Wired: CBS Embeds a Video Playing Ad in a Print Magazine

By John C Abell

In the latest example of finding media innovation where you’d least expect it, CBS is embedding a video player in a print ad in Entertainment Weekly that will serve up a buffet of its fall TV lineup.

The CBS foray into a print-digital alliance plays full-motion video at a crisp resolution. The ad, dubbed by CBS and partner Pepsi Max “the first-ever VIP (video-in-print) promotion,” works like one of those audio greeting cards. Opening the page activates the player, which is a quarter-inch–thick screen seen through a cutaway between two pages concealing the larger circuit board underneath.

The audio quality is equally good (extremely poor video shot by this reporter notwithstanding), but beware: There are no volume controls, and in a quiet environment, it’s quite loud. This is surely a intentional design feature, aimed at getting the attention of people nearby.

Unlike the wholly unsatisfying debut of the e-ink cover in Esquire magazine last year, this works.

The video-enhancement will appear in the September issue of Entertainment Weekly, but only in what sounds like a relatively small subset of the circulation: The promo itself will be in every copy, but the video portion only in some subscriptions delivered to New York and Los Angeles. It was released Tuesday to media outlets.

Upon getting to the ad, there is a 5-second delay before anything happens — there is enough on the page to probably hold the unassuming reader’s attention for that long, if nothing else the eerie stare from Neil Patrick Harris — and then a 5-second still promo before the promo for the player’s developer, Americhip.

Next up is a pre-roll featuring a bespoke setup by three characters from the network’s hit Big Bang Theory sitcom. ”I weep for civilization,” opines Emmy-nominated Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) at the end of the clip, scripted to reveal that the über nerd was tricked into appearing in an ad in Entertainment Weekly rather than “the current edition of Physics Today.”

As impressive as this step is, the true marriage of print and digital multimedia still seems quite far off, and eons away from the streaming updates in the newspapers of Minority Report fame.

Still, it is boldish, baby steps like this that bring about dramatic shifts in media. That said, the logical extreme of the current wave of tech innovation heads more toward digital reproduction of a print experience, as the Kindle DX aspires to do for newspapers, rather than to ultrathin hardware pasted to paper.

In a more-limited context, is there much of a future for this branch?

It’s an expensive undertaking, but it does seem well suited for milestone events like a new TV season or as part of a marketing blitz for a certain genre of movie — think a Watchman trailer in Entertainment Weekly.

Part of the lure of this technology as an advertising mechanism is that it adds a “medium is the message” value and thus reaps free publicity from stories like this. But when the novelty wears off, and without serendipitous newsstand sales — which Entertainment Weekly will not benefit from this time around — there’s not nearly as much upside.

And therein lies the dilemma of even bothering to extend the digital experience into a bits medium: In the end, how many people will actually see this rather than just hear about it?

Posted by Ted • Monday, August 24, 2009 .