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Waving a VOD Banner

Comcast is adding to viewership of its video-on-demand and linear content — and to ad-sales efforts — with the addition of banner and video-on-demand-enabled ads on its interactive programming guide.

Since the first quarter of this year, the multiple-system operator has been deploying VOD-enabled (VEBA) ads to its iGuide, the IPG supplied by a joint venture of Comcast and Gemstar-TV Guide International called GuideWorks.

The functionality is now available to 9.1 million of the company’s 9.5 million digital subscribers, according to Comcast.

Standard banner ads for linear networks are available to all digital households.

FOUR ADS AN HOUR

Four ads, inserted by Gemstar-TV Guide’s fulfillment center in Tulsa, Okla., appear each hour. Comcast retains one of the four slots to promote its own programming, according to Chip Meehan, vice president of advertising sales for Comcast Spotlight, the cable company’s ad-sales division.

In the past, operators have noticed consumer dissatisfaction when ads unrelated to the experience of watching TV appear in the guide. Comcast’s banner ads are only for programming, because it wants to reach consumers at the critical moment when they are planning their viewing for the day.

Meehan said research has shown them that 53% of viewers do use the IPG every day to plan their viewing.

The standard ads, sold to studios and linear networks, run at the bottom of the guide, and are more feature-filled than its static listings. The banners employ more colors and allow networks to use their logos and program artwork. Consumers can click on the ad to be taken to a second screen, where they may set a reminder to watch the advertised show, use parental locks to keep minors from watching a program, tune to the show immediately or return to the guide.

For the VEBA ads, consumers can link directly to on-demand submenus where they can watch a trailer, access such free content as interviews with stars or navigate to an ordering screen.

The ads are refreshed as consumers page through the guide. Users of the iGuide typically see all four ads in a session.

Meehan said the effort has 40 clients to date, including seven studios and several cable networks. One broadcaster, whom he was not allowed to name because the client wants exclusivity in the space, will promote its entire fall lineup with the IPG banner ads.

Income from the banner ads is still dwarfed by revenue from the traditional ad-sales business, Meehan said. But the interactive segment is already generating seven-figure sums. The interactive division will be adding sales staff in New York and Los Angeles to handle this product, he said.

There has been some resistance to the product, because advertisers can’t reach the Los Angeles market through Comcast (it traded its systems there to Time Warner Cable). Also, the ads are static. But the use of the ads does place programmers in front of viewers at a critical decision-making stage, he said.

Warner Bros. has been using the advertising strategy because the guide is “the point of entry for viewers,” said Michele Edelman, vice president of marketing for Warner Bros. digital distribution. There’s such a plethora of content for viewers to sift through and this advertising technique is “simple, clean and not sales-y,” she said.

It’s hard to determine the added lift to viewership from the strategy; the lack of a mechanism for measuring results is “a big concern for us,” but Warner Bros. is playing in the space because once Comcast develops supportive data, “everyone will want to be there,” she said.

MORE 'EPIC’ VIEWERS

Comcast has conducted some case studies that Meehan said proves the strategy works. For instance, banner ads were used to support Epic Conditions, a weather-related entertainment show on The Weather Channel in March. Viewership was 57% higher, the first week the banners were used, in homes that had access to the banner ad supporting the show than the average viewership measured by Nielsen Media Research, according to Meehan.

A similar flight in April, in support of episodes of FX’s The Shield, demonstrated ratings 72.5% lift in viewing in banner-viewing households compared to the national rating.

The advertising is currently available in homes equipped with Motorola set-top technology. It will be deployed further when software is developed for Scientific-Atlanta boxes, he said.

Comcast plans a trial of addressable content to 10,000 boxes in Huntsville, Ala., Meehan said. The system will offer content ranging from five to 30 minutes in length, with pre- and post-roll spots to be sold to advertisers. The company will make “an informed guess” on appropriate pricing, Meehan said. National ads could be localized with Spotlight’s Ad Tag and Ad Copy.