Targeted Ads Still on Trial

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Comcast reported encouraging
results from a six-month
test in Baltimore that
delivered different ads to 60,000
households — a concept that
promises to make TV spots more
relevant than they are today.

But while the cable operator
will continue to test the technology,
in 2010 it plans to focus on
expanding its reach with interactive
TV ads, which is a strategy
shared by the industry at large.

In Baltimore the MSO delivered
different ads within the
same commercial break across
six cable networks to different
household groupings; the groupings
were based on nonpersonally
identifiable demographics and
aligned with advertiser segments.
The addressable ads, from advertisers
that included Walmart and
Walgreens, accounted for less
than 2% of the total inventory
during the trial, which wrapped
up last fall.

The results: Viewers who saw
addressable ads tuned away 32%
less of the time than homes that
received non-addressable advertising.
In addition, according to
Comcast, the trial demonstrated a
65% greater efficiency from sending
ads only to relevant groupings
that an advertiser wanted to
reach, based on the per-spot costs
of addressable and non-addressable
ads. It didn’t disclose pricing
from the trial.

Comcast Spotlight, the cable
operator’s ad-sales arm, worked
with Starcom MediaVest Group in
the trial. The metrics are similar to those the companies found when
they paired up for a smaller, 8,000-home technical trial in Huntsville,
Ala., from 2006 to 2008.

“What’s satisfying is that the
results are pretty consistent with
what we’d seen in Alabama,” said
Bob Ivins, vice president of data
products and research for Comcast
Spotlight. “We wanted to see
if we could get to scale.”

Addressable ads, however, have
“some significant speed bumps,”
Ivins noted.

For example, he said, being able
to scale the hardware and software
up from 60,000 homes to all of Comcast’s
24 million cable subscribers
is “still a long stretch.” There’s also
the question of whether the premium
associated with an addressable
ad is high enough to make the approach
pay off , he said.

In 2010, Comcast will focus
instead on interactive ads and
rapidly deploying support for
CableLabs’ Enhanced TV Binary
Interchange Format, Ivins said.
The MSO earlier this month said
it has enabled EBIF in 12 million
homes in 30 markets. The EBIF
spec forms the technical foundation
for the interactive advertising
service to be rolled out by
mid-2010 by Canoe Ventures, the
joint venture of the six biggest
U.S. cable operators.

In the Baltimore addressable advertising
trial, as with the Alabama
one, Comcast Spotlight
used Invidi Technologies’ Advatar
addressable technology.
It also worked with Experian
Market ing Services and media-
measurement firm Kantar
Media (formerly TNS Media Research).

But Cablevision Systems, for
one, is plowing ahead on addressable
ads, using an ad-targeting
system from Visible World. The
MSO says it’s on track to reach its
entire footprint of approximately
2.9 million digital cable subs by
June 2010.

Cablevision said it is delivering
addressable ads for “a handful
of leading companies,” but the
MSO has not identified those advertisers.