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Video services

Comcast Gets Dynamic With VoD Ads

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has picked Jacksonville for a small-scale deployment of a system that allows the MSO to dynamically insert advertisements into video-on-demand (VoD) content in near real time.

This is a breakthrough, as such advertising spots typically have to be added to the video content in advance, a situation that historically has hindered the growth of cable VoD advertising.

For this initial deployment, a first for the MSO, Comcast is using an advanced advertising system and campaign manager from BlackArrow Inc. , in which Comcast Interactive Capital is an investor. BlackArrow's system has been integrated with Comcast's video infrastructure, sourced from Tandberg Television and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). (See Comcast, BlackArrow Team on VoD Ads .)

BlackArrow's system acts as a decision engine that communicates with the underlying VoD system to insert the appropriate advert into the video stream based on predetermined rules. Meanwhile, a complementary Web-based element from BlackArrow distributes and sells the ad space based on available inventory.

Early on, Comcast is inserting traditional 15- and 30-second (and a new class of 20-second) promotional adverts that highlight shows and movies available on two MSO-owned programmers: PBS Kids Sprout and FearNET.

Indicating that this is something of a test run to try out BlackArrow's dynamic ad-insertion technology under commercial service conditions, paying advertisers are not currently involved, though they certainly could be added to the mix later.

The installation is emerging as Comcast and other MSOs grow eager to employ dynamic ad insertion systems that will help to pay the costs of "free," ad-supported video-on-demand titles and provide some parity with the types of reporting and measurement features that advertisers have grown accustomed to with the Internet. (See Plugging the Ad Drain.)

In the case of Comcast and its "Project Infinity" initiative, the MSO reportedly anticipates offering more than 100,000 titles on-demand, with much of that content inventory to be ad-supported variety. (See Comcast Launches 'Project Infinity'.)

BlackArrow, meanwhile, estimates -- using a mix of data from The Nielsen Co. , Comcast, and comScore Inc. -- that on-demand will represent 13.2 percent of TV viewing by 2010, up from 7.6 percent in 2008. The company also expects 22 percent of all prime time viewing to be on-demand by 2010.

So the trends are there. But the nagging problem faced by MSOs, as well as their programmers and advertisers, is the unwieldy amount of time it takes to prepare advertising content to run within a cable VoD title.

Historically, advertisers must buy a VoD ad placement 45 to 90 days in advance. And once they're there, they can't be removed or switched to another slot for about 28 days, says Nick Troiano, president of BlackArrow. "Such lead times... are why advertisers have not embraced VoD ads," he says.

By adding the ability to insert those ads digitally rather than way in advance, that lead time can be shortened to "near real time" so long as the advert in question is already stored in the cable headend, Troiano claims.

BlackArrow is hopeful that the Jacksonville deployment is just the start. It claims its ad platform can help operators and programmers deliver ads dynamically not just to cable VoD, but to DVRs (set-top and network-based), and to video served over broadband and to mobile devices. Comcast likely will be looking for ways to serve ads to On Demand Online, the MSO's broadband-fueled "TV Everywhere" service that will be offered to customers as a free adjunct to their pay-TV subscriptions. (See Comcast Nears 'TV Everywhere' Launch.)

"Comcast went out with its own content, but that's not where it ends. That's where it starts," says Troiano.

A Comcast spokeswoman says the MSO expects to introduce VoD ad-insertion capabilities in more markets and to additional networks, but isn't ready to announce a rollout schedule.

No addressability... yet
The Jacksonville ad-insertion rollout won't support more targeted "addressable" advertisements that are delivered using demographic information -- at least not yet.

Comcast Spotlight, the local ad arm of Comcast, is presently testing such a system in Baltimore, however. (See Comcast Bulks for Baltimore Ad Trial .)

"This [deployment] is a first real-world example by Comcast to... solve the on-demand advertising problem," says BlackArrow CEO Dean Denhart.

And it's also BlackArrow's first announced cable deployment, though it's got others underway that haven't been announced yet. BlackArrow has also completed integrations with video servers from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and with Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS)'s video servers and VoD backoffice systems. BlackArrow has yet to announce anything with SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), one of Comcast's other major VoD technology partners.

Comcast's effort in Jacksonville also represents the latest high-profile use of dynamic VoD ad-insertion. Among more recent activity, Charter Communications Inc. and Sunflower Broadband have also tried out systems with other vendor partners. (See Charter Tests Dynamic VOD Ads.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News




Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to TelcoTV 2009, the telecom industry’s premier event for the exploration of a comprehensive entertainment convergence strategy, to be staged in Orlando, Fla., November 10-12. For more information, or to register, click here.


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