Comcast, TWC Still Bullish On Interactive TV
Two Biggest Operators See New Opportunities for EBIF Platform
By Todd Spangler -- Multichannel News, 4/5/2012 11:54:08 AM
New York Canoe Ventures may have mothballed its interactive TV ad efforts, but Comcast and Time Warner Cable remain firmly committed to using cable's ITV technologies not only for advertising but also to boost viewer engagement with shows.
Execs from the two biggest U.S. cable operators spoke on a panel at the "Cable Interacts: Crossroads for Innovation" event Thursday at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan.
Today, Comcast is running applications based on CableLabs' Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format in more than 15 million homes in 50 markets, said Mike Ortman, Comcast vice president of content strategy and operations for video services. That will increase to about 18 million households in the next few months as the MSO activates EBIF in its Cisco Systems markets, he said.
"This isn't the future... this isn't a guess. This is what's actually happening," Ortman said.
Comcast is developing a "Smart App" EBIF template for programmers that will let cable networks more easily deliver interactive apps to the MSO's subscribers, across both low-end set-tops like the Motorola DCT 2000 and higher-end boxes. "The goal is simply to engage viewers," Ortman said. "It's not going to meet 100% of what everybody wants to do, but it will meet 90%."
However, if a new network seeking carriage on Comcast has developed an ITV app, that by itself won't necessarily factor into a decision to carry it, Ortman said, responding to an audience member's question: "It's going to have to be mutually beneficial."
Time Warner Cable, for its part, now has EBIF running on 10 million set-tops, representing 7.5 million homes. The operator is selling ITV ads in 30 markets, and has 50 of its 52 markets "lit up from technical point of view," said Chris Faw, senior vice president of operations for TWC Media Sales. The two markets that are pending for full EBIF support are Dallas and Los Angeles.
"We realize there are second screens... [and] we want to be part of that second-screen activity," Faw said. "But we still look at basic TV as what we are building on."
In February, ITV took a hit when Canoe -- the advanced advertising firm owned by the six biggest U.S. cable operators -- announced it was discontinuing its national interactive TV operations, citing lack of traction in the marketplace.
Asked by panel moderator Craig Leddy whether the concept of national ITV advertising was alive or dead, Lauder Partners managing partner Gary Lauder responded that it has "not yet fully been born."
In any case, interactive television continues among the individual MSOs: To date, Comcast has delivered more than 4.5 billion ITV impressions while Time Warner Cable has served 2.5 billion.
Comcast Spotlight's ITV campaigns have included about 575 request for information (RFI) spots, 450 video-on-demand telescoping units and 136 "remind record" campaigns, which prompt viewers to set a DVR recording for a show. RFI interaction rates ranged from 0.01%, for a Champion Windows spot offering a free installation estimate, up to 0.65% for free two-liter bottle of Crush soda, Ortman said.
TWC's interactive TV projects have included an EBIF app for Discovery's Oprah Winfrey Channel that let subs tune to the network. "We had OWN launched, and folks couldn't find it," Faw said. "We saw the tune-in go up."
For Comcast, a huge focus in 2012 will dynamic ad insertion for video-on-demand. That's also the exclusive product left for Canoe, which is relocating to Denver. "There are hundreds of millions of views that are not being monetized, and that's got to happen," Ortman said.
Faw said the main challenge with cable's advanced advertising initiatives is presenting all the different capabilities the MSOs offer in a unified way to marketers as "a meaningful portfolio... instead of alphabet soup."
Pat Lafferty, chief operating officer for North America at ad agency McCann Erickson, said inertia among media buyers has led to a resistance to innovative advertising technologies. But the good news, he said, is that "clients expect and want engagement at this point, largely because of social media."
Cablevision Systems also is expanding its interactive TV applications, through the ActiveVideo Networks platform, as well as working to deliver more services across multiple different devices.
"If a customer has [a given connected video device], we're looking to make sure we're bringing them the full range of our product portfolio," Rich Neill, Cablevision's senior vice president of software technology and development, said on the panel.
In addition, Cablevision will more widely expand its network DVR service in 2012: "That's a flagship for this year," Neill said.
With an eye toward the future, Cablevision is deploying IP-video-capable set-top boxes, Neill said. But at the same time "we have 3 to 4 million customers who aren't going away" and need to be supported as the MSO migrates toward IP-based video services.
The conference was produced by Leddy, who is president of consulting firm Interactive TV Works.http://www.multichannel.com/article/...ractive_TV.php