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Making Advanced Advertising Work: An Inside Look at How Sky Does It

Sky Media Executives Discuss Keys to Successes and Eye Challenges Ahead

Sky Media has leveraged proprietary technology and vendor platforms such as Imagine Communications’ Landmark Sales system to deliver targeted advertising to eleven million subscribing households. Now the U.K. MVPD is extending such capabilities across its multiple service outlets to all screens, utilizing metadata, big data analytics and algorithms that enable highly automated approaches to multi-platform ad campaigns.

Attendees at this year’s IBC Show in Amsterdam had a chance to get an inside look at these endeavors when Imagine hosted a discussion about Sky’s strategies led by Sarah Foss, vice president of product management for advertising management systems at Imagine, and featuring Jeff Eales, director of systems and development at Sky Media and Tim Taylor, Sky Media’s head of advertising and content supply technology. An edited transcript taken from the video of their meeting follows.

Sarah Foss, VP, product management, advertising management systems, Imagine Communications

Sarah Foss, VP, product management, advertising management systems, Imagine
Communications

Sarah Foss, VP, product management, advertising management systems, Imagine Communications – What are the systems you call ad management at Sky? What’s that foundation that has billions in revenues going through it?

Jeff Eales, director, systems and development, Sky Media – Not surprisingly, the first one is Landmark [Sales System], which you guys supply for us. There used to be just an air time sales system and our broadcast system. But now it’s about 20 times more complicated.

Jeff Eales, director, systems & development, Sky Media

Jeff Eales, director, systems & development, Sky Media

So we have an integration system that sits around Landmark that handles all the interface files that we use. We transact about 200 channels a day. So that means there’s about six to seven thousand files that come in and out of the system every day. And they have to be fully managed, and that’s managed on another platform.

We have a data warehouse platform, a staging area to collect all the data. Obviously we have all the broadcast systems downstream, but we don’t necessary need to count those. We have a reporting system that tells us pretty much live what the hell is going on.

For AdSmart we’ve added another four extra systems. We now have a segmentation engine that tells us the information about every household in the Sky universe. We call it the flexible allocation engine, but it’s neither flexible and it doesn’t allocate anything. It’s not an engine. But that basically is the think box that works out and tells every set-top box what to do when it gets an ad spot activation code. So where there used to be one ten years ago, there’s now at least ten.

Tim Taylor, head of advertising & content supply technology, Sky Media

Tim Taylor, head of advertising & content supply technology, Sky Media

Tim Taylor, head of advertising and content supply technology, Sky Media – The other thing to think about is it’s a big ecosystem of ad sales systems. If you think about the process of ad sales from campaign management all the way through to delivery through to measurement, because we’re doing lots of new generation advertising, we end up with an ecosystem to make all this stuff work.

We kind of say, don’t worry about your broadcast systems. But there is stuff done in our broadcast systems where we have logic, which is required to be able to serve the advertising properly.

Foss – What are the next-generation business models or systems that you’ve had to expand to that you want that broadcast logic to be part of?

Taylor – Let’s take AdSmart as an example.

Foss – There are probably a lot of people who don’t know AdSmart.

Eales – We now push [targeted ads] down to the 11 million boxes we have in the U.K. and Ireland. We push ads targeted to the household down to every box. We key that using an activation code in the live stream so that we can substitute a better ad or a more targeted ad into the household than the one that’s in the linear stream.

Foss – So it’s your proprietary targeting system.

Taylor – Because Sky has the platform, from a technology point of view you can actually view the set-top box as an ad server. Essentially what we’re [setting up the ad campaign] in our ad management systems. The flexible allocation engine is kind of creating some rules about options for advertising. The set-top box has logic on it which defines what ads to serve at what particular point in time. And so the business logic for the ad serving spans all the way from the Landmark system to the set-top box system. And it’s all got to work properly to be monetized properly.

Eales – And what we’ve never done before is we now take data off three million set-top boxes a day. We use a constant panel of half a million set-top boxes to manage all the AdSmart measurement systems. So we know pretty precisely the number of people that have seen any particular campaign at any time.

Taylor – The interesting thing about AdSmart is it looks quite easy, but under the covers it’s quite complicated. Prior to the set-top box actually substituting an ad, it’s got to know campaign details. It’s got to have the ad copy down to it. It’s got to be given a warning to do the substitution.

So getting all that working seamlessly is quite a challenge –  to make it an experience where the viewer doesn’t actually notice because they had the ad targeted appropriately to the audience segment they’re in.

Foss – In terms of the business models that drove AdSmart, what are some of those next-generation advertising models that you think have actually either fueled it or you were able to lead the industry by having that type of platform?

Eales – The fundamental thing is it changes the business model from being able to put an ad to the whole of the U.K. and Ireland to being able to push it down to any segment of about 5,000 households that have something in common. So we’re talking now to large small businesses, even plumbers, local car dealers, house agents that never have been on TV before that often spend their money with local press or radio.

Now they’re looking at TV as a really, really good option, because you can make a pretty good ad without that much money now. Provided that we help them make that ad, we can pretty much get anybody on TV.

And the other end of that is Maserati. We’re talking to really high-end car manufacturers that would never be on TV before. And now you’re able to put on TV a £250,000 car ad to the right people. And it works.

Taylor – What it has opened up is more audience, the ability to take our customers and segment the audience to people who can afford a car or people who want a plumber in their local area. From a technology point we need to manage the segmentation of all those audiences.

Foss – Okay. So we’re covering the segmentation. We’re talking about audience now instead of just ratings. We’re talking about targeting and hyper-local targeting. What has it done for you two with something like programmatic, or the automation of the buy and sell process? Are you seeing that type of targeting be part of a programmatic pitch? And, if so, how are ad systems helping you with something like programmatic?

Eales – On mobile programmatic is absolutely part of the chain, because it’s centrally ad served or controlled by the ad servers. So you can do programmatic.

But it depends on what you mean by programmatic. Programmatic in the U.K., I think, means something very different from programmatic in the U.S. With programmatic in the U.S. people are talking about order management optimization and getting agencies to put an order in that’s then set from order management systems down to ad zone sales systems to give them a campaign, and that campaign then gets back.

We’ve been doing that since 2003. If I sound smart, I mean to be, because we’ve been doing it. Ninety percent of all the business we trade in Landmark is put there effectively by agencies, by agency buyers.

We have an industry system in the U.K. called Carrier, and all of the major broadcasters have shareholdings in that platform. We put it live in 2003. Basically it’s not only controlling sales orders; it’s controlling copy rotation as well. We take those copy rotations and campaign orders, put them directly in Landmark, and most of the sales people do not type in orders anymore.

If that part is programmatic, we do that. The piece we’re all now working on is whether or not you can actually deliver that campaign programmatically and target it to that particular person when they’re watching mobile. We’re nearly there.

We’re working with a number of companies trying to work out how we would take some inventory and place it out into SSPs (supply-side platforms) and DSPs (demand-side platforms). We would hope to have something running pretty quickly.

Taylor – Some of the concepts around programmatic we’re talking about, around audiences and managing audiences and making them visible and available, and some of the stuff around automation and the automation of booking, those are probably two of the big concepts we’re trying to work with at the moment.

The other concept we haven’t talked about too much is, if you look at the ad inventory – we talk about linear ad sales; there’s lots of on demand – we’ve now got content across a multitude of different platforms. So for us one of the challenges is how do we manage that in the best possible way, optimizing it from the advertiser’s perspective and optimizing it from Sky’s perspective, from a revenue perspective. Those are some of the challenges we’re grappling with at the moment on the programmatic stuff.

Eales – Simply, where does the ad get stored? We have three places the ads are stored – whether it’s going out linear; whether it’s going to be ingested into the set-top box, or whether it goes out in mobile. Currently they are three different stores.

But where the ad is on programmatic is another issue. There is no way currently we would key a commercial to be put into the center of Game of Thrones when you’re watching live on SkyGo [Sky’s OTT service] where the ad is sitting in Mumbai somewhere. That cannot happen.

We have very high Ofcom regulations. Obviously we want the viewing experience to be perfect. We cannot rely on not getting the ad or the ad not being compliant. So that has to go into a safe store. So it’s not programmatic fatigue for video. But it’s a hundred miles away from programmatic for display.

Taylor – The funny thing is, with my other hat on about content supply, we have challenges about creating content in a multitude of different transcode formats to display on devices. It’s exactly the same challenge in advertising.

The other challenge we have on content supply is there’s a whole bunch of stuff going around personalization. There’s a big theme about creating content for you. It’s exactly analogous to audiences and trying to create a personalized ad experience for audiences. So the challenge about three different ad stores and 23 different transcode versions is what we’re grappling with to try and do it in an automated, efficient way and to make sure at the end of the day that everything is compliant, because if we’re not compliant then we run into a lot of trouble.

Foss – Let’s follow that theme for a second. Are you seeing the convergence of that personalization of content and the targeting of advertising creating convergence of systems within Sky? Is that something you’re starting to see?

Taylor – Not yet. They’re being driven by two different drivers. From an ad sales perspective it’s around audiences for revenue. From content personalization it’s around driving consumption for subscribers for Sky.

Foss – When we talk about all the systems you have and the different next-generation business models, how are the systems driving top-line growth for operational efficiencies? It sounds like you have lots of different initiatives going. But are there ones that you’ve really seen a material difference in terms of either your top line or your bottom line?

Eales – Well, here’s the thing. In Sky Media we have some of the highest quality TV or required TV by buyers in the Premier [League] football and, let’s say, some of the not-quite-so-interesting, what we call the long tail. For instance, we still have in the BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board) measurement world one of the best measurement systems in the world, [but it] still provides that 40 percent of our spots get nothing.

So how do you work between an environment where you might get nothing to an environment where you get two to three million viewers watching football that is immensely and hugely required? And the answer is, what we’ve been able to do is come up with an agreeable algorithm with the buyers that enables us to put that altogether. If we didn’t we’d just be here for years.

So we do it all on a ratings buy. That ratings buy effectively behind the scenes values everything and enables us to pull it altogether. We wouldn’t be able to expand the way we have in the last five or six years if we hadn’t come up with an agreement with the agencies as to how to buy different sorts of TV at the same time and value it at the price that it should be to the target audience that they require and at the time it’s watched.

By doing that we can at least move forward and automate around the big buys. There are very, very few of our spots in the system that either have a rate card or have value against a single spot. The future cannot be about selling single spots for a rate. Not all of them.

It just can’t be that way, particularly if you’re putting in impressions and you’re trying to look to see how this new area of viewing, where people are viewing on SkyGo, how that inventory can be merged with the linear inventory. That’s the challenge for certainly the next 18 months. We might be kind of getting there. I’m not sure I answered your question.

Foss – It was interesting, though.

Taylor – I’m not sure I’m going to answer your question either. But one of the challenges I want to raise is we’re collecting lots of data. AdSmart we talked about; data is coming back from set-top boxes about what’s happening. Where we’re serving on demand, we’re seeing lots of data come back.

One of the pieces we’re doing is around the analytics of that and the decision making which that drives to [determine] what sort of campaigns to serve where. I just think the optimization challenge is going to be really difficult going forward, because we’ll have lots of audiences, lots of platforms, lots of different services to serve ads to people.

How do we decide what ads to serve where? If you get a request for a certain audience and a certain volume of eyeballs for that audience, where do we do it that’s best for Sky but still meets all the advertisers’ needs?

Foss – It’s interesting, because, although the question was about systems, you both answered what are enablers that are helping you solve the problem of growth across the multi-platform environment, whether it’s optimization or it’s analytics. In that model, it almost seems like next-generation advertising systems are less about the distribution of what spot for what targeted ad goes where so much as what’s all the data and the optimization technology that allows a sales person to create an effective campaign and differentiate Sky from other media companies. Is that a fair statement?

Eales – Absolutely. But on the other end of it, you have to work out whether we measure stuff or whether we use things for a currency. It just so happens that normal TV people meter panels that we have all around the world measure a program, and as you measure a program, you can use that measurement to measure the ads.

So you can use that to measure the ad, but the basic algorithms behind both give you the same number, and it’s stable. And even if you don’t agree with it, it’s still stable, which is the strength of TV around the country.

The problem now is potentially that we can do census-based impressions ratings, because you can collect all the viewing data off the mobile universe or you can get to very large samples. Interestingly enough, if you get census data, what do I want? Do I want to know everything about everybody who logs on? Or do I want to know about a subset of that data so I can get that quickly to make a decision about a trend?

I have to tell you, different people have very different views on it. If I was able to make that decision from all the information all the time and make that very good decision straight away, then I think I probably want all of it. But we can’t disagree there’s a tradeoff a little bit at the moment. Can you actually collect 60 million set-top box data in two or three hours to provide next morning’s revised advertising schedules? If you can, great. But I’m not sure you’d want to do that.

Taylor – You talked about systems. I kind of ended up talking about capabilities and saying there are capabilities and there are ways to exploit those capabilities. From a systems point of view one of the things from my perspective is just the rate of change. Purely from a system point of view, with the number of platforms, the rate of innovation in broadcast, the new services, we’ve got to be able to innovate quickly. And that means whatever you’ve got in terms of systems, we need to be able to adapt quickly to keep up with rate of change and to exploit it to the best of our abilities.

Eales – If we have another way to be able to see great content, it means we have another stream to be able to sell. What seems to happen is we get ourselves so that we can sell it, and we create another currency in doing so. So we currently are up to about ten, ten different currencies that we trade with agencies. If you look back five or six years, there were probably two.

Taylor – The other example coming up is VR (virtual reality). If VR takes off, we have to create a new ad form for VR. What kind of audience watches VR, and how do we target stuff best to them to be able to exploit that audience? That’s what I mean about the rate of change. As innovation happens we need to think about how our advertising systems are adapting to be able to do the advertising in the first place, but to do it in the best possible way.

Foss – So, two follow-up questions: Is technology leading the sales team right now? And how much is the sales team coming back and saying, well, wait, if you can give me that, Tim, do I get this data, too? How much is that conversation happening?

There used to be this firewall between the sales team and we never wanted them to know anything about how we were actually making things happen in the back room, or God forbid, we’d sell something we didn’t deliver.

Eales – We talk to the sales team probably more than they would like us to talk to them. All of them, fortunately, don’t have any restrictions about how long it might take us to do something, which is good and bad, because they think that rather than taking six months, it should take six hours. Why is it so difficult, because aren’t you great technologist?

So we’re definitely being asked to do things very much more complex, very much more quickly, but in an environment that’s one of the most highly regulated environments in the world. That’s a question. Technology is clearly leading our ability to sell extra stuff. But interestingly enough, if that technology is coming from the digital end, what’s coming with the digital end is some very un-grownup business processes.

Foss – What does that mean?

Eales – It means you’ll take any creative of any size because you need the money. If you’re in digital, that’s kind of what you do. On TV we’ll only sell you a ten [second slot], a 20, a 30, a 40, a 50 or a 60. So you can’t make an 11-second ad, or if you do, we won’t transmit it because we’ll ask you to take that down to ten seconds.

There are things on the TV side where there are some very mature processes, because we’ve been around 45 plus years. Those mature business processes are meeting the World Wide West, where we have to do everything really quickly. We don’t really care if it works. And we want to put those together.

That actually is an enormous amount of fun, but we do need to find out how we do it right, how we do it quickly and how we can make money. That’s our problem at the moment.

Taylor – The other challenge from a technology point of view, everything is so interconnected and complicated. Go back to the AdSmart example. What we were doing on linear TV was substituting a new ad over an existing linear TV ad. And the thing we really, really couldn’t do was mess up our linear TV.

So we’re having to build that [new] technology on top of something which has got to work. And as we continue to innovate we’re continuing this complexity. Managing that complexity is one of my worries – making sure everything keeps working while you add the next thing on. That’s one bit about the technology.

The other thing – you asked a question about technology or business leading. I think we’re kind of getting into new territory, certainly with the programmatic stuff in video. We’re having to [ask], how is this going to work from a system point of view? How are you going to choose ads? How are you actually going to serve ads?

But the big point [is], how is this business going to sell in the best way and how are we going to present it to agencies? [With] these sorts of innovation we have to work quite closely together. We have to deliver a solution that works over all.

Foss – You almost just identified what keeps you up at night – with complexity. Is there anything else that keeps you up at night when you think about next-generation ad management?

Taylor – It’s complexity and keeping the service going. AdSmart is one of the things. [With] the logic running from our ad sales system to the set-top boxes, if we have a problem, where on earth is that problem? We don’t diagnose it quickly, and there are lots of components that are part of it.

That’s one thing that keeps me awake. The other thing that keeps me awake is this speed of change thing. How do we keep up with all this? How do we do programmatic really quickly?

Foss – How about you, Jeff? What keeps you up? Compliance?

Eales – Absolutely. If you describe the situation on one side, I’m completely with Tim. I think Confucius said when the pace of change outstrips the pace of learn, you get a gap. There’s no question we’re getting a bit of a gap. No question that we have to learn as quickly as the pace of change. That’s one of the things that will keep me somewhat awake at night.

But in an environment where we have more advertising, more places to put it, greater ability to target, many more compliance and regulation issues, if somebody says, do you think TV will become less regulated or more regulated, I think most of the room would think it will become more regulated.

So that means I just need metadata coming out of our ears to enable us to control that. And one of the things that’s very good about that, and one of the things we tried and tested was that, effectively, we’ve taken all the control data sitting in the good old fashioned workhorse called Landmark in the air time sales system, all of that compliance data, and pushed that into the eight million set-top boxes that are now working as mini ad servers.

We weren’t sure whether that would work, but it actually does. We put an awful lot of checks into making sure it does. It’s a really good stepping stone to say we definitely can do that. Now we can go to the next stage.

Taylor – The compliance thing is kind of exciting. We’ve got the Web and all the displays and programmatic stuff and the innovation that comes with that, and you’ve got the TV where we’re trying to create new services and platforms but still adhere to the rules of the game in terms of compliance, in terms of keeping advertisers happy. You’re right about that challenge, because our converging world means we need to manage video advert in a different way than you do with multi-display adverts on the Web.

Foss – I love this. You’ve given me the 4 C’s. We need to worry about control, compliance, complexity and business continuance.

Eales – And change.

Foss – And change. The 5 Cs of next-generation ad management. As a parting thing for you both, what do you think is the next big advertising technology that Sky is going to have to tackle in five years?

Taylor – Maybe not over five years, but programmatic is our current challenge. But you go beyond programmatic and you ask, how do we really exploit audiences across platforms and across our services quickly and easily? That’s the challenge. We’ll get down to real top personalization, real targeting of adverts, to be able to do that properly in a way which is automated.

Eales – We have a lot already. The biggest challenge for us and the community in the next five years is oddly pretty dull. It’s standardization – making sure we call the same stuff the same thing. If we can do that it will stop miscommunication.

I mean, we know the U.S. and the U.K are separated by a common language. You call it sidewalk; I call it a pavement. You go up in an elevator; I go up in a lift. We do need in metadata terms to try to make sure that everything is named as correctly as we can. It might sound a bit dull in a very exciting landscape, but those are the sorts of things we know work back in the linear world, and if we can begin to bring them in, we can shoot for the stars.

Foss – Thank you so much Tim and Jeff for sharing your insights on next-generation advertising management.

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Actionable Analytics Strategy Drives New Business for Rovi

Paul Stathacopoulos, VP, strategy & execution, Rovi

Paul Stathacopoulos, VP, strategy & execution, Rovi


A+E, Mediacom, DISH Adopt Initiatives Tied to New Capabilities

By Fred Dawson

June 5, 2015 – Rovi’s pursuit of new approaches to orchestrating data aggregation and analysis is starting to move the market on several fronts, attesting to the role big data analytics combined with deeper metadata resources and advanced discovery tools is likely to play in business models from now on.

As previously reported, Rovi last year embarked on an expansion of its product portfolio in this direction following two years of intensive acquisition activity and development. Now new agreements with MVPDs, content owners and CE manufacturers reveal how these entities are deploying various Rovi solutions to accomplish strategic goals that were once out of reach.

One case in point is A+E Networks’ decision to implement the new Rovi Ad Optimizer platform, notes Paul Stathacopoulos, Rovi’s vice president for strategy and execution. “Ad Optimizer uses our predictive analytics engine to help our customers improve advertiser performance by more effectively reaching their target audiences,” Stathacopoulos says.

By processing viewing data from set-top boxes, panel sources such as Nielsen and Rentrak and consumer data from third-party sources, the platform allows A+E “to offer our advertising customers similar levels of data-driven audience targeting that they’ve become accustomed to with digital media,” says Mel Berning, president and chief revenue officer at A+E. With Ad Optimizer the programmer can “manage our inventory more effectively, which will further differentiate A+E Networks in our ability to deliver even more value to our advertisers,” he adds.

One of the first payoffs for A+E is the decision of media services agency Horizon Media to purchase data-driven inventory from the network, demonstrating how the Ad Optimizer-generated data can be used from the buyer perspective for media planning.  “Rovi’s Ad Optimizer is a natural fit for Horizon Media because the platform speaks directly to a television buyer,” says David Campanelli, senior vice president and director of national television at Horizon Media. “Being able to easily and intelligently transact A+E Networks inventory takes the guesswork out of TV ad buying” by helping  “advertisers find the right audiences for their campaigns.”

Stathacopoulos explains what a difference the deeper level of analytics can make in enhancing targeting of advertising in linear TV by citing a hypothetical example where Ford Motor Co. is attempting to reach potential buyers of its pickup trucks. “With Ad Optimizer, you can look at what TV programs were viewed by 18-to-34 year-old males who rented a truck in the last three years or who test drove a truck in the past 12 months,” he says. “Or you can discover there’s a hot inventory slot at 4 a.m. because the target audience is catching up on sports scores before they leave for work. Such data help Ford’s media buyer determine what ad inventory it should buy.”

Similarly a Promotion Optimizer in the Rovi portfolio can be used by TV networks in determining where to place ads promoting a new program. For example, Stathacopoulos says, if a programmer is contemplating the launch of a new reality singing show, the platform will help them identify the most promising audience segment based on viewing behavior with other such shows, all in a matter of seconds as opposed to weeks or months.

The programmer can set targets to qualify a user as an interested viewer based on how often and for how long the viewer participates in existing singing shows like American Idol, or they can go even farther based on the topic of the proposed program to explore what the interest is in shows with a similar theme. “On the back side of the process we can track the results of the promotional ads by telling you how many of the viewers who saw the promotion tuned into the new program,” Stathacopoulos says.

“The ability to measure ROI on linear TV advertising has been incredibly limited,” he adds.

Now we’re delivering far more information than you can get from Nielsen or Rentrak in a closed-loop system that can analyze multiple sources to determine if somebody who watched a commercial bought the advertised product or went to an advertiser’s e-commerce site. No one has brought these kinds of capabilities into the TV space, until now.”

“The other piece we do that’s unique is once we’ve applied predictive analytics to the data we connect directly into something that enables direct action – the CRM system, ad trafficking system, the programming guide, etc.,” he continues. “You can create a specific action plan to use the information or convert it directly into a trafficking system to direct ads. This is a big difference from using big batch processing systems on business datasets that don’t connect the data to action.”

Another important indicator in the market’s growing embrace of big data analytics can be found with Mediacom Communications Corp.’s recently announced multi-solution deal with Rovi. The selected products, including Operator Insights, Ad Optimizer and Subscriber Analytics, will provide Mediacom, the eighth largest U.S..MSO, new insights into network performance and viewership trends and help the company more efficiently utilize their available ad inventory, says John Pascarelli, executive vice president for operations at Mediacom.

“The data and analytics insights enabled under this agreement provide essential intelligence that will fundamentally enhance our business going forward,” Pascarelli comments. “By aligning with Rovi, we’re able to gain relevant operational and subscriber use cases to ensure we drive more value to our customers.”

Operator Insights utilizes return-path data to collect the viewership and usage details Mediacom can use in setting programming and marketing strategies. Subscriber Analytics, a new addition to the Rovi portfolio, provides the means by which Mediacom can direct the use of that information to enable better understanding of its customers and to direct actions accordingly.

“How do you know who your highest value customers are?” Stathacopoulos asks. “We go beyond using billing data to see how subscribers are spending their time viewing TV. You can identify the subscribers you should be investing in. This is the type of thing you can do with Subscriber Analytics.”

The Mediacom deal also includes an i-Guide renewal and enables the MSO to launch new Rovi discovery products on iPads, smartphones and digital terminal adapters (DTA). This points up another major advancement where Rovi is applying new capabilities to an area where it has long held a leading position, namely, metadata.

Now offered as a standalone product, Rovi’s Knowledge Graph aggregates a deeper range of metadata with greater intelligence to provide better discovery experiences and answer more viewer questions, says Kathy Weidman, senior vice president and general manager for metadata at Rovi. “Rovi’s dynamic metadata, powered by the Rovi Knowledge Graph Engine, helps differentiate service offerings in today’s crowded marketplace by creating a unique and engaging entertainment discovery experience personalized to the individual,” Weidman says.

This new approach to discovery avoids the kinds of search failures and irrelevant recommendations common to many navigational systems by using a robust vocabulary and an awareness of what is popular or trending in the world at any moment to organize and identify content, she adds. The Knowledge Graph contains dynamic information on more than 100 million entities, such as program titles, celebrity names, corporate brands, locations and other elements, she notes. This includes machine-generated metadata from 100,000 online sources as well as data manually compiled by Rovi editors.

Contextual signals, such as current world news and trends, time, location and the consumer device, along with social media activity, deliver cues to accurately anticipate a user’s interests relative to a specific time and place. With this deep understanding Rovi customers can convey semantic, highly relevant search results and recommendations that accurately anticipate user intent and interests, Weidman says.

Another element to the new discovery process is Conversation Services, which provide natural-language, spoken-voice interfaces to Rovi customers’ products. DISH Network recently announced it would be integrating the voice technology into its second-screen app for iPads, its Hopper remote and the DISH Anywhere app for mobile devices.

“DISH is committed to implementing the best technology for our customers, and we believe the introduction of voice recognition will provide them with a more intuitive search experience,” says Vivek Khemka, senior vice president of product management at DISH. “We selected Rovi as our voice technology provider as they have demonstrated a deep understanding of semantics and natural-language capabilities.”

Rovi Conversation Services utilizes predictive semantic intelligence and a deep understating of entertainment within a real-world context to allow free-flowing dialogue that delivers fast and contextually relevant search results, says Daren Gill, vice president of products, advanced search and recommendations at Rovi. “Given the scale of DISH’s subscriber base, we hope to significantly shift the public perception of how people can discover and navigate content with next-gen semantic technologies in ways that have not been possible before,” he says.

Early wins for new product initiatives at A+E, DISH, Mediacom and other customers have buoyed Rovi’s expectations that its new initiatives combined with shedding of its DivX and MainConcept business units will strengthen financial performance this year. “We continue to expect revenues in the second half of 2015 to increase over the first half of the year as we see an increasing contribution from our new products, including Advanced Search, Analytics, Connected Guides and our cloud based platform partnership program in the second half of the year,” said Rovi CFO Peter Halt in a statement with release of its Q1 2015 results.

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Seller-Friendly Strategies Bring Programmatic Ad Buying to TV

Taras Burgir, president, Decentrix

Taras Burgir, president, Decentrix

 

Solutions Touted by Decentrix and FreeWheel Vie for Traction

By Fred Dawson

July 3, 2014 – Programmatic advertising technology, a driving force in digital media commerce, is stirring strong interest in TV circles, but there’s a “sellers beware” message that needs to be heeded if networks and premium service providers are to avoid being sucked into a revenue-draining maelstrom they can’t control.

So warns Taras Burgir, president of Decentrix, a provider of business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing technology and services for the television industry. “There’s a freight train coming to our industry,” Burgir says. “We have to understand and avoid commodity pricing.”

Undervaluation of advertising inventory is a key concern among many online publishers as they weigh the merits of programmatic advertising, commonly understood to involve auction-based pricing through third-party exchanges, although that’s not always the case. In reality the programmatic label is applicable to anything in the vein of software automation that serves to facilitate ad buying in lieu of traditional processes involving RFPs, person-to-person negotiations and manual insertion orders.

As noted by Bob De Haven, general manager for worldwide communications and media at Microsoft, a key supplier of technology and services to Decentrix, the benefits of programmatic buying done right from the sell side are undeniable. “The infusion of business intelligence as a way to drive efficiency and save costs is a game changer everywhere, including the ad business,” De Haven says. “Once you connect BI with the ideas Decentrix is bringing to this market you have an approach to programmatic applications in advertising that works for sellers as well as buyers.”

Decentrix has become a central player in TV industry BI as broadcasters, OTT publishers and service providers pursue more effective utilization of their data resources in their dealings with ad buyers across all media outlets. Now the company is hoping to persuade the industry to embrace the notion of a Sell-Side Platform (SSP) by adopting a common set of APIs that will allow sellers and buyers to better negotiate the value of inventory in the programmatic space utilizing the capabilities of the Decentrix BIAnalytix system.

As an enterprise BI system purpose-built for media companies, BiAnalytix utilizes Microsoft SQL Server 2012 architecture to ingest data from companies’ internal back-office systems, set-top-box data in the case of service providers and other sources such as Nielsen and Rentrak, Burgir explains. The system allows customers to create a single enterprise-wide data warehouse they can tap to quickly generate key metrics for analysis and presentation to media buyers and other interested parties.

Leverage Points for SSP

Persuading the ad industry to buy into a common SSP is no easy task, Burgir acknowledges, but he points to progress the company is making in its dealings with major agencies along with a wide embrace of BIAnalytix among media companies as hopeful signs that the proposed platform will win sufficient support to become a de facto if not formal industry standard. “We have a tremendous base of sell-side users that could be a foundation for getting SSP off the ground,” he says.

For example, Hearst Television, a recently announced Decentrix customer, has implemented BIAnalytix for use by corporate executives and station managers in streamlining ad sales operations across 29 TV stations. “The BIAnalytix platform allows us to own and manage our data, and liberate our company’s reliance on reporting from multiple disparate systems,” says Al Lustgarten, vice president of IT at Hearst Television. With its deep understanding of metrics that matter to broadcasters, “Decentrix has quickly become a trusted advisor regarding how to mine those golden nuggets of insights from our ever-growing mountain of data,” he says.

Representing another arena where Decentrix is active, Charter Media, the ad sales division of cable MSO Charter Communications, is putting BIAnalytix to use initially to draw ad inventory and revenue data from its traffic and billing system with plans to eventually integrate other data sources into the “single location of business truth,” as Glenn Leech, vice president of operations at Charter Media, puts it. “Because of the deeper insights gained regarding our inventory, selling patterns and historical trending, this platform is a crucial ingredient in our future sales and pricing models,” Leech says.

Decentrix has leveraged its relationships with media customers and its integrations with their back-office systems to develop a SSP trading protocol that can interface with most traffic and buying systems to enable trade through a linear targeted Web service system. BIAnalytix will allow SSP users to draw on extensive audience and other data to calculate accurate valuations of all inventory positions and offer candidate inventory to agencies with on-demand pricing in real-time, says Decentrix CEO Wayne Ruting.

“SSP isn’t deployed, but it’s a product that’s available to deploy,” Ruting says. “We believe the fastest adoption is likely to be in the MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor) space, where there’s huge value in set-top box data and no question that some of the inventory is poorly priced.”

The Programmatic Trend Line

So far, programmatic ad buying hasn’t penetrated the traditional TV ad placement marketplace to any significant degree. But it is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the online arena, where networks’ and service providers’ efforts to monetize distribution of programming to connected devices are putting them in the programmatic line of fire.

Notably, there’s a growing temptation to turn to auction-based exchanges or DSPs (demand-side platforms) to unload unsold inventory. “By focusing on remnant inventory, sellers have enabled the marketplace to bid on inventory, and thus are delighted when buyers offer more than zero dollars,” Ruting says. “This approach works in the digital world where inventory is not limited and bidding is prevalent, but broadcasters, MSOs and cable networks have inventory scarcity with measureable audiences that should be appropriately valued and traded.”

The SSP as defined by Decentrix avoids the exchange auction process, choosing instead to leverage computerized automation to accelerate negotiations on rates in ways that lead to fairer pricing, not only of “remnant inventory” but of mid-tier and even premium placements as well, Burgir explains. “Media companies have to get smart about use of programmatic technology,” he says. “DSPs, exchanges – they’re all saying, ‘Show us your inventory and we’ll tell you what it’s worth.’ That’s the digital world. We don’t want to be there.”

If an automated buying system in a middle-man arbitrage role can find value in unsold inventory, certainly networks and service providers can find greater value if they take pains to find it, Burgir adds. This means aggregating and using data in ways that are tuned to the digital world, where, for example, pricing isn’t tied to whether something is aired in prime time or in other day parts. “Eyeballs have the same value whether it’s prime time or 4:30 in the morning,” he says.

As Burgir notes, for all the publicity on the topic, programmatic buying still represents a small slice of the media advertising market. “Digital is just 23 percent of the $173-billion U.S. advertising market, and programmatic buying is just 20 percent of digital,” he says. “But there’s going to be a real impact in the years ahead, including in TV advertising.”

Indeed, several recent studies predict big surges in programmatic buying. For example, research firm Magna Global predicts that by 2017 52 percent of display-related spending in the U.S. will be done through real-time bidding, with an additional 31 percent of spending done through other types of programmatic systems. Looking beyond display advertising, IDC says aggregated programmatic spending on video as well as display ads tripled in 2013 over what was spent in 2012.

AdExchanger, an organization promoting programmatic spending, says in a recent survey of media companies that two thirds report that within a year they will be managing at least 40 percent of their digital media advertising programmatically. More than a quarter of the agencies responding to the survey say they’ll be using programmatic systems for 80 percent or more of their transactions within that timeframe.

But, at the same time, there are studies emphasizing the barriers that must be overcome if such numbers are to be achieved. Research aggregator eMarketer recently reported that, notwithstanding agencies’ shift to programmatic processes, there’s still widespread uncertainty about its effectiveness, with only 12 percent saying they trust programmatic systems to execute their orders accurately.

There’s also a lot of confusion about just what programmatic is, as evidenced by a 2013 survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers and Forrester. That research found that only 23 percent of marketers understand the term and are using the technology, while 29 percent have heard of it but don’t know what it means.

The AdExchanger research underscored the impact this uncertainty is having on the market. Advertisers are concerned about inventory quality as publishers dump remnant impressions on the market, and publishers are worried about losing margins to the complexities of third-party intervention.

The FreeWheel/Adapt.tv Solution

Clearly, though, industry players, including people in the TV space, are getting more comfortable with the inevitability of programmatic systems. Posing an alternative to the Decentrix SSP approach, FreeWheel, the ad management and monetization platform supplier recently acquired by Comcast, has teamed with Adapt.tv, a division of AOL Platforms, to integrate the latter’s programmatic reserved technology into FreeWheel’s FourFronts marketplace.

Now entering into pilot testing, the resulting audience-reserved transaction model will enable buyers to use their own proprietary audience data to buy premium inventory on a reserved basis in “upfront-like” aggregation or one-on-one deals with publishers, says Teg Grenager, chief product officer and co-founder of Adap.tv. “In September 2013, AOL, with other leaders in digital advertising, committed to simplifying and streamlining the buying and selling processes of premium digital advertising, including placing AOL reserved display and mobile inventory into its programmatic offering,” Grenager says. “The goal of this pilot program is to extend that commitment by bringing all of the key stakeholders together to test, learn and move the industry forward toward the inevitable multi-channel, data-driven world of TV, as well as enhancing the business models underpinning it.”

Agency giants Optimedia, MAGNA GLOBAL and Starcom MediaVest Group are expected to be among the participants in the pilot program. “Audience fragmentation has necessitated a more data-driven approach to the buying process to capture greater value for our clients,” says Karyn Johnson, senior vice president and digital director West at Optimedia. “This unprecedented collaboration with Adap.tv and FreeWheel is a logical next step for automation to begin streamlining, simplifying and unifying media buys in premium video across all channels.”

Programmatic buying of audiences in a reserved fashion has not been possible in video for two reasons, Grenager suggests. Advertisers don’t want to share the valuable consumer data, and publishers don’t want to place their premium inventory into real-time bidding environments.

The audience reservation solution developed for this pilot program solves these issues by placing the data in a protected “data escrow,” he says. The idea is that integration with select DSPs will allow publishers to automatically transact orders and deliver ads that already match against advertiser data, without actually needing the advertiser data itself. The platform will facilitate accurate forecasts against such data, enabling reliable orders that deliver against what was guaranteed and booked, he says.

The FreeWheel FourFronts component of the collaboration is a private marketplace for premium digital television inventory that provides access to national, local, and now DSP demand, says Jon Heller, co-founder and co-CEO at FreeWheel. FourFronts acts as a trusted third party to enable publishers to transact against advertiser data without directly sharing it, thereby ensuring their data remains proprietary while allowing them to deploy it at scale against premium digital TV inventory, he explains.

“The use of automation and data can be a welcome innovation to the industry, but it’s crucial for both buyers and sellers that they can transact at TV scale in a manner that ensures reliable delivery for both and maintains the value of premium inventory for both,” Heller says. “The pilot is the first step in ensuring scalable value for both buyers and sellers in today’s evolving, unified television advertising marketplace.”

The Exchange-Free Argument

It will be interesting to see which approach, the DSP-friendly mode developed by FreeWheel and Adapt.tv or the sell-side approach taken by Decentrix, gains greater traction. While the FreeWheel/Adapt.tv delivers useful proprietary data to assist publishers in positioning and pricing inventory, from where Burgir sits taking the exchanges out of the picture is a better path for sellers to take.

Rather than facilitate exchange-driven purchases, Decentrix believes sellers must be well-armed with their own information to balance the playing field in the digital world. Speaking of the exchanges, Burgir says, “These companies know consumers better than most broadcasters. They use data up the wazoo to slice and dice demographics information. They know how to value the audience and will make money in arbitrage.”

Addressing sellers, he says, “Our contention is there’s plenty of data which you can harness for customers as well as any agency does. You can be positioned to trade electronically when you get to that point.”

SSP isn’t meant to displace existing traffic, proposal and audience packaging systems, he adds. But what it does through aggregation of traffic, inventory, pricing history and other back-office data is quite different from how those systems have been used traditionally. “Those systems were not built to be immediately responsive,” he notes. “Most are created to work overnight, not in real time or near real time.”

“In order to be in the computer-to-computer environment, you need almost instantaneous response,” he continues. “You need to be absolutely synched with buy-side day-to-day systems. How do you do that if you don’t know what’s happening with your inventory today, what was bought today, what the demand pressure was? We’re giving sellers a model that can deliver the information agencies are looking for and correctly price the inventory in real time.”

By exposing the true value of inventory, sellers can benefit buyers as well as themselves, he adds. “In today’s automated buying market there are a million opportunities and counter proposals designed to game the system, which is a real challenge for buyers,” he notes. “Good execution on the sell side allows them to track optimum proposals, reducing media buying staff time and increasing the reliability and effectiveness of their purchases.”

In the end, Burgir says, it comes down to creating a balanced revenue opportunity. “In order for any model to work, one side of the platform can’t feel under advantaged,” he says.

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On a Mission: CTAM CEO Makes Case for TVE Push

John Lansing, president & CEO, CTA<

John Lansing, president & CEO, CTA<


Awareness Has Improved, but Usage Rate Is Low

August 19, 2014 – Judging from the latest CTAM-sponsored research on the impact TV Everywhere is having on consumers, some tangible benefits are starting to flow back to providers, but things still have a long way to go. Which is why the venerable cable marketing association is spearheading a national campaign to help the cause.

In a CTAM-commissioned study released last month, Hub Entertainment Research 49 percent of MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor) customers aged 18 to 64 can be characterized as being “definitely aware” they have a subscribers-only option to watch TV shows delivered by MVPDs and programming networks to connected IP devices, with 44 percent indicating they’ve done so at least once in the past six months using the provider’s authentication process. This study marks a jump in awareness from just 17 percent, as measured in the fourth quarter of last year.

On the other hand, among the 56 percent of respondents who say they don’t use TVE, only five percent said they “definitely will” try the service in the next six months, compared to 16 percent who said they “definitely won’t” and 31 percent who said they “probably won’t.” And among the TVE users only 15 percent said they use it several times a week or more. The survey found that the sign-in process is a major impediment with subscribers reporting issues such as the process seemed too time-consuming or they lack ready access to user information. TVE sign-in was rated much lower for MVPDs and premium networks in comparison to Netflix and basic cable programmers’ online TVE offerings.

On a more encouraging note, the study found significant correlations between TVE and increased positive perceptions of MVPDs and content providers. For example, 49 percent of MVPD customers say the availability of TVE makes them feel more positive about their service providers and 55 percent say TVE makes the MVPD subscription a better value for the money.

Such findings lend encouragement to the industry-wide collaboration, which, by helping to accelerate consumer awareness, product understanding and usage, seeks to increase the value proposition of TVE. The effort, led by CTAM with broad engagement across the MVPD and programming sectors, has already produced initial recommendations for improving the subscriber experience and awareness and is well along in efforts to formulate the marketing campaign.

In the interview that follows, CTAM president and CEO John Lansing discusses the TVE initiative with ScreenPlays editor Fred Dawson. The interview took place at the Cable Show in Los Angeles.

ScreenPlays – John, thanks a lot for taking some time to talk about the TV Everywhere initiative. It makes sense that the industry would come together on this effort, given where things have been at with all the money spent on TVE and the extent to which we’re still not seeing the awareness and usage rates that MSOs and programmers would like to see. Why don’t you give us a sense of what you find is the need out there and tell us a little bit about your agenda.

John Lansing – Thank you, Fred. You’re right. The awareness of TV Everywhere among pay TV customers back during the fourth quarter was as low as 17 percent. So here we have all these people who have this service available to them and aren’t even aware of it. When they become aware of it their satisfaction rises dramatically.

And so CTAM has put together a 25-person industry-wide steering committee with a specific goal to drive higher awareness, higher usage, and ultimately build a best-in-class UX – user experience and recommendations – so we can take this great product and raise the awareness. And all of that with no additional cost to the customer.

SP – But a lot of cost to the industry.

Lansing – Yeah.

SP – So where do things stand in this whole process with the committee. Have you moved along and got some things done?

Lansing – Yes. We’ve agreed upon a naming convention. TVE has been colloquially used, but now we have a service mark in the making for TVE to become the category name for the service. That doesn’t supplant all the individual brand appslike HBO Go or Watch ESPN. But it’s a way for us to market the value of the service nationally with one unified message about what TV Everywhere can be or is for the pay TV customer at no additional cost. So that’s been adopted.

We’ve adopted the first phase of a set of user experience recommendations focusing in on the sign-in process to make it easier. Anybody who has tried to log into their TV Everywhere app typically finds it to be a little cumbersome. But there’s a lot of progress being made through our recommendations on how to make that a simpler process.

And then, third, through a partnership with Adobe Primetime, CTAM will be aggregating all the usage data from across the industry and reporting it back so that we can measure our progress [with a goal of raising] awareness to 50 percent by the end of 2014 and then beyond 2014 up to 60 and 70 percent, and a commitment to drive usage to 50 percent and more of that increased awareness.

We think the value that’s inherent in the cable TV business model will be strengthened and made more secure and stable into the future if we can just really grow the awareness and usage of TV Everywhere.

SP – From an awareness standpoint, you have the practices together, at least some of them, and the branding and the arrangement of tracking. What about the actual campaign? How do you see that in terms of scope and the types of methods you’ll use to get awareness, and how long it might go on?

Lansing – It will be a full marketing, communications and PR plan that we’ll develop through a set of RFPs in the next phase, and then bring those back to our TV Everywhere steering committee. It will be up to our steering committee, which is the industry, essentially, to decide on the level of commitment.

As we talk to them and to the member companies, their interest in driving TV Everywhere up is very, very high. So we’re just here to sort of galvanize the collective energy and will of the industry to really drive this process forward.

SP – Cable is obviously the dominant provider, but not the only one. Is cable shouldering this burden or are you getting some competitors from the telco and satellite industries to participate as well?

Lansing – They’re welcome to participate. They certainly are offering a service as well. I think all boats rise with the rising tide. We don’t anticipate there would be a competing national branding but rather one national product definition that is manifested through individual brands.

SP – So it’s not going to necessarily be your cable service TV Everywhere. It’s just that you have TV Everywhere if you’re a subscriber to premium content.

Lansing – Yeah. And I think individual companies will market it specific to their business plan and their business model. So a cable MSO would market it very aggressively that way, and they should. And programmers would market it a different way. And that’s okay. We envision an over-arching campaign that allows individual campaigns to exist within it.

SP – Now, there’s another component to awareness that might help the industry from the standpoint of the fact that so many companies are going out there now with live content, which is another whole forklift as far as the backend technology and, of course, capacity utilization, as long as it’s unicast – hopefully, we’ll get to multicast before too long. But as all that is taking place there’s a need for monetization, and I guess getting awareness on the part of Madison Ave. and the agencies is probably a good idea as well, wouldn’t you say?

Lansing – It is. And speaking of live events, we’ve seen two major live events this year already, and we actually had a panel discussion yesterday here at the show and heard a case study on the Olympics and March Madness. The usage case for both of those events was through the roof in terms of TV Everywhere. We view major live events as a gateway to awareness and ultimately more usage, even when there aren’t major live events. The impact they have is significant.

In terms of Madison Ave., there’s also the issue of monetizing TV Everywhere with the additional impressions that it brings. And with dynamic insertion now a reality, the ability to drive incremental ad revenue through TV Everywhere is here and now. And so the value of TV Everywhere to increase the cable business model, increase the value proposition to cable customers and to add incremental revenue for advertising through incremental ad impressions makes it just a win/win across the industry.

SP – What is your sense of participation at this point? It is it a select few of the top companies on the programming and MSO sides or is it fairly broad based.

Lansing – Oh, it’s broad based. I can’t even stand here and think of a company that’s not involved, not supportive and not leaning in very, very heavily.

SP – Well, I can’t think of anything more important on the marketing side of the industry than getting this handled, because, of course, this is the bridge to the future where everybody has TV Everywhere.

Lansing – Right

SP – Best of luck with the whole thing, John. We’ll be watching how it unfolds.

Lansing – Thank you, Fred.

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Cablevision Expands Role Of Interactive Advertising

Ben Tatta, president, Cablevision Media Sales

Ben Tatta, president, Cablevision Media Sales


MSO Employs ActiveVideo’s HTML-Enabled Cloud Platform to Drive New Revenue

June 23, 2014 – Cablevision has taken a deeper dive into interactive advertising, utilizing HTML5 enhancements to the platform supplied by ActiveVideo. In this interview with ScreenPlays editor Fred Dawson, Cablevision Media Sales president Ben Tatta explains how the MSO is building on its advanced advertising experience to create an opportunity for advertisers to increase consumers’ engagement with long-form content.

ScreenPlays – One of the things high on everybody’s list is how to take advantage of next-generation technology to actually monetize around all the things that are going on with service enhancements. Cablevision has been breaking new ground in this space for quite a while, and now you’re taking a new approach to interactive advertising. Ben, I’ll let you tell us a little bit about this.

Ben Tatta – Sure. This is actually the culmination of a partnership we’ve had with ActiveVideo for over five years, where we deployed years ago their core platform for interactive TV. Basically we took a lot of what was done on the set-top box (STB) in the past and moved it to the cloud, which allowed us to offer advertisers a simple way to launch ad applications on the STB.

Now we’re taking it to the next level where we leverage the same core infrastructure, but we’re able to do it in a new format – HTML5. These days, programmers and advertisers alike are developing in HTML5, whether it’s for mobile applications or the Web. So now rather than having to develop uniquely for TV, we can take the existing applications and extend them to our systems and to all of our subscribers.

We’re really delighted about the announcement. We’re also delighted that American Express will be among the first advertisers launching with us.

SP – It doesn’t hurt to have Amex as your anchor tenant. What are the brands getting out of this that maybe they weren’t getting before in their interaction with you?

Tatta – It’s a good question. There is obviously a lot of work being done trying to deliver more targeted and relevant spots – commercials in 30-second spots – and we were one of the first to introduce addressable advertising to do that. But then in addition to delivering more relevant ad commercials, the other component is to drive longer engagement with consumers and viewers. We view these applications as an opportunity for advertisers to extend the dialog and engagement they have with their prospective or existing customers in much more of a long-form environment.

So in essence what we’ll do is have an ad campaign like American Express that will either tag their spots with a promotion to go to the [advertiser’s dedicated] channel, or in some cases we can even telescope off of the spot directly to the channel, and from there they can drive a long-form engagement. At that point we can provide really granular insights into how the customers they’re trying to reach are interacting with their brand, what types of product information they’re drilling down on.

In the case of American Express, they have a wealth of interesting, compelling content that can drive brand awareness and engagement and ultimately get someone to click their remote to request information about a card or submit an entry to a sweepstakes. We’ve done a whole number of interactive applications with a channel, and we’re delighted we get to take advantage of something now in the HTML5 format, where you can see a lot more robust capabilities than the conventional applications.

SP – What are you planning in terms of raising the consumer’s willingness to abandon what they’re watching and jump into this extended advertising? How do they get back into the program they’ve been watching?

Tatta – Just to explain something – unlike other interactive services where they have an American Express app within an app store, we actually give it a dedicated channel number. So the way viewers find it is either through a spot American Express is running that will promote it or by simply navigating through the channel lineup.

In addition to that, the channel is there persistently. So if someone didn’t want to take the time to go to the American Express channel after seeing the spot, they can go at any point they wish. At any point they can call upon it, and it’s no more difficult than just tuning into the channel number and, boom, the application loads and plays out like a TV channel that has the interactive capability and features of a website.

We think that’s a huge differentiator for cable. I think this convention of an app store works well on mobile, but for television it’s somewhat hit or miss. And now that the number of applications has grown, you have the same kind of issue with navigation in an app store to find an application you’re interested in as you would trying to find shows in some cases. We find that giving it a dedicated channel position that’s persistent, always available to be called upon with nothing more difficult than a channel tune, drives much more traffic to the channel. And to your point, if the viewer isn’t ready or willing to go to the channel after seeing the spot, they can go to it at any point.

SP – This is getting into all new territory when it comes to how deals are cut with advertisers and how the agencies play in this space. There’s no real currency out there yet. How do you make this a real monetization addition to your portfolio?

Tatta – It’s a great point. There are a number of ways to look at it. One is we know how much an advertiser is investing in just running spots, and we know the audiences that they’re trying to direct those spots to. So part of what the economics are around this is to demonstrate the extended session or the extended engagement that would be available through a channel.

For instance, if you’re spending $10,000 on your average spot to get 30 seconds of someone’s time, what’s the value of getting five minutes of someone’s time?  There’s no way we would charge an equivalent rate, but we’ll charge a fraction of it, and as a result we can look at it in the same terms that they would look at, for instance, the difference in price between a 30-second spot and a 60-second spot. They’re obviously spending more to get more time from the viewer.

So often what we use the channels for is taking the data and the session links and showing that on average this particular channel would drive an average session to reach something like five or six minutes, and then run the model against it based on what they’re paying for spots. On that basis, it’s a very efficient way to drive viewer engagement.

The other point of this is that, yes, this is all about driving consumers down the funnel. You have the awareness building, which TV is great at, and typically the only time advertisers can really understand how they’re moving customers through the funnel is to take a look at what’s happening on the Web.

A lot of the Web traffic is driven from TV, and it’s really hard to correlate those two data sets, whereas we can correlate, literally matching the impression data from the spots to the traffic data on the channel, to show that x percent of that audience you got in front of went to the channel, y percent actually played one or two videos and another percent requested information. By showing them what we can do to move customers through the funnel, it’s not only viewed as an effective way of driving brand, but also driving conversion, which ultimately is what they’re after.

SP – How are the advertisers responding to these kinds of capabilities in your initial forays out there?

Tatta – The advertisers we’ve worked with on the interactive channels are large advertisers that have some content that’s compelling on TV. That’s part of the filter we’ll typically put opportunities through.

Is there compelling enough content there to retain an audience? We didn’t want this to be like an infomercial environment, [so] we limited the number of advertisers we went out to. In some cases we selected them based on things they have done and offered them an opportunity to expand on applications they were doing. Or if they were running a lot of weight, meaning they were running big campaigns in our market for compelling offers and things like that, we would offer them the ability to watch a channel, to capture those offers right on the dial.

Just to describe them generally, they are large brand advertisers that value our market – New York. A lot of them are national, because they have the budgets to be able to support campaigns and support investment in content.

And then the other category, which is really important to us, is programmers. Programmers, cable channels and so forth, spend a significant amount in promoting tune-in for new shows. Having what could be called a barker channel or a companion channel that provides content around those shows 24/7 is a valuable asset for them.

In that case, there’s no question of whether they have content. This notion of having companion content around shows can be interesting for those who are trying to discover a new show or for the fans who want to see behind-scenes footage and things like that. It’s been a really effective tool on that front as well.

SP – That’s fascinating. As you’re moving on the cutting edge into this space, where do you see it going with your fellow operators and just the general marketplace? Obviously, with a platform like what ActiveVideo is providing, it’s no longer a crazy folk lift trying to get everything to work around a next-generation set-top and software model. Is the market ready for this, and do you see it moving ahead?

Tatta – Well, the market is already there in the sense that advertisers and programmers are investing in HTML5 applications. They’re tethered to mobile or to the Web. They’re starting to get distributed to TV.

Historically it’s been predominantly connected TV, which, on the one hand, is good, because you inherently have the interactive capability to deliver it. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of scale there. There isn’t the breadth of viewers that cable has.

On the cable side of the house, I’d say there have been different developments across the different systems – some that are kind of full force into this notion of interactive branded channels, others that have been using VOD and branded VOD in particular as a way to capture it.

But I think beyond that most of them are implementing cloud-based initiatives, starting with the cloud guide and then focusing on programming and eventually advertising. It’s a natural extension of what they’re doing there. I just think their priorities, and we’re included in that, are to get the core services to take advantage of more cloud-based architecture – things like the guide, the navigation and mosaics. And then advertising can be a core part of it.

In our case, because we’ve already had the core ActiveVideo platform on the ad side of the business and we’ve generated decent returns off of it, we’re accelerating faster on the advertising front, which is why we’re deploying this initially to support the ad channels and the interactive ad applications first.

SP – Well, it’s certainly going to be interesting to see, now that this capability is finally entering the real world as a practical option and generating new revenues, how it’s going to catch on elsewhere. Thanks a lot, Ben.

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OpenTV Sets Next-Gen Roadmap To Improve ROI in Cable Ad Sales

Yves Pitton, SVP, director & GM, OpenTV Advanced Advertising

Yves Pitton, SVP, director & GM, OpenTV Advanced Advertising


New Efficiencies in Billing and Trafficking Support Inventory Optimization across Multiple Platforms

By Fred Dawson

April 30, 2014 – Prospects for sustaining a high growth rate in the booming local cable TV ad business look greater than ever in light of new efforts underway at OpenTV aimed at driving greater efficiency and higher CPMs in the $21-billion market.

While much discussion has focused on the upside potential in cable ad sales associated with technology-driven developments such as addressable advertising on IP streams and VOD content, the near-term opportunity to draw more revenues through greater back-office efficiencies and smarter approaches to inventory management on the traditional linear TV side of the business could dwarf the new-tech potential for some timen to come. But the good news for sellers is the advances OpenTV has in mind for streamlining current operations will also contribute greatly to a faster liftoff for new opportunities as operators extend live TV programming to broadband and mobile connections.

The roadmap set by OpenTV for its widely deployed local ad sales trafficking and billing platform begins with enhanced multi-network ordering, verification and reporting capabilities embodied in EclipsePlus xG, the latest version of its EclipsePlus system. By streamlining operators’ ability to handle thousands of local and interconnect networks and to schedule complicated channel environments, EclipsePlus xG is contributing to ROI by maximizing yield in inventory and driving down operating costs, says Yves Pitton, senior vice president, director and general manager of OpenTV Advanced Advertising.

“Eclipse Plus has been evolving in collaboration with our customers,” Pitton says. “We have started a migration to the next generation, going beyond the Eclipse Plus we know into a cross-platform traffic and billing and campaign management solution.”

But, he quickly adds, “Despite a lot of trends and evolution in advanced advertising and Internet distribution of content, when we talk about next gen it’s in terms of linear billing, trafficking and campaign management. The core of the business we want to focus on is linear inventory optimization – working on complexity and improving ROI on the inventory that’s available by increasing inventory awareness, workflow optimization and supporting trends where we need the right partners in terms of knowledge and support.”

Customers want to grow the business by expanding into things like addressable advertising and dynamic placements on IP streams, Pitton says, but the money opportunity lies with the here and now. “MSOs would rather see their efficiency on local ad sales increase by one percent,” he says.” For a big MSO a one percent increase in efficiency might equal $10 million.”

Getting there is a mounting challenge for operators as they try to manage inventories across multiple ad networks engaging different MSO groups with surging numbers of ad buyers in every market. “We see hundreds of intersecting regions, hundreds of inventory types and humungous numbers of customers,” Pitton says. “There’s a lot of pressure on costs and a huge need to streamline workflows and processes.”

In response, he continues, OpenTV is creating tools “that create awareness around inventory to answer questions like: How do we create visibility in terms of where we have inventory oversold or misses in supply and demand? Are there inefficiencies in the system that need to be addressed? Due to complexity or the way the matrices are structured, do we have inventory not properly allocated and not optimized in terms of monetization?”

One of the newest customers to jump on board the EclipsePlus platform, Denali Media Holdings of Alaska, exemplifies the need to bring greater cohesion to a scattered set of local ad operations. As the cable operations subsidiary of GCI, Denali Media passes 90 percent of Alaska’s far-flung households with a penetration rate of 64 percent, affording local advertisers in small towns across the state a more geographically targeted advertising option than can be found with TV stations, whose signals are generated and regenerated over vast territories.

“We decided to make the move to the Eclipse Traffic and Billing system to give us better inventory control, more efficient order entry, including direct import and a billing segment that could be done with less time involved,” says Carrie Brown, media manager for GCI and Denali Media Holdings. Benefits of the move have become immediately apparent, she adds, noting, “After 60 days, we are pleased with its performance. The Eclipse trainers and implementation experts were professional and easy to work with.”

“When it comes to scalability, complexity reduction, this is exactly what GCI is achieving with us,” Pitton says. Now, he adds, the time has come to introduce a next-generation billing and trafficking framework that will address the emerging needs of operators to bill for linear programming ads across all distribution platforms, which introduces a need for new measurement and reporting tools suited to ever more granular modes of billing.

“It’s about combining a massive number of products into one invoice, one accounts receivable across linear, mobile, impression-based, you name it,” Pitton says, noting one customer’s ad portfolio includes placements on buses. “Whether you’re interfacing with BlackArrow, Google or whoever, we combine this into a single billing and workflow management system. That’s only the first anchor point and building block of our next-gen strategy.”

So far, soon-to-be announced enhancements have been introduced on the EcplisePlus xG Billing framework, working with customers like TimeWarner Cable to devise specific solutions to the mounting complexities. “The first piece anchor point into our next-generation system is going into deployment at Time Warner Cable,” Pitton notes, calling it the “first industry-wide solution that can address the challenges our customers are facing.”

“The billing cross-platform system is an easy sell conceptually, because we’re aggregating a bigger variety of platforms together,” says John Tinsman, vice president of engineering and technology at OpenTV. “It’s about getting more efficiency, more scale, more yield from your inventory. More outputs for inputs.” Pilot trials of these enhancements now currently underway will be followed by general release, possibly as early as this quarter, he adds.

“We’re going to help our customers look at their inventory, their orders sold, where the schedule is,” Tinsman says. “We have a real-time scheduler, which will give a lot of situational awareness as to what’s been sold, what’s available to be sold, a tool that will give customers a very clean, real-time way to slice and dice various aspects of the inventory.”

Such capabilities, for example, will be helpful to operators in this election year, when they’ll want to capitalize on every last-minute opportunity as campaign dollars flow but will want to be sure not to squeeze inventory that’s essential to established advertising customers. More broadly, Tinsman notes, the situational awareness analytics tool will be enhanced to allow operators to orchestrate inventory utilization across all outlets as they expand the reach of their linear programming.

“As we move forward, we’ll be folding different models of performance into our platform,” he says. “If your customer has contracted with you on the basis of getting 50,000 ad views in a given locale, whether the data comes from Nielsen or some other measurement, we’ll match that with the end points. You’ll be able to make inventory decisions based on whether that commitment has been reached.”

While the initial phase of the next-gen roadmap can be implemented on the existing EcplipsePlus xG architecture, ensuing phases under development are tied to development of a new architecture with initial rollouts slated for 2015, Tinsman says. Noting the existing architecture is “a few years old,” he explains, “The second-generation elements we’ll be introducing in 2015 require more than a simple facelift to EclipsePlus. We’ve reworked our internal plumbing to create an architecture that delivers greater performance, scalability and adaptability.”

The next phase in the first half of 2015 is “going to take our customers’ productivity to a new level,” Tinsman says. “This is a very new, modern toolset focused on workflows to create greater throughput, flexibility and efficiency.”

For example, the real-time scheduling capabilities will be extended to coordinate the reach of linear programming advertising across all platforms. “There’s a continuum where new models go from being a little different to being very different from today’s linear trafficking,” he says. Such enhancements “will allow customers to yield more money per day, per week, per year than they’re getting out of their current trafficking system,” he explains. “This will be worth millions of dollars per year to large MSOs, who are under pressure to get more money out of their ad sales efforts with fewer people involved.”

Also on the near-term horizon are new approaches to measuring ad performance, which will capitalize on the extension of linear programming into MSOs’ TV Everywhere services. “We’re preparing to plug in new approaches to measuring audience feedback,” Tinsman says. “We want to take in data and more efficiently analyze the performance to help customers do a better job of managing their inventories and create more efficient campaigns.”

In the cross-platform environment, operators will be able to answer the question: “Did we get the audience size we’re looking for whether it’s from Nielsen, digital impressions, phone surveys or whatever?” he says. “And we’ll enable more real-time interaction with ad management systems so that, for example, if an advertiser has got the number of impressions they were expecting under the contract, the inventory can be made available to other advertisers. Or, if targets haven’t been hit, can we push out the deadline on the existing schedule?”

The new measurement platform will be designed to capitalize on the enhanced tracking capabilities that come with streaming content to connected devices. “Going forward,” he explains, “one of our problems with Nielsen is that, while it’s great on a national basis, getting results on a fine-grained basis at the neighborhood level is hard for Nielsen. This is where TV Everywhere is great. The ability to incorporate feedback about actual versus estimated audiences is going to be a huge win for TV Everywhere right off the bat.”

But evaluation of performance will also have to accommodate the need to account for different levels of measurement precision in performance analysis. “The next-gen system will have to factor those measurements into how we balance execution of campaigns to match goals,” he says. “People typically buy groups of ads over time to reach their goals. So we want to be able to verify whether, in the aggregate, you got the audience you wanted to reach.”

Adding to the complexities coming down the pike will be the implementation of dynamic placement of addressable ads on linear program streams. But, from an inventory management and billing standpoint, this won’t be a big stretch for OpenTV, Tinsman notes.

“Currently we define how ads are placed by ad zones, but we can as easily define it by virtual regions where it’s not so much about where people live but the demographic characteristics and the types of devices they’re using,” he says. “Today we divide the audience available to the cable operator into about 6,000 pieces, all based on channels and geographic locations. To our scheduling system that’s a specific channel and audience, so whether the definition ties that channel to a metropolitan neighborhood or to iPad owners in that neighborhood, it’s all the same to us.”

The real gating factor will be the time it takes for the advertising industry to settle on how to value targeted advertising and for operators to scale availabilities on their TVE platforms to where selling linear programming inventory on a targeted basis makes practical sense. Judging by OpenTV’s roadmap, operators can be confident the back-office framework will be there to support this new level of contribution to the revenue stream, whenever it comes into play.

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Ad Industry Back-Office Supplier Speeds Next-Gen Path for Agencies

Cordie DePascale, VP, products, Mediaocean

Cordie DePascale, VP, products, Mediaocean


Mediaocean Integrates Multiple Suppliers into Reconciliation Platform

By Fred Dawson

March 24, 2014 – In another significant step forward on the path to advanced advertising in the multiscreen TV era, a leading supplier of reconciliation and billing support for ad agencies has created a means by which suppliers of every description can plug into its systems, making it much easier for agencies and holders of ad inventory to implement new strategies.

Mediaocean, which says its transaction management systems process $130 billion in global advertising annually, has developed its Connect Partner Platform to allow ad servers, data solution providers, inventory suppliers and technology providers to deploy services on its Spectra back-office software. This makes it easier for agencies to bring new solutions and inventory suppliers into their own workflows and offer them as components of their business-wide technology stacks, says Cordie DePascale, vice president of products at Mediaocean.

The company, which was created two years ago with the merger of two giants in the field, Donavan Data Systems and MediaBank, has already seen a significant impact on how content companies and agencies operate in the three months since it launched Connect, according to DePascale. “It’s been phenomenal,” he says. “Agencies really embraced Connect as a platform, because they saw this opens them up to working with different partners in a much more efficient way.”

Suppliers of TV programming are just one of the types of media that agencies transact with through Spectra, but they are a huge piece of the business. “There’s going to be a big shift in how the market wants to consume and value inventory,” DePascale says. “If the inventory is changing, the currency needs to conform and transform with that. And at same time the technology needs to move in lockstep with that. If things are not moving together and harmonized, that’s where there will be frustration.”

In other words, helping agencies to eliminate the silos in ad buying for TV broadcast, cable and digital distribution must be accomplished in tandem with introducing new types of advertising as a natural extension of traditional ways of doing things. “The most important thing we did is not to change what buyers and clients are accustomed to using, which means we expose new sources of data solutions, inventory supply or technologies in ways that are less disruptive to operations,” DePascale says. “With Connect there’s a lot less work that goes into assessing, buying, integrating and training to adopt a new partner into the agency’s workflow.”

For example, by using Connect to integrate ad servers from Atlas, DG MediaMind, PointRoll and many other partners into their workflows, agencies can use those servers more extensively across multiple campaigns, he notes. Similarly, he adds, by simplifying integration of data, research and attribution solutions from the likes of Nielsen Catalina Solutions,comScore, SQAD, Triton Digital and Visual IQ, the Connect platform gives agencies more flexibility to tap new approaches to tracking and monetizing the performance of advanced advertising across multiple outlets.

One illustration of how greater harmonization can transform the revenue potential of an inventory supplier is the experience of online music site Pandora since it integrated with the Connect platform earlier this year. “Connect means it’s easier for agencies to find our inventory that matches their targets,” says Joanna Bloor, vice president of sales operations at Pandora. “And, just as importantly, it’s easier for them to buy that inventory. That’s an incredibly powerful opportunity for any media seller.”

In a situation analogous to what TV networks confront when they seek to monetize their online outlets, Pandora was having difficulty capturing the ad revenues that flow into traditional broadcast radio, even though it was providing a radio-like music service online. “Digital folks were treating them as a display advertiser, not a broadcast advertiser,” DePascale says.

“We talked to some agencies about whether they would buy Pandora as a radio station if the right tools were in place, and they said, absolutely,” he adds. “So in Connect we now have the methodology for Pandora to send an avail, receive an order and, on the back end, deliver performance metrics and standard industry invoices electronically so that everything is certified just as it is in the broadcast space.”

Since February the ad spending on Pandora generated by agencies running on Mediaocean’s operations system has jumped 475 percent, DePascale says. “Prior to this they were trying to sell on the broadcast model, but it was very manual and took a long time with every transaction,” he notes. “We ironed out all those things with a much more automated electronic system.”

The capabilities embodied in Connect are finding their way into a wide range of advertising environments, including TV, where networks have the opportunity to apply methodologies to support interstitial placement of targeted ads on streamed Internet content as a normal course of doing business with agencies. “If your TV audience is fragmented on different devices, you didn’t lose your audience; you just lost your ability to bring that part of your audience into your transactions with advertisers,” DePascale says. “Through Connect you can avoid siloing your ad sales by bringing all your outlets together for scheduling campaigns with agencies through a single report and media system.”

Similarly, cable MSOs and other service providers can leverage agencies’ affiliations with Connect to increase monetization on TV Everywhere services, DePascale says. “There are workflows and ways for partners to fit into any media system with a consistent approach across applications,” he notes.

One interesting permutation in the TV space is the way Comcast Wholesale’s AdDelivery service is making use of the Mediaocean technology. AdDelivery is a cloud-based solution that allows agencies to utilize Comcast’s nationwide fiber backbone to deliver spot TV ads to 99 percent of the nation’s media outlets, including major broadcast networks, cable networks, TV stations, syndicators and radio stations.

AdDelivery has expanded its engagement with Mediaocean through Connect following integration last year with the vendor’s Optica system, which automates labor-intensive manual processes by closing the informational and operational gaps between media planning, creative and trafficking teams on the buying side. Through integration with the Connect platform, AdDelivery has farther streamlined the ability of agencies using Mediaocean’s Spectra systems to deliver their assets to media outlets, says Matt McConnell, senior vice president and general manager of Comcast Wholesale.

“Through Connect, Comcast AdDelivery becomes an integral part of the Mediaocean platforms and, by extension, an integral part of the advertising operations,” McConnell says. “Connect is an incredibly powerful pathway into agencies.”

Comcast is also engaged with Mediaocean’s Connect through the MSO’s recently acquired FreeWheel operation, which is a leading provider of video ad management services in the digital domain. With integration of FreeWheel’s technology onto the Connect platform, inventory suppliers are now able to leverage FreeWheel in their interactions with the workflow of any agency that relies on the Spectra back-office systems, DePascale explains.

“FreeWheel’s digital inventory can be moved through our systems electronically for a particular supply partner, which expands exposure to buyers and gives them greater flexibility in how they run their campaigns,” he says. “A buyer looking for national media outlets will now find digital inventory in the broadcasting system. So there’s broader inventory and one place to go to buy for all placements.”

This extends to enabling inventory suppliers to set up specific spots for national or local buys across traditional and digital distribution modes. Moreover, inventory can be segmented to allow those buyers to choose suppliers’ programs based on the audience categories they draw. “FreeWheel can carve up the inventory geographically and normalize the avails against Nielsen’s Designated Market Areas,” he notes. “Local broadcast spot buyers really like that flexibility.”

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Dynamic Advertising on Live TV Is Gaining Traction in IP Domain

Chris Faw, SVP, operations, Time Warner Cable Media

Chris Faw, SVP, operations, Time Warner Cable Media


Time Warner Cable Media Finds Technical Solutions to Support National Operation

By Fred Dawson

March 4, 2014 – With Time Warner Cable taking a lead role the pieces are rapidly coming together technologically and strategically to make dynamic advertising on linear channels a reality in the cable industry’s efforts to monetize TV Everywhere.

Since last summer TWC Media’s Ad Everywhere initiative has been serving as the industry’s proof of concept, demonstrating it’s possible to support dynamic insertions on a full lineup of live channels unicast on IP streams across an entire Tier 1 footprint. Over that time a number of other factors have contributed to raising the prospects as well, including:

  • higher viewership on TV Everywhere services;
  • more live programming entering unicast streams;
  • more licensing of programming for distribution over Wi-Fi beyond the home;
  • a surge in advanced advertising trials;
  • growing consensus on metrics and valuation;
  • greater recognition among advertisers that there’s a significant upside to making sure their TV ads reach viewers on connected devices.

Perhaps most significantly, Comcast, by virtue of its proposed acquisition of TWC, an aggressive expansion in its multiscreen TV operations and its just-completed acquisition of video campaign management firm FreeWheel, is positioning itself to lay a broad and deep foundation for bringing advanced advertising into the mainstream. While the company has been tight-lipped about efforts to support dynamic advertising on live streams, that piece of TVE monetization is the next big priority now that a platform for ad insertions in IP-streamed VOD and “download to go” content is in place, according to Matt Strauss, senior vice president and general manager of video services at Comcast.

“On-demand, download and live – that’s the progression we’ve been steering for, and we’re starting to see others move in that direction as well,” Strauss said during a panel at the TV of Tomorrow conference in New York on December 11.

“I think you’re starting to see those pieces come together,” he said. “You’re starting to see some of those hurdles where you have critical mass of programming that’s now available; you have a critical mass of devices that are accessing it…. So if we don’t get it right, shame on us. I think we certainly have it within our technical, functional technical capability to do.”

Indeed, thanks to TWC’s efforts, it’s clear the industry can meet the technology challenges of enabling dynamic insertion on live IP channel streams. After about a half year of selling local avails on live unicast streams, the MSO has proven it’s possible to put together a scalable, extremely reliable multi-vendor platform with the capability to support dynamic insertion across a multichannel TVE lineup that now includes 54 channels.

For operators choosing to construct a best-of-breed support system for such an effort, the TWC experience bodes well as an alternative to relying on a pre-baked end-to-end solution. Leveraging standards such as CableLabs’ Event Signaling and Messaging system and the SCTE 35 and 130 signaling protocols, the MSO was able to build exactly what it needed to handle the scale and complexity of the operation, officials said.

Vendors chosen for the operation include Aspera, BlackArrow, Envivio, SeaWell Networks, Strata Marketing and FreeWheel. A particularly daunting challenge was finding a way to make sure every ad and every piece of content ends up in the right place in the complex adaptive streaming environment.

“The kinds of things that would give you nightmares if you thought about this in advance would be, could they scale, could they do it with no latency, could they do it with regularity or reliability with no error sets?” said Chris Faw, senior vice president of operations at TWC Media. “All of those hurdles seem to have been overcome.”

The solution TWC settled on is the Manifest Delivery Controller supplied by SeaWell Networks. SeaWell’s MDC is “the gatekeeper deciding who’s going to get what, when and where,” Faw said. “That’s their role, and they’ve done it fairly seamlessly.”

The MDC identifies and reacts to “markers” in the streamed content manifests, the miniature metadata files conveyed to each client device with each fragment of the stream. “We sit in the manifest out of the encoder, see where an ad is to be inserted and make the call to FreeWheel to say, what do we put in the manifest,” explained SeaWell CMO Duncan Potter.

FreeWheel, as the repository of the ad decision-making parameters, conveys the information back to the MDC. “What then happens is we manipulate the manifest delivered out to the device so that the device knows to retrieve the designated ad fragments from the CDN,” Potter said. Of course, all this must be done in real time with absolute precision ensuring that the designated fragments comprising the ad stream start and end exactly in sync with the programming flow.

Ads aren’t the only part of the dynamic manipulation process. Blackout policies must be acted on as well, which requires directing the right content flow to every household.

Such targeting requires access to a wide range of data pertaining to each user’s location and other parameters, which can be supported on a per-session basis utilizing data flowing from the manifest manipulation process versus having to compile and parse user information from CDN logs. This not only helps with the ad-decision process; it provides an ongoing record of ad performance.

“We’re doing asset manipulation in real time and collecting quite a lot of session data,” Potter said. “We bring them very near or even real-time insights into what’s happening on the network in the home. They can see things changing, bitrates changing. If the ad decision server isn’t responding, we register that.”

So far, all the dynamic insertion capabilities have been enabled for Apple iOS and Android devices running Android OS 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or later iterations, which use the Apple adaptive bitrate streaming technology HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). These devices make use of the discontinuity tags embedded in HLS streams, which alert clients to changes in video segments. The TWC platform also supports dynamic insertion on streams to Xboxes and Samsung smart TVs and soon will support streaming to Roku boxes as well.

But the TWC Media Ads Everywhere initiative has yet to introduce ad targeting, either at the geographic zone level such as is commonplace with local advertising on legacy MPEG-2 channels or at the household level. The system is designed to support such targeting, but it’s too early in the rollout of live TVE to try to sell ads on a targeted basis, officials said.

There’s no doubt that TVE has taken a while to catch on in the marketplace, as evidenced in various research reports issued over the last year. For example, in November, consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Co. reported that a third of the people who can get TVE service, when asked if it’s available to them, say it is not. Among five age groups surveyed, the 18-24 segment is the only one where 50 percent of those who have access to TVE actually know it’s available. Similarly, in June Park Associates reported just 26 percent of U.S. subscribers with access to TVE service know that it’s available, and just 16 percent of subscribers with access to TVE from a pay TV service provider have actually used the service.

But things are looking up for advertising on authenticated subscriber streams, judging from FreeWheel’s Q4 2013 Video Monetization Report. Not only did viewing of ads on long-form content in general increase by 86 percent year over year, accounting for nearly half of all ad views associated with streamed video. Ad viewing on long-form programming, defined as lasting 20 minutes or longer, accounted for nearly half of all ad views on content distributed online by TV programmers and MVPDs, the report said. Ad viewing on live digital content was up by 148 percent year over year, and, most heartening of all for operators, the cable, satellite and IPTV segment saw a 268 percent growth in ad views on authenticated content.

“App traffic helped drive impressive growth in non-desktop environments with ad views on mobile phones, tablets and [over-the-top (OTT)] devices all growing at over 100 percent each,” the report said. “As digital viewing continues to grow upwards of 30 percent per year, expect to see innovation keep pace as the industry endeavors to bring TV to consumers wherever and whenever they are watching.”

Reaching the threshold for targeted ad sales in TWC’s case will be abetted by the fact that the MSO can aggregate eyeballs beyond its own subscriber base. TWC Media, a pioneer in building regional ad networks for the pay TV business, represents many other MVPDs, depending on the locality, including, for example, Charter, Comcast and even DirecTV and DISH.

TWC Media and other executives in cable ad sales are convinced the demand for addressable advertising is there from the advertising community, “There is a high appetite for that, especially with the more sophisticated agencies,” said one cable ad sales official, speaking on background. “They recognize the audience is still the audience, but they’re going to consume in different ways on different platforms and devices.”

The IP streaming environment introduces a lot of nuances when it comes to calculating the value of ads, the official added. “We have to discern what’s new viewership and what’s replacement viewership,” he said.

In other words, is the viewer someone who would watch the program on the TV set but, because they have the option to watch on an iPad, choose to do so in the backyard or is it someone watching programs they otherwise wouldn’t be watching by virtue of their preference for using a personal device to access their entertainment?

“In all cases the more sophisticated advertisers and agencies are saying, I’ve got to be able to follow that audience,” the official said. “If it’s viewers who are eroding from my linear set-top box stream, I have to retain those eyeballs no matter where they go. If there are five people sitting in the living room with five different devices, those are new eyeballs. So there may be some more money for them.”

The granularity and thoroughness of the data in the unicast domain make such parsing possible. “We don’t know who’s watching, but we can tell this device is watching for this amount of time and this level of engagement,” he said. “So there are certain differences that we can draw from the data.”

As cable operators create the support infrastructure for dynamic advertising on linear IP TV the revenue opportunity extends beyond what they can sell directly from their own local spot inventory to the larger national programming arena, much as has been the case with the implementation of dynamic ad capabilities on the legacy and IP VOD side. Once an infrastructure like TWC’s is in place, it’s a matter of pointing the system at whatever URLs fit into the negotiated placement scheme, just as is done with the spots controlled by the MSO.

Of course, he added, there’s a whole lot of haggling that has to go down before such engagements enter the picture. But at least it’s now clear the technology is available to make it happen.

One thing working in everyone’s favor is that as things move into the IP domain the technology can be leveraged across multiple platforms, a point that came up in the New York TVOT conference. As ever more content moves to the IP platform, the advertising processes and advanced capabilities become common to whatever devices have access to that content, including set-tops.

It also helps, as Comcast’s Matt Strauss noted, that operators are creating a foundation that can support multiple approaches to advertising in the IP domain. “We’re not trying to actually determine what the right model is when it comes to advertising,” Strauss said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of experimentation from programmers. And there very well may be certain platforms that lend themselves to different types of advertising models, formats, maybe even different monetization models. We just want to supply the tools.”

 

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