Are Set-Top VOD Ads Ready to Impress?

Those who have been traveling the path of dynamic ad insertion for video-on-demand know all too well that it’s been a years-long journey full of stops and starts.

But as Canoe Ventures, the cross-MSO advanced advertising operation, continues to scale up its programming partners and its deployment base, it appears that it’s finally go time.

One programmer that has seen that progress first-hand is Scripps Networks Interactive, which is now inserting ads on the fly on VOD on set-tops for HGTV, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, and Travel Channel — basically every programmer in its stable, save for Great American Country.

Pulling everything together and smoothing out those operations has been a “real challenge,” Alex Beach, director of new media for Scripps Networks Interactive, said. Scripps launched its VOD content model about two years ago, and began to beta test dynamic ad insertion in the first quarter of last year. By the fourth quarter of 2013, 100% of Scripps’ long-form and short-form VOD content was DAI-enabled.

To ramp up that effort, Scripps has been working hand-in-hand with Clearleap, which supplies the admarking engine that passes that data to Canoe in order to serve the ads to the programmer’s advertising partners.

That work appears to be paying off, as VOD ad impressions have risen 250% versus a year ago, Beach said.

That’s partly due to demand, but also because Scripps’s sales force and its ad partners have reached a comfort level with the overall, now-streamlined process, enabling the programmer’s impression load to skyrocket.

“It’s almost a set it/forget it workflow [because] we can swap ad campaigns and assets quickly now,” he said.

Scripps’ set-top VOD business is also profitable. “But we still are not where we want to be,” Beach said.

Scripps has yet to sell out its VOD inventory in any given month, but the increasing demand has caused the programmer to expand its ad maps fairly extensively, meaning it’s been increasing the number of ad-insertion opportunities — or “pods” — that are available in its on-demand inventory.

It’s hard to define what sold out really means, because it can be a moving target. Many programmers start with one pod, then expand to two, three, or four as demand builds, Chris Pizzurro, Canoe’s head of product, sales and marketing, said.

Even with the VOD set-top ad growth generated this year, Beach said he still views this year as one of learning and establishing best practices. “We’ll apply that in 2015 and knock it out of the park,” he predicted.

And Scripps’ VOD work at the set-top level is occurring as it also looks to expand and monetize its TV Everywhere offerings, which is using an ad platform from Comcast-owned FreeWheel.

Scripps currently sells set-top VOD and TVE advertising under separate inventory management models, but at some point the programmer intends to merge those operations. “It’s a very powerful currency that we have,” Beach said.

And it’s the type of currency that a growing number of programmers hope to dip into as Canoe expands its reach. Following initial deployments across the Comcast and Time Warner Cable footprints, Canoe is in the process of bringing Cox Communications and Bright House Networks systems on board.

Canoe also has DAI deals in place with the nation’s Big Four broadcasters, as well as with Viacom, AMC, A+E Networks and Sportskool, an independent VOD programmer, among others.