Charter Ad Trial’s Dynamic

In what’s being called the biggest trial of its kind, Charter Communications is dynamically inserting video advertising spots with free-video-on-demand content in its home St. Louis market.

The 250,000-subscriber St. Louis system started serving up ads Oct. 30 from two major advertisers on two free-VOD channels: Vehix TV, a collection of video car-buying guides, and a movie-trailer section provided by Hollywood Media. The trial will run through the end of January.

Charter and the ad agencies involved in the trial -- Ogilvy North America and Mediaedge:cia -- would not disclose which advertisers have signed on. However, a Charter subscriber in St. Louis contacted by Multichannel News said insurance giant Allstate and retailer Sears, Roebuck are the initial marketers testing out dynamic VOD ads.

The system works by “playlisting” ad content, which is stored separately from other VOD files, to run before or after a piece of selected video.

Charter’s deployment uses components from multiple vendors, including VOD systems from C-COR, Harmonic’s video encoders, Atlas’ automated campaign-management tools and VOD-content provider TVN Entertainment’s ad-distribution system.

The cable industry is keenly interested in exploiting dynamic VOD ads, hoping that the technology will drive sales against free-VOD content. Today, the process of selling ads for VOD is cumbersome, usually taking anywhere from 45-90 days from when ad content is delivered to when runs.

One of the main bottlenecks has been technical: VOD ads have had to be encoded and stored with the primary content as a single file, or “asset.” That means if four different advertisers want to run with the same VOD clip, an operator would need to create and store four different files.

In a dynamic VOD ad system, any ad can be set to run against any other on-demand segment virtually instantaneously.

Charter’s St. Louis trial was preceded by a smaller rollout this summer by Sunflower Broadband, which has 30,000 subscribers in and around Lawrence, Kan. The operator began inserting ads into VOD content from Comedy Central, including trailers for Paramount/MTV Films’s Jackass: Number Two. Sunflower is using SeaChange International’s AdPulse on-demand advertising system and VOD servers.

For more on Charter’s dynamic VOD ads, please see Todd Spangler’s story on page 12 of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.