David Verklin to Leave CEO Post at Canoe

Effort to Harness Set-top Boxes to Create New-Tech Ads Continues

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David Verklin
David Verklin

Veteran ad-and-media executive David Verkin is leaving his post as CEO of Canoe Ventures, the cable industry's effort to develop interactive, targeted commercials tapping into the capabilities of the set-top box.

The company's board had decided not to renew Mr. Verklin's contract, which was nearing its end, according to a person familiar with the situation. Mr. Verklin could not be reached for immediate comment. Kathy Timko, Canoe's chief operating officer, will serve as interim CEO, effective immediately. Mr. Verklin is slated to leave Canoe at the end of the summer.

Canoe's mission has proved as full of challenges as promise. The cable industry's leading distributors -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications and BrightHouse Networks -- formed the company in 2008 to use set-top boxes to deliver new kinds of commercial entreaties. Some of these new promotions let viewers use their remotes to answer questions or request additional information about products and services. The venture hopes to graft the capabilities of direct mail -- aimed at consumers who opt-in for information or meet a particular criteria -- to the power of TV and video.

Whether Big Cable or Madison Avenue will get there remains a question with only initial answers. Since its launch, Canoe has unveiled several different ideas, including one, already available on channels such as Style, that asks viewers to provide details about how to get in touch with them.

During his tenure, Mr. Verklin hinted at possibilities such as ads aimed at slices of viewership interested in buying particular products, like a new car or Pampers. "I certainly think that if you're a cat owner, you don't want to see dog-food ads," Mr. Verklin told Advertising Age in 2008.

Like others trying to crack this nut, Canoe has faced headwinds. For one, it is backed by a consortium of rivals, each eager to drive revenue themselves. Cablevision, for instance, has forged ahead on its own, crafting commercials that let viewers request a call from a travel agent, or, more recently, offer up an email address in order to receive coupons.

Canoe has also tried to address one of the thorniest issues in creating new forms of TV advertising: Different cable distributors use different kinds of technology, meaning that what works well on Time Warner Cable, for example, may not run as smoothly for Charter Communications.

Yet Canoe's board is not shrinking from the company's efforts, the person familiar with the company said. The board is cognizant of the complexity of setting up new technology on a national basis, this person said, and intends to focus on building scale for Canoe's new offerings as well as better market penetration. Canoe is also likely to start testing the ability to insert commercials into video-on-demand content on a national basis, and has seen a lot of interest in that idea, this person said.

Mr. Verklin may surface anew. He is a well-known executive on the marketing front, and likes to make the most of his public appearances. He spent a decade at the helm of Aegis Group's Carat and its broader media operations in the U.S., working his way up to CEO of Aegis Media Americas. While moderating an industry panel at a conference held in 2008 by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, now known as the 4A's, Mr. Verklin was merciless in his questioning of media executives. To Frank Comerford, then president and general manager of NBC Universal's local New York station WNBC, he asked: "What are the lessons you've learned over the last 24 months -- besides humility?"

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