Dolans Launch Next-Gen Ads

Cablevision Systems has jumped ahead of the cable-TV pack to offer advanced advertising on a wide scale.

The Bethpage, N.Y.-based operator has embarked on efforts to significantly expand two forms of TV advertising this year — interactivity and addressability — which promise to raise the value of the traditional 30-second ad spot.

And, the company is on the move in terms of offering the capabilities to advertisers ahead of Canoe Ventures, the broader industry effort Cablevision is participating in with the country’s five other biggest MSOs.

Cablevision’s efforts should drive Canoe forward by helping to settle the new frontier, said Tracey Scheppach, senior vice president and video innovation director at ad agency Starcom USA.

“They’re like the Lewis and Clark for Canoe,” she said. “Canoe wants to get to the same place, and they will get there with a different approach. But Cablevision isn’t sitting around waiting.”

In cable’s largest rollout of addressable advertising to date, Cablevision announced it will be able to deliver TV spots based on an individual subscriber’s demographic data to some 500,000 households across the New York metro area this summer.

The half-million-homes deployment comes after an 18-month trial covering 100,000 households, in which Cablevision tested the targeted form advertising for its Optimum-branded services.

The company said it already has placed addressable ads from outside advertisers, but the MSO would not identify them. Ad agencies GroupM, Starcom MediaVest and Universal McCann are working with Cablevision in the expanded deployment.

“The more relevant the commercials, the more engaged the viewer,” said David Kline, president of Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp., the joint ad-sales unit of Cablevision and Rainbow. “Increasing engagement and measurability is what addressable advertising is all about.”

Addressable advertising is considered a holy grail of advertising in combining broad reach with demographic targeting.

Cablevision says its 100,000-home addressability trial showed a “double-digit” lift in sales in areas that received the addressable ads, compared with homes that did not. After building out to 500,000 households across multiple zones within the New York DMA, Cablevision ultimately expects to bring addressability to all of its 2.8 million digital TV subscribers.

Asked whether advertisers would be interested in expending the effort to tailor campaigns for 500,000 households, Scheppach said trial deployments as small as 8,000 homes have elicited marketer interest.

“We’re still in a place where we desire full deployment on local and national inventory — that’s the endgame,” she said. “This is a step to get to the end stage.”

On the interactive front, Cablevision and its Rainbow Media programming unit said they will offer interactive advertising products and applications to media buyers during this year’s upfronts, one of the first times ITV technology has been incorporated into the upfront selling process.

Agencies and advertisers purchasing upfront inventory from Rainbow’s AMC, WE TV, Sundance Channel and IFC networks will have the option to add interactive television applications on Cablevision’s systems to their buys. Those enhanced spots would be viewable only by Cablevision’s digital-TV subs.

Starting in the fourth quarter of 2009, Cablevision will be able to offer advertisers two interactive features — dubbed Power :30 — that add overlays to linear TV spots, Cablevision senior vice president of advanced platform sales Barry Frey said.

Telescoping will let a marketer show an overlay on a 30-second spot that triggers direct tune-in to the advertiser’s dedicated video-on-demand channel, and “request for information” will allow viewers to generate a prepopulated on-screen RFI form that is sent back to the advertiser.

Cablevision already offers sponsored VOD showcases to marketers including Walt Disney resorts and Mattel, and will be able to offer the telescoping and RFI units later this year, Frey said. “We’re starting conversations with advertisers now,” he said.

What will these cost? Frey declined to give details, saying Cablevision and Rainbow’s enhanced-advertising features will be sold on “an agency-by-agency deal.” He added that none of the products will be sold on a per-click basis.

Cablevision has “no vision at the moment to offer these specific capabilities” to programmers other than the four Rainbow networks, he added.

As for how the Cablevision/Rainbow interactive offerings will fit into Canoe — which has yet to launch its first services — Frey said: “We fully support Canoe. But at the same time we are leading many efforts in this area.”

To deliver addressable advertising, Cablevision is using technology from Visible World, a New York-based company that works with more than 200 advertisers to dynamically customize television ads at national, local and household levels.

Cablevision is using demographic information provided by data-aggregation firm Experian, which is associated with subscriber households and ultimately linked to each subscriber's set-top box or boxes.

Data analyzed by the addressable-ad system includes income, ethnicity and whether the subscriber has children or pets. But the system strips out personally identifiable information so advertisers don’t know the actual names or addresses of the viewers who were sent their ads.

In addition, advertisers can cross-reference the Experian data with their customers lists, so they could theoretically target one ad to current customers and a different one to viewers who aren’t.

Scheppach said the concepts are familiar to direct marketers. “A lot of work goes into the planning process for direct marketing, but when you move to TV those plans get fairly blunt because you’re talking about 'women 18 to 34,’ and those aren’t the advertisers’ true targets,” she said.

Meanwhile, Cablevision is developing the RFI and telescoping interactive capabilities in-house, to run natively on Cisco Systems’s Scientific Atlanta set-top platform. Frey said Cablevision’s interactive-advertising platform initially will not be based on CableLabs’ Enhanced Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), but eventually will migrate to comply with the specification. EBIF is the spec Canoe has settled on for interactivity, and that’s driving its rollout industrywide (see “Interactive TV Begins to Bloom,” March 2, 2009, page 6).

In Cablevision’s implementation, the RFI feature prepopulates a customer’s name and address in an on-screen form and — with the subscriber’s permission — is sent directly to the advertiser for fulfillment via postal mail. Viewers also can opt to have information e-mailed to them if they have provided their e-mail address.

In addition, Cablevision will offer a “click-to-call” feature, which lets a viewer request that a telemarketer call them at home within five minutes to provide more information.

Point and Click

Cablevision plans to expand its advanced-advertising capabilities on two fronts: