Cox Cues Local Digital Ads

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Cox Communications Inc. will secure a digital spot for local advertisers using all-digital ad-insertion gear from SeaChange International Inc.

The Atlanta-based MSO has been trialing digital ad-insertion technology in Phoenix for about a year, and had more recently expanded those tests to Orange County, Calif. Now the MSO is ready to deploy the technology to its larger systems by year-end, with the remaining systems scheduled to be outfitted during 2003.

At the system's center is SeaChange's Transport Streams Insertion unit, which draws ads from a local server and inserts them into the digital programming stream.

This year, nine Cox master control centers and associated headends are targeted for the upgrade. They serve Hampton Roads, Va., and Northern Virginia; New England; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Omaha, Neb.; San Diego; and Tulsa, Okla. Initially, each market will launch local ads on about six digital channels.

"Essentially we are starting with our major markets — those markets with the greatest levels of digital penetration," said Cox CableRep Advertising vice president of technical operations Guy McCormick. "And as other markets get further along in their digital deployment and we bring on more digital subscribers, we will evaluate those on a case-by-case basis.

"Roughly our target is once they reach above 20 percent digital penetration, then they become an attractive market for us to launch the product," he said.

While the target at present is local advertising, down the road Cox may expand its sponsor net to take in regional and national spots tweaked for local audiences.

"We did evaluate a national strategy with these networks, and based on current penetration, we felt it would be more advantageous to have a local approach as far as local ad sales more so than national or regional ad sales on the initial launch," McCormick said. "As digital penetrations increase, then we will start evaluating more of a national and regional sales strategy."

The ability to insert ads on digital channels has become possible only since the advent of Digital Broadcast Standard 253, which provides the digital cue codes needed to prompt ad playback. When Cox first started experimenting with digital channel ad-insertion in Phoenix, it had to use an analog system to cue the ads, McCormick noted.

"With the implementation of that this past month, we were officially able to launch in Orange County, utilizing the full DBS 253 standard from end to end," McCormick said. "It certainly opens up a lot more opportunities being truly digital end-to-end and not requiring additional or external devices to support the digital platform, like we had done in Phoenix."

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