-person journey, one adult usually has to convince one or more adults on the preferred destination, and all adults (and even teenagers!) are consuming different information at different times and then have to somehow convey what they have learnt to influence others in the prospective traveling party.

If two or more are sitting in front of a TV and the first ad they see shows three different types of holiday in three different destinations, then the three options probably leads to some initial discussion around which advertisement they want to watch. As internet TV is often going to see people watching 30 – 60 minute shows (we all know how annoying channel surfing is when you yourself don’t hold the remote control)  this gives the advertiser an amazing chance to develop a story using advertising during the entire program. You can’t do it effectively on a PC if someone is flicking between different sites, but by watching one TV show on one site, a travel supplier using a Hulu type choice model of advertising has the ability to turn each ad break into a new chapter in a choose you own adventure storybook.

By the end of the TV show everyone watching has had an input into working towards a possible holiday destination through discussions of which travel ad to select at each break, with each ad narrowing down the choices and building on intelligence derived from previous ads selected and skipped. This has to be so much more powerful than just saying 2011 is the year of online video – the real power is actually due to interent TV, the group dynamic and a longer session on one website – advertising actually becomes a powerful storytelling experience where the storyteller adapts the story to the feedback of the audience in the room. This is perfect for travel inspiration.

What I’ve written here is really just a starter to get you thinking about how this could be used to support an airline wanting to change the way consumers think about travel inspiration and try to reclaim ground from generic search, meta search, OTAs and standalone trip planning sites in this space. The airline is in a unique position to be present in more parts of the entire trip process, and the ability to turn TV program ad breaks into a choose your own adventure story unique to each and every lounge room, and then even send reminders or extra info post program if the user is logged in (as I typically am when on Hulu or Clicker) is nothing short of revolutionary.

That last point of the user being logged in leads into another key theme for this year – having a consistent and personalized experience for the customer regardless of which device he chooses to use when accessing your content. I’ll be covering some of that point in my appearance at the Eye For Travel event in Atlanta on January 27th, but for now, hopefully I’ve given you enough food for thought to generate a bit of water cooler conversation in the office today.

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