Canoe Ventures Aims for Ad Addressability by 2010

At CTAM: Cable Technology Consortium Still in Start-up Mode

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BOSTON (AdAge.com) -- Former Aegis Media Group CEO David Verklin is finding that addressable-ad technology company Canoe Ventures still has a far way to paddle upstream.

A panel at the Cable Telecommunications Association of Marketing Summit in Boston yesterday addressed the misconceptions and long-term capabilities of Canoe Ventures. Formerly known as Project Canoe, the technology company was first launched in June 2007 to create a universal footprint for addressable advertising across six cable operators -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks, Cablevision and Charter Communications. As Mr. Verklin told Ad Age in September, the technology Canoe will provide will give marketers the opportunity to reach consumers using TV in a relevant, targeted way for the first time on a national level.

"America is ready for smart interactivity, and I certainly think that if you're a cat owner, you don't want to see dog-food ads," he said then.

Not a sales organization
Vicki Lins, VP-marketing and communications at Comcast Spotlight and newly appointed chief marketing officer of Canoe, began the panel by addressing the most common misconceptions about Canoe given the flurry of interest since Mr. Verklin was appointed CEO in August.

"We were never intended to be a sales organization," said Ms. Lins. "By definition, we are a technology company and a service bureau. We want to enhance the [TV network] programmers' opportunities for generating advertising and addressable applications. The platform is not being built to compete with anyone on a national level. There is no plan for us to have our own sales force."

Canoe is still very much a start-up, and has a growing staff to prove it. Ms. Lins said the company still has fewer than a dozen employees, and even she won't transition fully into her new role until January. "What you read in the press is really big and exciting. But what is in our actual office space is a little closer to reality."

Ms. Lins said the company's goal is to make addressable ad opportunities available and actionable by 2010, particularly as the new ad models become increasingly crucial to both the cable networks and operators. "This is our one shot as an industry to stay in the game. We have other people doing pieces of this already. If we are going to remain players in this new media landscape, we need to make this work," she said. "Because we have the chief operating officers of these respective companies directly involved in managing Canoe, we need to make sure we don't slip on the prioritization. ... We want to make sure we have their direct involvement and the industry can remain competitive."

Privacy concerns
Canoe is also going to great lengths to assuage concerns about privacy issues around consumers' demographic information and viewing activity being aggregated for advertisers.

"The day after David Verklin was announced as our CEO, there was a blog post from a consumer watchdog group equating Canoe to the devil because we're watching what people are doing in their homes," said Ms. Lins. "We're aware of the consumer hesitancy to embrace these technologies, but we were unaware of the extreme attitude against these technologies being developed."

Ms. Lins has spent the ensuing weeks focusing on a balanced response to those consumer concerns: "We want to make sure we address those extremist views while reminding them your credit card companies have way more information about what you do on a regular basis than we've ever dreamed of doing."

John Collins, senior VP-product development for Canoe Ventures, described the organization's role as a wholesaler. "We're going to wholesale functionality to retailers [or networks] and then assist the agencies. We have a relationship force in place focusing on agency relationships and the toolsets an agency needs to stand out and buy these kinds of orders and technologies. There's been a lot of noise programmers don't understand."
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