Sky is challenging the advertising community to come up with more creative interactive campaigns and is backing the initiative with a prize worth £250,000.

The Sky ‘Out of the Box’ competition was launched at the D&AD Congress 2004, a celebration of creative excellence organised by the British Design & Art Direction, an educational charity perhaps best known for its prestigious Yellow Pencil awards.

The aim of the competition is to raise the creative quality of interactive television advertising campaigns on the Sky platform. The company is asking entrants to develop a creative concept that demonstrates the most innovative, imaginative and potentially successful use of interactive television to build business in any sector using the unique qualities of the medium to maximum effect.

“Engaging the creative sector will be key to realising the full potential of interactivity,” said Mark Wood, commercial director at Sky Media. “As more and more brands turn to iTV to build closer relationships with consumers, Sky is committed to sustaining the momentum behind this fast-growing medium.”

The premise is to assume that anything is possible with interactive television. Sky will offer expert advice and provide technical support for the implementation and the winner will receive Sky services to the value of £250,000, including interactive airtime on Sky Channels, the application build, hosting and any leads generated.

Sky has broadcast over 450 interactive campaigns in the last four years. Some industry observers have been critical of the lack of creativity in many interactive commercials, particularly those using customised templates available with their standard WML browser application. This has led to a perception that interactive advertising can only offer limited direct response style campaigns. However Sky are also quick to point out that they can also provide richer interactive experienced through so-called Dedicated Advertiser Locations created in-house using OpenAuthor.

The Sky initiative comes as Consortium4TV, a group of leading advertisers backed by Zip Television, prepares to launch a rival dedicated interactive television service. The original launch date was apparently put back because of problems securing necessary agreements with the relevant broadcasters. A Sky representative suggested that the timing of the competition was co-incidental, saying that it was designed to promote an appreciation of the possibilities of interactive advertising.

Sky recently reported that total turnover from interactive services is now equivalent to that from advertising revenue on Sky channels. While the majority of interactive revenue comes from betting, it is a clear indication of the commercial potential of interactive services.