Cable advertising industry executives are grappling with a roiling of the advertiser-supported model thanks to a flurry of technology including DVRs and IP video sites. But the same technology and elements that has upended the ad model, can also be harnessed to forge new business models that can ensure cable's viability in the multiplatform world.
To be sure, the "Sending the Right Message: Techniques and Technology for Targeted Advertising" panel Wednesday afternoon at Cable Show '09 here, was highly technical.
Arthur Orduna, CTO of Canoe Ventures, unspooled a series of power point slides (he jokingly called them "eye charts") that were impossible to decipher unless you were in the front row.
Distilled to its essence, though, the panel explored the business potential of advanced, targeted advertising. The demand for such advertising is driving the demand for a standardized national platform, said Orduna, which is the whole raisson d'etre of Canoe Ventues, a consortium of the top-six cable providers. Canoe is calling that platform the Common Advanced Advertising System, which will enable ad campaigns and interactive programming between programmers, said Orduna.
Addressable advertising also dovetails with social networking. "Mass is the message," said Mitch Weinraub, executive director, products and services, Comcast Media Center, noting that the power of social networking sites like Facebook lies in their scale. Viewers could update their Facebook page with a click on their remote, telling their friends they're watching 24, for example. Content-based chat rooms can connect consumers on competing MSOs.
"None of this can happen," noted Weinraub, "unless cable makes those connections."
But the star of this rather wonky panel was Dan Holden, Comcast fellow and chief scientist of Comcast Media Center. Holden introduced us to a diabolical invention: Trick File. The technology seeks to turn DVR-ad skipping into targeted advertising opportunities. The technology is activated when the viewer presses fast forward on the remote to skip the ad pods. Trick File renders the original spot in the background (on fast forward) and places a new, targeted spot on top of it. So if you're watching a reality show about your favorite college basketball team and you press the fast forward button during the commercial break, you may get an ad inviting you to purchase season college basketball season tickets.
"When fast forward is pressed during the break," said Holden, "the consumer is actually requesting alternative advertising." This declaration got a voluble laugh from the audience.
But that's not all. If you hit the fast forward button again to skip the first Trick File ad, you'll get a second one, for say Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels new exercise DVD.
Trick File uses picture-in-picture technology and I Frame extraction. It is still in the "conceptual" phase. The next step is to begin "socializing" it, i.e. floating it with advertisers.
The best thing about this technology, said Holden, "We won't have to train consumers how to use the technology because many consumers already know how to fast forward through advertising."