Cablevision's Interactive Ads Click With Four Marketers

New York -- Cablevision Systems has signed deals with at least four marketers -- Unilever, Gillette, Benjamin Moore and department store chain Century 21 -- for its interactive TV service that lets digital-cable viewers click their remotes to get more information or product samples during a 30-second local ad spot.

The Optimum Select service, announced last month, lets viewers click an on-screen overlay in interactive-enabled ads whereupon the linear channel is "squeezed back" to the upper right-hand corner. Customers are then presented with additional information and can take an action, such as requesting a coupon. The feature, developed in-house by the operator, is available to Cablevision's 2.9 million New York-area digital-cable subscribers.

The Bethpage, N.Y.-based operator plans to show off Optimum Select along with its other advanced-advertising capabilities this week to some 85 local media buyers at the Madison Square Garden Presentation Center in Manhattan, and provided a similar presentation to reporters here Tuesday.

David Kline, president of Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp., Cablevision and Rainbow Media's advertising sales unit, wouldn't discuss pricing for Optimum Select, saying only that the feature carries a "significant premium" over ordinary 30-second local ads.

As for how the service will dovetail with the efforts of Canoe Ventures -- the advertising-technology consortium formed last year by Cablevision and the five other biggest U.S. cable operators -- Kline said, "We support Canoe. We want them to succeed... but this is hard stuff."

Cablevision has not disclosed whether or not its set-tops and headends currently support the CableLabs Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) specification for lightweight interactive applications. EBIF is the technology Canoe will use as the foundation for its own initial request for information (RFI) advertising service, scheduled to launch later this year.

Cablevision's interactive ads initially are running in local avails across 25 major cable networks, which include USA Network, Discovery Channel, SoapNet and Rainbow's AMC. "There was no science [to the selection of networks] other than trying to get a representative sample advertisers would want to target," Kline said.

Gillette's campaign offered Cablevision customers a free bottle of 2-in-1 face wash/body wash, while Unilever is offering a sample of Degree Fine Fragrance Body Mist. Benjamin Moore's spot let customers click to receive a coupon for a free 2-oz. paint sample, and retailer Century 21 is giving out $10 gift cards.

Kline said Gillette provided 30,000 travel-size samples of the soap, which were distributed to Cablevision customers in just over a week -- beating the original expectation it would take two weeks to deplete the supply.

Meanwhile, Cablevision also is progressing on addressable advertising, which lets local advertisers deliver up to five different spots segmented based on a variety of demographic criteria. The MSO plans to expand the capability to all 2.9 million digital subscribers by mid-2010, Kline said. Cablevision is using technology from New York-based Visible World to dynamically deliver different ads to about 500,000 subs in Brooklyn and The Bronx.

In addition, Cablevision now provides same-day ad insertion into video-on-demand programming. Barry Frey, executive vice president of Cablevision's Advanced Platforms group, said the MSO has offered the capability for about six months, using a homegrown ad-insertion platform. Cablevision has not disclosed which VOD partners are taking advantage of that feature.

Later this year Cablevision plans to introduce Optimum Select Content Saving, which will let viewers "bookmark" VOD content for later viewing. In early 2010, according to the operator, it will launch Optimum Select Commerce to let consumers make purchases directly from TV ads.

Given all of Cablevision's advanced-advertising capabilities, Kline said, the company over the next five years expects to double its share of the local TV advertising market. "This is a $1.4 billion TV advertising market," he said, referring to the New York metro area, "so 1% share is $14 million."