Canoe's Verklin: National ITV Ads Are Here Now

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Delivering advanced TV advertising across multiple cable operators was a tougher nut to crack than Canoe Ventures CEO David Verklin had expected -- but now, he said, the company is in position to deliver interactive spots on a nationwide basis to 25 million households by the end of the year.

"If I had to do it over again, I would have spent the time... talking about the infrastructure challenge," said Verklin, speaking at the event "Masters of the Universe: Inside the Future of Interactive Television," at the Paley Center for Media sponsored by marketing-consulting firm Brightline iTV.

He added, "We have spent the last 24 months to get common software in America's set-tops to deliver interactive ads."

Verklin, in his first public speaking appearance in about a year, went into salesman mode by urging audience members to start running interactive spots. He said five cable networks -- Rainbow Media's AMC; Comcast Networks' E! and Style; Discovery Channel; and two NBC Universal networks -- are currently taking orders for Canoe's interactive request-for-information overlays.

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"Call them up this afternoon," he said. "We're delivering national, interactive ads today."

Verklin said he had not spoken about Canoe recently because "I felt it was important that the first time I came out to speak was to talk about what we have done and what we are doing, instead of what we plan to do."

Canoe, which is owned by the six largest U.S. cable operators, announced it was working with those four programming groups and began running its first RFI spots this summer.

Verklin said the JV is targeting the top 200 spenders in advertising and said the RFI spots will give cable programmers the opportunity to "take money away from direct-mail marketing." He claimed the ability to let TV viewers opt-in to order product samples is far more effective than other mechanisms, such as street teams or newspaper wrappers.

Even unclicked overlays perform better than non-interactive ads, Verklin added, offering up to 100% increase in engagement. "That ad makes you lean forward," he said, explaining why he doesn't believe pay-per-click pricing reflects the full value of ITV ads.

Canoe is delivering interactive spots using CableLabs' Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format, or EBIF. The industry is looking to establish "SelecTV" as the brand for EBIF to advertisers, agencies, programmers and consumers.

By year-end, Canoe is eyeing the ability to deliver ITV ads to 25 million households with EBIF-enabled set-tops, largely within Comcast and Time Warner Cable footprints. That's out of an estimated 104 million multichannel households in the U.S., roughly two-thirds of which are cable, according to Verklin.

Separately, Cablevision Systems has recently rolled out EBIF support to its 2.9 million digital-cable subscribers, and Canoe is in the process of working with the MSO on "pipe cleaning" to be able to deliver interactive spots, according to the joint venture.

Also on the panel was Mike Finn, Dish Network vice president of ad sales, who said the satellite TV operator's 11-person sales force sold 30 interactive ad campaigns last year and is on pace to do more than 60 this year.

"There's great traction as it relates to the interactive TV stuff," said Finn. Dish sells ads in the local inventory available to distributors; Finn did not cite customers by name but said they have come from industries including consumer-packaged goods, auto, financial and pharmaceuticals.

As for addressable ads, "we've chosen to just hold back for now, but it's going to come, and it's coming for DirecTV as well," Finn said. Dish and DirecTV are both working with Invidi Technologies to deliver addressable set-top ads.

Forbes executive editor Melanie Wells, who moderated the panel, asked Finn whether Dish would join Canoe. He replied, "If it makes sense someday that we're partnered together, that's fine."

Wells also asked Verklin about a rumor that Canoe will be working with the Association of National Advertisers to deliver addressable ads to 1,000 households. Verklin said "we're definitely in discussions with them"; after the panel, a Canoe representative said it was too early to discuss the ANA relationship but she noted the work does not involve addressable advertising.

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