Starz Gets 'Smart' In Ad Test


Starz Entertainment and Charter Communications will spend the next four weeks testing “smart” interactive ads promoting the premium service across the operator's Southern California region.

The test will reach 400,000 cable homes, 300,000 of which subscribe to digital service. The region includes parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The Starz ads will promote the linear and Starz On Demand availability of Spider-Man 3 this month; next month they will advise consumers they can catch Superbad on Starz On Demand three weeks before it will be scheduled on the linear Starz channels.

But the appearance of the ads will differ depending on which cable services a given subscriber takes. The interactive ads, enabled by Navic Networks technology in set-top boxes, will detect whether a home is expanded-basic only; subscribes to a pay competitor of Starz; or already buys Starz's bundle of channels each month.

Non-pay subscribers will see an overlay of the ad advising them they can buy 12 channels of Starz for $10 a month. They can order that suite on the screen by pushing the “B” button on their remote.

Subscribers to HBO or Showtime will be advised they can add Starz for the discounted price of $8 a month. Current Starz subscribers will be reminded they can watch the two advertised titles immediately by pushing the button on their remote.

Given the current industry emphasis on developing enhanced and interactive ads, Starz wants to learn what it can now about the potential of interactive ads, said Rebecca R. Lim, Starz senior director of advanced services.

Craig Berkley, national director of sales and development for Charter, proposed the test to Starz. The MSO has been quietly testing the Navic capabilities in California, but the Starz test is a first for a premium network on Charter and the first to target and telescope the message with the operator, Berkley said. (Showtime has been executing interactive ads since 2003, passing 15 million homes and winning two Emmy awards for the project, but none of those ads ran on Charter systems).

Starz will receive a single report on how the test did over the month; Charter will retain the granular data, such as how the campaign performed city by city or neighborhood by neighborhood. Normally, a network would receive a quarterly report from an MSO that would not break down which sales channel generated the buy.

“We hope to learn a lot about audience behaviors from this,” Berkley said.

Charter is in discussions with several other networks for enhanced advertising, the executive said, but is not ready to announce those deals.