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Addressable Advertising Looks for a Foothold in 2011

If you’re not living in Canada, chances are good you missed the announcement last week that Canadian cable operator Cogeco is planning an addressable advertising trial with Invidi in 2011. Motorola is also involved in the activity, working closely with Invidi and the broadcast station CHCH to deliver advanced ad capabilities to customer Cogeco.

Advanced advertising has had a lot of false starts in the TV world. We’re starting to see some traction for interactive ads in the US with Comcast’s successful request-for-information spots, and Canoe’s announcement that it is now offering interactive ad inventory on a national basis. But the interactive revolution has been slow, and the push behind addressable advertising even slower.

The Cogeco announcement is encouraging because it promises a good real-world reference case for addressable advertising. According to the press release, Invidi’s Advatar system “enables television advertisers to deliver tailored messaging to individual households during a commercial break.” (Emphasis my own) In other words, Cogeco will be able to deliver finely targeted commercials during a broadcast show. This is significant both because of the ability to target households, and because the trial goes beyond many existing field tests which have focused primarily on VOD platforms. The system will use demographic information available in the public domain, and the trial will take place in the Golden Horseshoe area of South-Central Ontario.

Beyond the technical implications here, the Cogeco news suggests new territory may be opening up for cable operators in broadcast advertising.

Interactive Ads for Politics, Tourism, and Travel

Just last week Canoe made headlines with the news that companies can now buy interactive ad inventory for cable TV on a national basis. However, Comcast wants to highlight the fact that it’s already been successful with interactive ads on a regional basis. In this case, interactive ads (EBIF-based) are request-for-information applications. Viewers see an ad overlay and have the opportunity to click a button to have more information or a product sample sent to them.

Comcast listed several successful RFI campaigns in a news announcement this week. California candidate Meg Whitman has used an RFI ad to offer consumers campaign bumper stickers. A tourism organization in Illinois is offering free visitor magazines. And Chicago Rockford International Airport is using Comcast’s RFI capabilities to offer discounted tickets. According to Comcast, “more than 160 advertisers have run a total of more than 340 RFI-enabled advertising campaigns with Comcast Spotlight, delivering nearly 280 million impressions.”

Canoe Goes National

Canoe Ventures has been laying low since a bout of frenetic activity in 2009, but the organization, charged with creating an advanced advertising platform for the cable industry, finally has some news to celebrate. Canoe CEO David Verklin has announced that five cable networks are now taking orders for national interactive ad placements. The two key words here? National and interactive.

On the national front, this is a big deal for cable because of the industry’s inherently regional nature. Typically, advertisers have had to buy cable TV time from different operators in different geographic areas. Canoe is consolidating ad buys across networks so that advertisers who want to reach a national audience only have to place one order.

On the interactive front, Canoe has finally made headway with the EBIF standard, creating a platform for interactive ads to work on existing set-tops in consumer homes. Early interactive ads will show up as request-for-information overlays. These ad overlays will allow TV viewers to get more info and order samples of whatever product is being advertised.

From a practical perspective, the new interactive ads will show up mainly in Comcast and Time Warner Cable systems to start, with the majority in Comcast regions. Motorola set-tops alone account for roughly 20 million EBIF-enabled boxes ready to receive the new ads. The first five cable networks to sell national interactive ads include Rainbow Media’s AMC, Comcast Networks’ E! and Style, Discovery Channel, and two NBC Universal networks. Canoe ran limited trials of the new ad platform this summer, but there’s no word yet on the results of those trials.

EBIF and iTV on Roadmaps for 2010

If you’ve followed the TV tech industry at all, you know the difficulties associated with getting interactive television apps to market. Technologists and marketers have held out the promise of iTV for years with little to show for it.  But slowly that’s changing. Two years ago CableLabs and Comcast put tru2way (aka OCAP) front and center at CES. Last year, the reality of legacy equipment in the field set in, and the focus shifted (back) to EBIF. This year EBIF has gotten an update, and several cable operators have committed to widespread EBIF rollouts.

Official tallies are hard to come by, but we know Comcast deployed EBIF on Motorola set-tops last year, and Verizon started even earlier with EBIF embedded in a guide update that was pushed out at the end of 2008 and into 2009. Now that CableLabs has updated the EBIF spec, several other cable operators are on board.  Most notably, Time Warner Cable has said EBIF is a priority in 2010. Charter, Cox, and Bright House have also reiterated their commitments to the technology.

So what does this mean for consumers? Addressable (targeted) advertising is going to be a big focus, at least in trials, but consumers should also see a number of new widget-type experiences. As an example, Verizon just launched the Showtime Sports Interactive service. During Showtime boxing and mixed martial arts events, consumers can now access bios, stats, trivia, polls, and more directly on the TV screen. Verizon states that this is the first-ever HD EBIF app, and the first-ever EBIF app to incorporate interactive polling. It won’t be the last by a long shot.

*Note: Industry folks know that Biap, the company listed in the photo above, changed its name to FourthWall Media last year. The photo is outdated, but I love the visual enough that I’ve decided to ignore that fact.

Tidbits: RS-DVR, Targeted Advertising, and More on WiMAX

World of BroadbandWondering what to pay attention to in the world of broadband this week? Here are a few stories that have caught my eye.

Remote Storage DVR Gets a Green Light

Several pubs this week have covered the fact that cable operators now have the legal go-ahead to implement remote-storage DVR. This court saga began back in 2007 when a district court ruled against Cablevision and its plans for network-based DVR services. But that ruling was overturned by an appeals court, and this week the Supreme Court upheld that appeal. Technically speaking, an RS-DVR service could be highly disruptive to the way on-demand networks are currently constructed. However, with the right streaming, storage, and ingest solutions, the potential benefits to consumers and operators are very real.

Targeted Advertising Effects on Brand Loyalty

CED has a very interesting piece up on its website regarding a new study commissioned by the CMO Council. The study calls into question the lasting effect of brand loyalty on consumer purchasing, but it also shows how targeted advertising and promotions can be used to strengthen the loyalty tie. As the article points out, this is good news for targeted advertising initiatives currently underway among pay-TV operators.

The researchers say they have hundreds of instances where they have successfully increased sales by identifying likely loyal buyers and by delivering relevant advertising followed by coupons to specific households.

Mobile Broadband as Customer Retention Tool

I’ve written before about how operators are adding smart services to their “dumb” pipes (Wi-Fi access at hotspots, ESPN360, etc.), but Paul Kapustka at Sidecut Reports handily adds WiMAX to the list of cable customer retention tools. In fact, he pairs Comcast’s launch of mobile broadband service this week with the TV Everywhere initiatives in the works. Comcast is giving subscribers more places to watch content and a price-competitive mobile broadband service to make that content accessible. Not a bad way to keep subscribers.

CableLabs Brings On New Advanced Advertising Specs

For those of you who aren’t following an RSS feed of CableLabs press releases, the organization has just announced a new set of advanced advertising specifications. They go the by the unwieldy title of Stewardship and Fulfillment Interfaces, or the much easier SaFI for short.

SaFI consists of  standards for sharing information contained in advanced advertising campaigns. Advanced advertising here includes addressable advertising, on-demand ad insertion, and interactive advertising. As advertisers try out new platforms for ad delivery (which should generate better returns), they are looking for assurances that they can process messages and compare metrics across the range of hardware and software present in existing cable systems. SaFI is designed to provide those assurances.

Motorola CherryPicker CAP-1000 Application Platform ad insertionNaturally CableLabs doesn’t pull new standards out of thin air. SaFI is partially the result of work being done across the technology vendor community, which was demonstrated recently at a CableLabs interoperability event. Companies at the event, Motorola included, showed the interoperability of their products in a demonstration of dynamic, addressable VOD ad insertion.

Sneak Peek: CherryPicker Update

Today is clearly the day for video processing news. In addition to this morning’s announcement of Motorola’s new bandwidth-saving satellite receiver, I have sneak peek information on another product to be highlighted at The Cable Show. The Motorola CAP-1000 CherryPicker platform is getting an application update. The new application provides a dedicated low-latency statmuxing capability targeted specifically for optimizing VOD bandwidth.

Breaking down the industry jargon, the CAP-1000 will now allow operators to increase the number of VOD programs in a single QAM channel by up to 50 percent.

As mentioned in this morning’s post, statmuxing is a fancy way of describing technology that dynamically allocates bandwidth as needed. In the video delivery chain the CAP-1000 ‘s work happens down the line from the processing work done by the new DSR-6300. However, the goal of both is the same: optimize the network for better bandwidth usage. Better bandwidth usage means more VOD and HD content.

For historical context, the most recent version of the CherryPicker CAP-1000 was launched at The Cable Show last year and configured for ad insertion with the Motorola B3 video server. It does MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 rate shaping in addition to enabling hundreds of ads to be digitally inserted at the same time.

One final note: I’m assured that the bandwidth improvements Motorola is introducing completely maintain video quality. The demos on the show floor should illustrate that.