Comcast Flicks on Interactive TV Ads

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In Chicago and San Francisco, Comcast has been quietly kicking the tires on two local interactive advertising services that ride on top of the industry’s lightweight EBIF spec.

One is an RFI capability that lets subscribers opt-in to receive free samples, coupons and services, and the other is a “remind-record” ITV app — sold to programmers — that lets viewers set a reminder or schedule a recording directly from an ad promoting an upcoming TV show or series.

The interactive spots, sold by Comcast Spotlight ad-sales division, are based on the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF). Earlier this week the operator said 8 million of its digital cable subscribers now have EBIF-enabled set-tops.

Chicago and San Francisco were the first Comcast systems to go live with EBIF this summer. Those were followed by Michigan; Atlanta; Philadelphia; Sacramento, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and several smaller markets.

Comcast has already run interactive request-for-information spots with about a dozen marketers in Chicago and the Bay Area, said Comcast Spotlight director of communications Chris Ellis. He declined to name the advertisers but said one was a regional retailer.

“It’s early stages,” he said. “We’re not yet selling in all these markets.”

According to Multichannel News columnist Leslie Ellis, one of Comcast’s “remind-record” tests in San Francisco was a Lifetime promo for Project Runway, which garnered 2,600 clicks.

Comcast’s 8 million EBIF homes represent about 44% of its 18 million digital video customers nationwide. The operator will top 10 million EBIF-enabled homes by very early 2010, said James Mumma, Comcast’s senior director of interactive TV product development.

That footprint helps set the groundwork for Canoe Ventures’ plans to offer EBIF-based interactive services nationally. Canoe, backed by Comcast and the five other largest U.S. operators, has previously said it wants to launch an RFI service across the six-member operators before the end of 2009; it’s not clear Canoe will hit that target.

Meanwhile, Cablevision Systems — one of the rowers in the Canoe boat — launched an RFI service in September called Optimum Select on a proprietary ITV platform. Advertisers that have bought clickable spots in the New York metro market include Unilever, Gillette, Benjamin Moore and department store chain Century 21.

Cablevision, which was once dubbed by SMG’s Tracey Scheppach as the “Lewis and Clark for Canoe,” hasn’t disclosed anything publicly about its EBIF rollout plans. According to industry sources, the MSO will use an EBIF user agent developed by Zodiac Interactive for its Cisco/SA boxes to support the national Canoe initiative.

For its part, Comcast is using the EBIF user agent developed by TVWorks, formerly a joint venture with Cox Communications that is now solely owned by Comcast. So far the MSO has deployed EBIF user agents to only Motorola set-tops, with a Cisco/SA user agent slated for next year.

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