Cable Tech

Cable's 'Canoe' RFI Paddles Toward Deadline

As many as 60 vendors could reply to a request for information (RFI) from CableLabs that will form the basis of a common, industry-wide back-office and architecture for advanced advertising applications and services.

The project, multiple sources have confirmed, carries the internal code-name of "Canoe," with the idea that it will ensure that all cable MSOs paddle in the same technical direction, and give advertisers the ability to "buy cable" across the board with ease, and without the headaches of supporting disparate ad systems and technologies.

"It's a big deal," a source says of the CableLabs-led project, which is carrying regular and high-level participation from the top MSOs. Adding interactive elements to the mix could also help to jumpstart a sluggish cable local ad sales market. At Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), for example, ad sales make up about 6 percent of its overall revenue.

"The cable industry is definitely interested in building a next-generation interactive advertising platform," says another person familiar with Canoe.

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Comcast brass vaguely referred to the effort, though not by name, this week at investor conferences.

At the Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. Media and Entertainment conference Monday, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, who is also the chairman of CableLabs, noted that "interactive advertising is one of our major goals," citing an "aggregation effect" akin to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) in the world of Internet searches. Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs said the industry will conduct "some highly visible national tests" of the new ad project starting next year. (See Comcast Speeds Up & Slows Down.)

On Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs & Co. Communicopia conference, Comcast COO Steve Burke suggested that the interactive ad segment could become a "material" business for Comcast in 2009 or 2010. (See Burke Sizes Up Telcos, Content Opportunities .)

Although little technical detail is known about Canoe, it's expected to define common interfaces and systems for a set of advanced advertising services, including targeted ads, addressable spots, and "telescoping" VOD ads, which, for example, might allow a customer to access a longer-form ad or pass along warm lead information to a local car dealership. These interfaces might also give advertisers a common way to manage their campaigns within the cable environment.

People familiar with Canoe say CableLabs issued the RFI in August. The deadline for responses is said to be tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 20).

An entire list was not made available, but some companies expected to respond to the RFI include Adzilla Inc. , SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), C-COR Corp. (Nasdaq: CCBL), OpenTV Corp. (Nasdaq: OPTV), BlackArrow, Navic Networks , Invidi Technologies Corp., Visible World , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and RGB Networks Inc. , which introduced a digital overlay system in May. Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) may also be in the mix after it put up $6 billion for advertising specialist aQuantive Inc. (Nasdaq: AQNT). (See Microsoft to Buy aQuantive.)

The RFI may also draw interest from major system integrators such as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Accenture .

Although it's not known when CableLabs might issue advanced advertising specs, they should hook into other projects under the auspices of North American cable's R&D house, including the OpenCable Platform and the industry's Enhanced Television (ETV) effort.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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