Transforming TV From Medium to Platform

NEW YORK David Verklin, CEO of Canoe Ventures, the cable company-owned advanced-television consortium, believes TV will give the Internet a run for its money in the delivery of more relevant, engaging ads. He also says that if he does his job right, TV can level the playing field with the Internet on the metrics and accountability fronts.

Agencies and their clients hope Verklin is right. But they see Canoe’s first stab at a national addressable ad platform, scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2009, as short of the ultimate goal of household-specific addressability, if a step in the right direction.

Canoe’s new product, the Creative Versioning Platform, marries the cable industry’s 1,100 geographical ad zones with demographic databases. It will allow advertisers to buy ads from national TV nets and to send one of three or four different messages to households depending on demographic characteristics such as income. Verklin, who joined Canoe this summer after a 10-year run at Aegis Group, says the platform will reach 50 million to 60 million homes.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction,” said Jen Soch, vp, advanced TV at Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest. “We’re thrilled to see the MSOs working to develop common standards.” She added, however, that “we really want to start mirroring the Web where, down to the household level, we can reach that dog owner” with an ad featuring relevant product.

Canoe was formed earlier this year by the six top MSOs: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Bright House, Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications and Cox. The goal: to create national platforms for enhanced-TV applications such as addressable TV, and to deal with advertiser frustrations stemming from the lack of scale and compatibility of different MSOs, whose footprints individually cover a fraction of the country.

A major misconception about Canoe is that it will sell ads directly to marketers. “Our clients are the national programmers,” said Verklin.

He acknowledged that Creative Versioning is “rudimentary.” But, he said, “we’re opening up what has been [until] now a local cable platform to national programmers. That’s never been done before.”

Getting the platform to deliver national addressable ads down to the household level, he admitted, is “further out,” but perhaps achievable in a year or two.

Other items on the agenda include developing nationally scalable interactive techniques such as telescoping, where viewers can click the remote for access to more in-depth information about a product or make a purchase.

Perhaps the most sensitive goal is to package viewer data from set-top boxes for sale to programmers and marketers. Verklin would say only that the company will steadfastly adhere to all privacy regulations.

Canoe’s nearer-term agenda centers around the distribution of a nationwide video-on-demand platform. This kicked off this summer with Elections ’08, which enabled political candidates to post long-form videos outlining their positions. Next up is programming targeting the pharmaceutical and healthcare ad categories packaged under the MyLife On-Demand banner. It debuts in November.

Soch said she’s had discussions about putting some of her clients on the MyLife platform, but has no deals yet. She adds that Canoe has taken key steps to open the platform to a broader array of advertisers, particularly by reducing the turnaround time for ads to just a couple of days before air, compared to the VOD industry average of four weeks. “That opens up the space to a lot more promotional messages, versus brand image,” she said.