Bans on Ad-Skipping Part of New VOD Approaches

Las Vegas -- Thanks to a new arrangement between Cox Communications and ESPN, Cox customers will soon be able to watch football games and other shows supplied by ESPN whenever they want. The catch: They won’t be able to fast-forward through the commercials.

The nix on commercial skipping is one example of new approaches cable-industry participants are exploring as they try to figure out ways to marry the promise of on-demand TV with the reality of the advertising marketplace, according to MSO and network executives who spoke at a State of the Ad Sales Union panel presented by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau May 8.

“We’re trying a lot of new things, and we’re not sure what’s going to stick,” said Sean Bratches, ESPN’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Disabling fast-forwarding is one way for the cable industry to help counter advertiser concerns about new digital-video technologies, like digital-video recorders, that let viewers reduce or avoid exposure to traditional TV commercials.

Similarly minded is the Start Over video-on-demand service offered by Time Warner Cable, which lets viewers select and play numerous TV shows at any time during their normal linear television window.

According to Joan Gillman, president of Time Warner Cable Media Sales, customers have -- surprisingly to Time Warner Cable -- accepted a prohibition on commercial fast-forwarding within the Start Over service with almost no objection. “They love it … because they get an additional service of being able to time-shift a program,” she added.

VOD’s courtship of advertising dominated the panel discussion, but executives also praised the ongoing contributions of the traditional 30-second linear TV spot.

Charlie Thurston, president of Comcast’s ad-sales unit, Comcast Spotlight, said he’s convinced that 30-second spots will remain dear to advertisers even in a VOD environment. He added that the 30-second spot will emerge as a “gateway” that invites viewers to sample related, longer-form advertising information about products -- effectively acting as a bridge between linear and on-demand advertising.

“The: 30 is the hook, but then it’s taking that consumer to a deeper, richer experience,” Thurston said.