Canoe Hiccups Aside, EBIF Is Taking Off with iTV Ads

Andy Addis, SVP, business development, Ensequence

Andy Addis, SVP, business development, Ensequence

July 25, 2011 – Notwithstanding strategic missteps and some drift in the execution of the cable industry’s advanced advertising agenda at the national level, the industry appears well on its way to leveraging its EBIF platform for interactive advertising sales at programming networks and at the local spot sales level.
The early driver behind the use of EBIF (Enhanced Binary Interchange Format) software now functioning on millions of cable set-tops is the application known as RFI (request for information), which Canoe Ventures is enabling as its first product at the national level and which is gaining traction locally with RFI implementations by Comcast Spotlight, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Cablevision and others who have not announced their rollouts.

That MSOs are racing ahead with RFI implementations in their local sales efforts while the Canoe implementation has taken far longer than anticipated is one indication of the problems that have plagued the national venture since it was formed three years ago by the six largest MSOs. Another indication was the decision of Canoe’s board earlier this month not to renew the contract of CEO David Verklin, who was replaced by COO Kathy Timko on an interim basis.

Canoe, which in 2009 had to scrap its first initiative, the Community Addressable Messaging application for zone-based placements of advertising when it failed to get cooperation on the sharing of data by MSO members, has been struggling to get its RFI product underway at the national level. The venture announced in May 2010 that its RFI template would be used on several networks by four national programmers – Discovery Communications, NBC Universal, Rainbow Media and Comcast Networks.

But in January Verklin acknowledged only three channels had implemented RFI. He said the others lined up for use of the template would get underway by sometime in April,, but there’s been no word of that.

Clearly, though, the ball has started to roll, says Andy Addis, senior vice president for business development in the service provider sector for Ensequence. “EBIF advertising is getting real traction now,” Addis says.

Ensequence is the supplier of the RFI template chosen by Canoe, notes Jessie Dawes, marketing manager at Ensequence. “Programmers are now selling the RFI application to advertisers,” she says. “They’re getting ready to roll out beyond the trial level.”

Along with announced deals with Comcast Spotlight and Time Warner Cable, Ensequence is engaged with another “big MSO’ that’s in the process of launching on the RFI template, Addis says. And, in addition to announced deals supporting various types of apps with Showtime and Rainbow Networks, “we’ve built apps for three or four other major networks that are waiting to get certified,” he says.

Other EBIF technology suppliers report activity is picking up as well, much of it involving national programmers who are working on apps, such as the Twitter app developed by Ensequence for Rainbow’s We tv and WeddingCentral, that aren’t part of the Canoe product portfolio. At the local level, Cablevision, employing the EBIF user agent supplied by Zodiac Networks, recently reported strong results for its Optimum Select RFI ad campaign involving email fulfillment on a 30-second Royal Caribbean Cruise Line promotion run by travel packaging broker ICE Enterprises.

ICE said it received some 3,000 unique email leads generating a 24 percent redemption rate from the two-week promotion, which featured an overlay message prompting viewers to request more information about a two-for-the-price-of-one Royal Caribbean vacation offer. ICE chairman and CEO John Rowley says the campaign was “truly a groundbreaking milestone.”

“It’s not unusual to have 15 to 20 percent of an audience clicking on an app to get more information,” Addis says. “Interactive advertising lets consumers go deeper into something they’re vested in emotionally. It’s noot just about cool apps.”

Comcast Spotlight says it has been running iTV advertising for two years on hundreds of campaigns with more than 1.5 million interactions. Now the unit is using the Ensequence iTV Manager implementation of EBIF for service providers to support RFI, VOD telescoping and an app dubbed “Remind Record,” which allows viewers to set an on-screen reminder or DVR recording of an upcoming program featured in an ad.

“We’ve had great success rolling out iTV advertising over the past two years,” says Steve Feingold, Comcast Spotlight’s senior vice president of operations and strategic planning. “The flexibility and ease in scaling that the Ensequence solution offers will be an important part of the next phase of our interactive advertising rollout.”

The iTV Manager is a lifecycle and workflow management platform designed to work with multiple EBIF user agents and to provide a unified means of extending applications into EBIF and non-EBIF outlets alike. For example, Addis notes, Ensequence worked in the EBIF domain with Verizon and in the proprietary space with DISH Network to support interactive applications for the Summer Olympics programming aired by NBC in 2008.

“We work with programmers to version, schedule and deploy interactive apps across cable, satellite and connected devices,” Addis says. “There’s an acute need for this in the programming space.”

This agenda was greatly facilitated a year ago when Ensequence announced it was partnering with interactive application streamer provider Softel, streamer provider S & T and broadcast automation vendor VDS to provide a single-source interactive TV platform for television service providers and programmers. This past May the firm extended its reach into connected devices with the debut of a Live Traffic application on the Yahoo! Connected TV Widget Engine used by Samsung, LG Electronics, Vizio, Sony and Toshiba.