Comcast Takes Aim at Dynamic Ad Insertion

Comcast is amping up its dynamic ad insertion efforts, positioning its Jacksonville, Fla., system as a test bed for real-time management of its video-on-demand inventory.

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, the cable giant flipped the switch on an advanced ad platform developed by software vendor BlackArrow, a deployment that will allow Comcast to insert fresh creative in its VOD streams. In the early stages of the partnership, Comcast will use the BlackArrow technology to insert 15- and 30-second spots in free on-demand content from FEARnet and PBS Kids Sprout.

In addition to a decision engine that assesses content and subscriber data to help improve targeting, the BlackArrow system also offers a Web-based sales interface that allows programmers to place ads in VOD content, on the fly. The technology can be used to populate all types of time-shifted programming, including DVR content and online video. (While insertion in DVR content could prove to be a game-changer––time-shifted devices are now in 36 percent of US TV households, and research suggests the vast majority of DVR users are zipping through commercials––the focus of the Jacksonville integration will be on VOD.)  

Until recently, VOD spots were baked into the on-demand stream; in order to swap in new ads, the operator was obliged to re-encode the entire content file, a process that could take up to 60 days to complete. As such, the platform couldn’t accommodate time-sensitive creative like movie trailers and local sales promotions.  

The latency issue is one of the factors that has prevented VOD from becoming a meaningful generator of ad dollars. Per agency estimates, advanced advertising revenue adds up to around $140 million a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the $26.6 billion cable TV ad market.

“The ability to update VOD advertising will help us offer feature parity with traditional linear and Internet-based advertising systems,” said Diana Kerekes, vp of video content for Comcast, by way of announcing the deployment. “We’re pleased to be working with a technology leader like BlackArrow as we look for ways to offer our programming partners expanded opportunities to monetize their content offerings.”


Comcast is also a strategic investor in BlackArrow, as its Interactive Capital unit contributed to both rounds of the company’s VC financing. To date, BlackArrow has raised a total of $38 million.

Additional deployments are expected to roll out in the next several months, although neither partner has issued an advance schedule.  

Comcast began kicking the tires on dynamic ad insertion back in 2006, launching a trial with Tandberg TV. That same year, Charter Communications sent out a trial balloon in its St. Louis system.

This summer, Cablevision announced it had shaved its processing time down to 24 hours after the initial order. New York-based vendor Visible World serves as Cablevision’s addressable-ad partner.