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Canoe Ventures: What It Is, What It Ain't

BOSTON -- Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) Summit -- It was standing room only here for Canoe Ventures, as the advertising initiative came out of dry dock today to give cable marketers details about just how it intends to help them.

Canoe, backed by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Charter Communications Inc. , Bright House Networks , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), is focused on making cable's advanced advertising applications easier to buy and use, and on making the results easier to measure. (See Canoe's Big Debut, Canoe Ventures Paddles Ahead, Verklin Picked as Cable's Canoe Captain, and Cable's 'Canoe' RFI Paddles Toward Deadline.)

It's also there to ensure that cable has a seat at the table as advertising becomes more interactive, addressable, and measurable. Internet advertising enjoys all those elements today and continues to siphon away dollars from cable's ad coffers. (See Plugging the Ad Drain.)

"This is our one shot in the industry to stay in the game," said Vicky Lins, Canoe's newly named chief marketing officer.

But she stressed that Canoe, which is still developing its platform, is not meant as competition to programmers. It was created, not as a sales organization, but as a vehicle to help programmers generate incremental advertising revenues.

"Canoe is, by definition, a technology-driven company and a services bureau," Lins said.

John Collins, now on board as senior vice president of product development for the ad venture, likened Canoe to a wholesaler that gives programmers and ad agencies the tools they need to buy and place orders.

To even contend at a national level, the initiative will need to have an addressable base of more than 10 million set-top boxes, Collins said. Getting there could take 18 to 24 months.

Canoe's ambitions might be big, but, as organizations go, it's still fairly small, with fewer than a dozen full-time employees.

"We are truly a startup," Lins said. "We are just getting going."

Standards are key
To ensure that Canoe can work among disparate MSOs and cable systems, its platform will be developed on completed and future standards from the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) , CableLabs , and others. That means tapping into the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) and tru2way, using uniform programming metadata, and coming together on a common way to collect and report audience data. Another challenge will be to ensure that operators adhere to these standards and don't go off creating their own versions, Collins warned.

Early on, Canoe will focus on a product called Creative Versioning, which will use the cable industry's architecture and ad zones in an effort to make targeted ads more relevant to their viewers. Collins said tests of that product should begin to ramp up in the next 60 to 90 days.

Another early focus will be on CableLabs's EBIF, which brings interactivity to old and new digital set-tops. (By the way, look for a new, more consumer-focused name for EBIF to emerge in much the way the industry went with tru2way over what used to be called the OpenCable Platform.) (See Boffo for EBIF, Comcast Media Center Buffs Up for EBIF , and SureWest Triggers EBIF Strategy .)

Canoe will also look to help help MSOs and their programming partners do a much better job developing dynamic ad insertion systems for video-on-demand. Still, VOD advertising "won't be a huge initial push for Canoe," Collins stressed.

Further out, Canoe will help operators build an overlay platform to handle more advanced advertising applications.

Canoe is focused squarely on serving the cable industry at this point in its travels, but the plan is to "reach into other distribution platforms," Lins said, opening the door to the possibility of working with satellite TV and telco TV service providers.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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