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TWC Shops Interactive Tune-In Spots

NEW YORK -- After testing interactive tune-in advertisements on its New York City division, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) is pursuing a nationwide rollout of interactive ads that would allow subscribers to set reminders or set DVR recordings when prompted in promotions from TV networks.

The MSO is expanding the availability of interactive 30-second tune-in spots in other markets this year and in 2011, Time Warner Cable Media Sales president Joan Gillman told Light Reading Cable Wednesday after speaking on a panel here at the Digital Hollywood Summit hosted by Bloomberg and BusinessWeek.

“We do that today in New York City. We have programmers that buy tune-in advertising from us, and they make that interactive to tune to the channel or the program they’re promoting,” Gillman said. Citing confidentiality agreements, Gillman wouldn’t name the programmers that have bought interactive tune-in spots -- “But they’re the big ones.”

Time Warner Cable's New York division has been selling programmers interactive “telescope” ads. The ads feature an overlay that has a call to action that prompts the viewer to either navigate to a linear channel or video-on-demand (VoD) content being promoted by the programmer, an MSO spokesman said.

Selling tune-in spots to programmers is one of the interactive products that Time Warner Cable and other MSOs are pursuing with a wide rollout of their Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) platform. (See Cable Breaks Out the ITV Drano , EBIF Gets an Upgrade and Canoe, CableLabs Launch AdLab.)

A key focus of Gillman’s panel was how consumers face thousands of choices when it comes to video content, including cable TV, Internet video, and mobile platforms. Distributors stand to profit from helping viewers find the content they’re most interested in, Gillman said.

“The interactive application allows you to press select, and go directly to that channel. It cuts through the density of the channel guide.”

With cable operators beginning to offer online access to network content through TV Everywhere products -- in addition to hundreds of linear and video-on-demand channels -- distributors will need to focus more on acting like a Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) or a Pandora Media Inc. , and “help consumers find programming that they’re not aware of,” said Rainbow Media Holdings LLC senior vice president of broadband David Evans.

“We’re really moving into an on-demand world,” Evans said. “Distributors will help the consumers find their programming -- that’s how this relationship is going to continue to evolve.”

While cable operators face more competition from online video sites such as Hulu LLC , over-the top Internet video firms like Boxee , and consumer electronics firms selling broadband-connected DVD players and other devices, Gilman said the relationships operators have with consumers gives them an advantage over rivals. (See Boxee Urges TV Nets to 'Experiment'.)

“I think we have an advantage that is undersold compared to any other company that does not have a direct relationship with the consumer,” said Gillman. “A lot of CE [companies] are selling devices out there, but they lose the relationship with the consumer the minute they sell them a device.”

Another key focus of debate on the panel was fragmentation, and the challenges in measuring digital content. The measurement of digital media needs to improve if content producers are going to be able to take advantage of new platforms, Gillman said, noting that Nielsen Media Research doesn’t measure digital cable networks:

“If we’re going to proliferate, and content is going to be more fragmented across devices, if there isn’t a way to measure those networks, those networks are at a greater risk of not being able to produce ad dollars. There will be different companies that can survive because they are large, and they are measured. But the ones that are not measured will struggle with being able to deal with fragmentation without a solution to the measurement problem.”

In a fragmented media world, programmers must be able to reach viewers with their brands on multiple platforms, The Weather Channel Companies CEO Michael Kelly said: “It’s a challenging environment for business models… It’s about, can you have a credible relationship with your consumer? Are you producing something that they want to pull in? They’re going to find it, wherever it is, so you better be everywhere.”

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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