Tracey Scheppach

Starcom USA

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Starcom's Tracey Scheppach finds herself in the midst of a real firefight these days. Cable-system operators offer a virtual treasure trove of consumer data. Their set-top boxes could track how viewers scamper across their channels second by second . But getting that information for advertisers on a wide-scale national basis is, as it turns out, not so easy to do.

Creating such a system will cost a fortune, cable executives say, and then there's the thorny issue of what might happen when subscribers worry about how much of their personal information is being picked up by advertisers.

Ms. Scheppach, senior VP-video innovation director at Starcom USA, Chicago, says she still feels that set-top-box data are too important to leave alone. Gleaning information from consumer habits will help marketers understand how their ads perform as TV becomes more interactive. Already, Starcom is experimenting with interactive cable.

"How do you accelerate the transition?" she asks. "How do we explore the things we know that work and roll them out quickly?"

Ms. Scheppach, 38, has lots of experience with interactive TV, though the medium is still in its infancy. Before coming to Starcom, she worked for about five years at OpenTV Corp., a technology company that makes software that enables interactive-TV processes such as video on demand.

Establishing rules and procedures for interactive ads and TV applications continues to be rough. Imagine, if you will, that an advertiser wants to offer some sort of coupon to TV viewers who elect to respond to a commercial that appears only next to a particular ABC show available on VOD. Such a venture could well involve not just the cable company but the TV network and, depending on the complexity of the venture, the show's producers. It's pretty safe to say that anyone working in this milieu is going to have to secure a lot of buy-in before the whole thing is said and done.

But Tim Hanlon, senior VP-ventures at Publicis Groupe sibling unit Denuo and Ms. Scheppach's predecessor at Starcom, says, "Tracey is the real deal -- smart, diplomatic, action-oriented and never shy about tackling the thorny issues or conventional wisdom that might derail progress or retard innovation."

Others working on similar projects echo the sentiment. At Australia's Murdoch University and soon for ABC, Duane Varan has been testing what sorts of on-screen elements shown during commercials produce a response in viewers. He says Ms. Scheppach "demonstrates a remarkable capacity to place one foot in the exciting opportunities of the future -- and the other in the stark realities of the present. She is a champion for change able to connect the dots getting from point A to B."
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