For all the chatter in the system about data-enhanced network TV sales, the potential for seismic change may very well lie with the cable operators rather than the programmers.
Those who control the set-top box control the world, and no operator has done more with its STB data than Cablevision. Now, the Long Island-based cable company is about to lead the charge into next-gen addressability with the launch of its Total Audience Application, or TAPP, a proprietary software product that allows agencies to make more targeted, impressions-based TV buys.
Without getting too deep into the propellerhead side of things, suffice it to say that TAPP lets buyers, er, tap into Cablevision's census-level audience data, which is derived from set-tops deployed in some 3 million subscribers homes. (The user data is anonymized.) With just a few jabs at an iPad screen, the TAPP interface allows buyers to target customers in specific high-density zip codes throughout the New York DMA who also happen to be in the market for a new car or a set of golf clubs.
Buyers may select from a menu of 250 expanded demo attributions (age, sex, education, income, occupation, languages spoken, etc.) and then tick off one or more purchase-intent attributes organized by verticals such as travel, financial services and auto.
"TAPP is basically the programmatic platform for audience-based ad campaigns," said Ben Tatta, president of Cablevision Media Sales. "Buyers have been running impression-based campaigns for some time now, and now they have a tool to make those buys easier and in real-time."
"We've essentially been using TAPP for the past six months, but now I'm driving it myself," said Mike Bologna, president of GroupM's Modi Media division. "It allows me to take a lot of the guesswork out of my campaigns. It answers questions before they're asked -- and that's a good thing."
Mr. Bologna said that Modi currently has around 45 addressable campaigns in-market, and that number will only increase over time. "From a logistical perspective it just makes it easier to do a whole lot of stuff," he said. "It takes the complexity of working with data out of the picture."
The rest of the TV industry should take a long, hard look at Cablevision's addressable advertising platform, said Tracey Scheppach, executive VP of Precision Video at SMG. "I would encourage other operators, who are way behind on data capture, to pay attention to what Cablevision is doing," Ms. Scheppach said. "If I was betting on it, I'd say that eventually they'll start licensing TAPP to other cable companies."
Ms. Scheppach believes that data's signal-to noise-ratio is totally out of whack and that it's the operators who will have the biggest impact on addressable TV advertising. "With their access to that set-top box data, they really are the power players," she said, before acknowledging that some of the major operators still need to step up their game. (It's no coincidence that Comcast stopped making noise about its plans to tap set-top box data as soon as it announced its intentions to merge with Time Warner Cable. No sense in stirring up a debate on privacy when you're already under intense regulatory scrutiny -- even if privacy is a moot point when the data has been anonymized.)
While Cablevision's footprint isn't as large as some of its cable confreres, its presence in the nation's No. 1 DMA makes it a sort of Utopian microcosm of what addressable TV should be. "This is a window into what lies ahead," said Mr. Tatta. "We're ushering in the next phase."