Ad Target: Baltimore


Comcast in November
willkick off a six-month limited trial of a targeted-ad system with 70,000 digital-cable households in the Baltimore area, testing a technology that delivers separate ads to set-top boxes based on the demographic profile of a subscriber.

The cable operator began notifying customers of the test last week, and will allow any subscribers to opt out by mail, telephone or Web form, said Dana Runnells, senior director of communications for the Comcast Spotlight advertising division.

Comcast will run addressable ads on eight cable networks in Baltimore, in the local pods available to the operator, Runnells said. The ads covered in the test will represent 2% of the total ad airtime. Unlike “zoned” ads, the addressable ads can be delivered to individual set-top boxes based on specific criteria — for example, the system would allow Comcast to transmit one ad to subscribers with more than $150,000 in income and a different one to everyone else. Comcast will use demographic data from Experian in the trial.

In the letter to subscribers who have been selected for the test, Comcast emphasized its privacy protections and claimed viewers will be seeing more relevant TV ads. “We believe that many of our customers will find this new service valuable because time spent watching ads will be more meaningful,” the Comcast letter says.

The operator won't disclose which cable networks the ads will run on, nor will it identity the advertisers, “to help preserve the integrity of trial data,” Runnells said.

Comcast will use Invidi Technologies' Advatar technology to deliver targeted ads, based on demographics and advertiser segments, but not using personally identifiable information or viewing behavior. The Invidi system as deployed by Comcast splices in ads in the set-top box, as opposed to inserting them at the headend.

The operator is collaborating with media-agency network Starcom MediaVest Group to line up advertisers and facilitate the advertising strategy for the trial.

SMG and Comcast Spotlight previously worked together in an addressable-advertising trial in Huntsville, Ala. SMG agency clients that participated in that test included General Motors, Kraft Foods, Miller Brewing and Procter & Gamble.

Meanwhile, on a separate track, Canoe Ventures LLC — the New York-based advanced-advertising venture set up by Comcast and the five other largest MSOs — continues to work toward launching its first multi-operator offering in the first quarter of 2009.

Canoe's initial “Creative Versioning” product will use existing cable zones and overlay demographic information for each area to allow an advertiser to place different advertising spots in each zone.

Comcast also is continuing to work, behind the scenes, in the video-on-demand advertising space. The MSO recently participated in a $20 million round of funding for BlackArrow, with other investors including Cisco Systems, Intel, Mayfield Fund and Polaris Venture Partners.

BlackArrow's system is designed to deliver targeted advertising across multiple user-controlled video services, including broadband video and video on demand.

“The linear space is pretty big today,” BlackArrow CEO Dean Denhart said. “But the growth is on the on-demand side.”