Visible World Raises Its Visibility and Capital, Too: Interactive Ad Penetration at 10 Million Homes

Interactive TV advertising has been a classic case of chicken and egg. Big advertisers and agencies have been loath to make investments in developing addressable ads before there was a critical mass of households to justify a return on investment. And cable operators have been reluctant to roll out the hardware necessary to serve addressable ads before a sizable advertising market existed.

That's all about to change, thanks to several deals being put together by Visible World, a leading developer of interactive TV ads. The company - which is part production facility, part ad agency, and part distribution system - offers advertisers the ability to create highly customized TV advertising content that can be served on addressable cable systems. It's been backed with investment capital from two major ad agency groups, Grey Worldwide and WPP Group, which along with lead investor Reuters, have just sunk millions more as part of a second wave of financing that raised $8 million in new working capital.

One of the investors includes cable TV giant Comcast, which controls enough addressable homes to put Visible World, and interactive TV advertising, on the map. And the company, which has been expanding its own cable ad sales infrastructure in an effort to develop a local cable TV marketplace, just might have an inclination to do that. Executives familiar with the relationship say that Visible World has already begun testing interactive TV ads in two of Comcast's larger markets with the wireless telecommunications, financial services and health categories.

Those tests are expected to culminate early next year in a significant expansion of Visible World's market coverage, which as of Monday stands at 10 million households. In a related move, Visible World on Monday said it signed a deal with the New York Interconnect. Combined with earlier deals with National Cable Communications and Los Angeles-based interconnect Adlink, Visible World can now serve customized ad copy down to the Zip code in markets reaching 10 million subscribers.

Based on its new relationship with Comcast, the company expects to be in 20 million homes by the end of the first quarter of 2004. By that point, operators are expected to begin testing addressable advertising down to the household level, meaning that individual households can be targeted with discrete adv messages unique to the household members.

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