Cable TV 2008

Project Canoe Seeks to Smooth Waters for VOD

Cable Operators Will Tackle Lack of Consistent Metrics, Long Lead Time for Ads as Medium Takes on Broadband

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Video on demand could finally get some help with the two major problems that have plagued this ad medium since its inception more than six years ago.

Project Canoe, a joint effort of several top cable operators, plans to grapple with issues created by advanced advertising -- in the case of VOD, a lack of consistent metrics and the long lead time required for providing ad content.

VOD has been successful as a subscriber-retention tool for cable operators in the battle against satellite. However, some marketers have shied away from VOD because of the inability to measure its effectiveness and the fact that advertisers often must provide ads five to six weeks before they begin their run on VOD.
WHAT IT IS: A joint effort including many of the top cable systems, with the goal of developing uniform standards for advanced advertising such as VOD, interactive TV and addressable TV.

HOW IT COULD HELP VOD: By creating metrics that will give advertisers a more detailed look at viewing habits across cable systems.

WHAT'S WITH THAT NAME? Just like when two people are paddling a canoe, you need to work together or you go nowhere.

Most cable operators and VOD networks can provide only basic information on unique views and total views to advertisers. That pales in comparison to broadband video, a fast-moving, highly measurable medium in which advertisers can swap out ads on the fly.

Leveling the playing field for cable
Project Canoe could help level the playing field for VOD. The joint effort among several top multiple-system operators is striving to develop standards that will let MSOs speak the same language when reporting on ads and views for VOD. That would give networks and marketers a more detailed look at VOD viewing habits.

"Progress has admittedly been slow, and Canoe has the potential to bring metrics in step. We see metrics as the most important additional improvement to turbocharge VOD advertising," says Comcast's Warren Schlichting, a spokesman for Project Canoe. Mr. Schlichting is senior VP-new-business development at Comcast Spotlight, the ad-sales arm for Comcast Corp.

Participants in Canoe's first VOD effort, a voter-education channel, include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, Insight Communications Co., Bright House Networks and Bresnan Communications.

Metrics are important because advertisers need to know how VOD affects their bottom lines, says Jen Soch, VP-activation director at MediaVest, New York.

In fact, some advertisers and agencies see Project Canoe as a make-or-break proposition. "It is a must that Project Canoe work together to create these standards; otherwise ITV, VOD and addressable don't scale," says Tracey Scheppach, senior VP-video innovation director at Starcom USA, Chicago.

It's not too late for the platform to take hold. After all, VOD is opt-in, because viewers actively choose to watch a program there.

No room for complacency
But proponents of VOD can't afford to be complacent, because broadband video is taking off as an ad medium. Ad spending in online video should soar nearly 81% this year to $1.4 billion. What's more, broadband comes with a host of metrics from sources such as Hitwise, ComScore, Omniture, Nielsen and DoubleClick.

"Broadband is taking dollars away that would have been spent on VOD," Ms. Scheppach says. "I have a lot more clients in broadband, and the content is broader."

For now, VOD advertisers are stuck with "lowest common denominator" metrics, such as unique views and total views, since they have to roll up data from across cable systems, some with detailed information, some without.

Cablevision has focused on building branded virtual channels in VOD for its advertisers and can provide average time viewed for videos, where consumers were before they came to the channel and whether he clicked on a banner, among other data. Advertisers can also measure return on investment.

With Cablevision's branded channel for Disney vacations, the cable operator found that of the consumers who click on a button to "talk to an agent," about one-quarter go on to book a trip, says Barry Frey, senior VP-advanced platforms sales at Cablevision.

Music-themed VOD purveyor Music Choice provides detailed metrics and stipulates a one-week lead times for most ads in its operator deals.

The service also has partnered with Nielsen to test an effort to marry Music Choice's VOD measurement information from Rentrak with Nielsen's national people-meter ratings to provide marketers with improved viewer data.
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