At a time when the internet and mobile phones have made the world a more immediate place – in which instant satisfaction is becoming the norm for many consumers – television is still waiting in eager anticipation for its cutting-edge technology to hit the right spot for viewers.
Interactive TV was supposed to bring the medium back to the future by marrying its ability to deliver dynamic messages with red-button, show-me-more-now accessibility.
But things, so far, haven't been instantly satisfying for broadcasters or their audiences.
In fact, there is a definite sense of concern within TV circles that what everyone thought would be the next big thing is not turning out, so far at least, to be quite as big – or should that be beautiful? – as they thought.
With the death of the 30- second spot being predicted by many in the industry, interactive advertising was being hailed as a potential saviour of TV advertising.
Well, the new model may look flashy enough – and demand for it has certainly taken off – but interactivity appears to have stalled somewhat, if not in terms of the straight numbers, then in terms of the creativity of the campaigns to date. Indeed, it is the creative side of the equation that appears to be in need of a jump-start if interactive TV is to take off as an advertising vehicle.
With a few notable exceptions, pressing red has been a less than exhilarating experience for television viewers and, while it may have helped them focus on their favourite player on Sky's player cam or to order that holiday brochure for Barbados, it has hardly been the artistic revolution some had hoped for.
Which would explain why ITV Sales staff – for whom, until recently, iTV was a printing error – have just launched a major new initiative to, in their words, "make interactive advertising work harder".
ITV, along with other less recent converts to interactive advertising, are worried by the lack of enthusiasm from creative agencies.
It has cottoned on to the fact that, while "pressing red" long ago entered the vernacular, along with the likes of MP3s, SMS, MMS and Wap, it has yet to see the breakthrough ads that everybody talks about. The Honda diesel ad may have lit a few fires for interactive anoraks and they still talk about the Becks and Johnny ad in certain bars in Farringdon, but you won't find too many people in Marks & Sparks discussing that store's latest interactive advertising experience.
In fact, one agency boss sums up the frustration felt at the lack of interactive creativity when he talks about an ad which cost his client the best part of £500,000.
"The mainstream TV ad was absolutely great, but I feel sorry for anyone who pressed red. The result was an apology for interactivity.
"The trouble is that the creative agencies, generally, just don't get it. Either that, or they can't be bothered."
With that sort of view far from being a one-off, ITV the broadcaster has decided to approach London's top 10 creative agencies in a combined roadshow with interactive specialists. And, although they would not put it so bluntly, their mission has been to find out just why the creative brigades have been so apathetic.
Most creative agencies have no specialist interactive department.
Cynics might point to the fact that ITV, for one, needs to be looking to generate more cash from areas like interactive, because it stands to be a big loser from the threat to traditional advertising, posed by the likes of the personal video recorder – know as the PVR – and video-on demand.
ITV Sales is now running more than 20 interactive campaigns a month – across its now far stronger line-up of digital channels – and claims that many more advertisers are embracing the medium.
The trouble is, according to ITV, the ads themselves could do much more.
Many argue that creative agencies are cutting their own throats by not getting more involved and that they are kidding themselves if they think the 60-second spot will always be around to be their bread and butter.
"I am conscious that the real potential of interactivity is, in many cases, still to be realised," says Peter Birch, head of interactive sales at ITV, who was actively encouraged by media agencies to make the approach to their interactive-shy creative cousins.
"I suspect this is largely due to interactivity still being viewed by some as being about technology, rather than looking at ways this new technology can provide creative solutions," he adds.
ITV has been joined in its roadshow to tout the benefits of interactive by BBC Broadcast – a part of the BBC's commercial operations that is soon to be sold.
That alliance seems even more unlikely than the sales teams of ITV pushing the envelope for interactivity but, along with a handful of other interactive companies, BBC Broadcast at least has a few decent ads under its belt.
The company has created interactive ideas for the likes of Japanese car giant Honda. Two of these ads have recently been shortlisted for a British Television Association Advertising award. But they are the only two campaigns that were short-listed in the interactive category, which says a lot about the dearth of good stuff out there.
"An interactive ad should go beyond pure data capture and should achieve other tangible results such as message recall," says Christian Ruland, creative director at BBC Broadcast.
"The creativity in iTV isn't that great," laments Toby Hack, boss of OMDtvi, a company which has seen demands from clients go crazy over the past couple of years.
"Sales houses like IDS have worked very hard, as has Sky, to try to increase creativity but it's proved difficult to get creative agencies involved. I welcome what ITV's trying to do."
Andy Benningfield, associate director and head of TV at BJK&E, says that few agencies are interested in iTV – or do it well.
"My understanding is that, too often, creative agencies of record are sometimes reluctant to develop enhanced TV in the belief that linear advertising should be good enough to do the job," Benningfield says.
"It should, and mostly does, but what they might not understand is how the viewer behaves in a multichannel environment when advertising has to work harder to gain cut-through and be more engaging to retain viewer attention."
Recently, Sky Media, the satellite giant's sales operation, sponsored an interactive category in the D&AD Awards – the sort of stuff which tends to get creative types hot under the collar.
But for every boundary pushing Adidas ad, there are plenty of interactive efforts which, as one agency boss rather unkindly puts it, are reminiscent of the ads for your local car garage or ruby house which used to pop up before the films in the days before high-street cinemas became bingo halls.
Momentum, however, suggests that more enlightened times are ahead and it is not just ITV that has seen the light.
Although Sky is still a dominant force in the art, its stranglehold on interactivity is not quite what it was. After struggling to get on the likes of the Sky channels, Zip TV, has entered the fray.
Despite the blow of losing one of its heavyweight backers, Procter and Gamble, Zip, which retains the support of several A list clients, now sits alongside the likes of Press Red TV and BBC Broadcast as an interactive specialist.
Press Red recently withdrew an ad for one client because demands for an offer on its interactive ad outstripped supply.
Cheaper and more accessible
The company has also helped make the technology behind making interactive ads more accessible and, importantly, cheaper, although there is still far from a level playing field with Sky notorious for strict control over its return path.
A lot is expected of a new company called A2A, the management of which includes TV veteran Nick Brown and former ZenithOptimedia boss Tim Greatrex. An operation boasting more of an agency friendly face should be good news when it comes to getting them more involved.
The company has also set out to encourage advertisers that are new to interactivity.
So, maybe in a few years time, more creative types will be tripping over themselves to get up that red carpet to collect their golden arrows for interactive achievement. And red button will, at last, be the hot button.