Video Providers Look to Combine and Conquer

Maybe Jason Malamud has been watching the NBA playoffs. Commenting Wednesday about the genesis of the friends-here, foes-there program that has Verizon working with competitors on ad sales, he turned to a roundball metaphor.

"This was not a layup by any stretch," Malamud, who oversees sales for Verizon FiOS, said.

He was referring to getting management approval to band together with the likes of Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable -- and now DirecTV. C-suite types were cool with it, he said, but executives just below harbored a "level of mistrust" and doubt.

Malamud cracked that as executives would finish a meeting angrily discussing an ad blasting them -- that  was trying to steal their customers -- he would walk in and say: "I want to work with these guys."

Verizon wasn't the only one with executives unable to cast frustrations aside so quickly. "One of the big challenges internally was how do we take the emotion out of it," said Billy Farina, who leads sales at Cox Media.



Nonetheless, over time, the companies agreed to continue undercutting one another on price and lobbing accusations about subpar service, but try to combine and conquer with the merging of local sales inventory they owned on cable networks. The combination of spots in partiular markets would be sold under the aegis of NCC Media, where the idea was to offer advertisers more reach and make a buying process easier, which would leave each richer than going it alone.

In DirecTV's case, its participation was more basic: joining the initiative would give it a local sales force, which it didn't have. DirecTV will join the initiative - tabbed "I+" (the I is for interconnect) - later this year.

Rep firm NCC Media, which is owned by Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable, until a few years ago only sold ads in cable homes, before reaching an agreement with Verizon. Now, it will be able to offer an opportunity to run spots in homes served by cable, satellite and and telco TV providers (AT&T U-verse along with Verizon). That platform will be available in 25 markets later this year and DirecTV executive Rich Forester said he would like it to be expanded to 50 markets by 2012.

Forester and the other executives spoke at an event to formally annunce "I+."

Most markets include only Verizon or AT&T, though Los Angeles and Dallas are two that will have both bundled in, since each has a footprint in a different part of the region.

NCC Media will sell "I+" to national advertisers, while sales teams for Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable will work with local marketers. All are hopeful the service will allow them to grab share from the local broadcast stations.

DirecTV will make local spots on its service available for the first time through the service. Advertisers have long sought ways to reach satellite homes on a single-market level, in part because they may have a different profile than cable ones (perhaps more sports-minded, for example).

NCC Media has been repping regional sports networks on DirecTV and Dish already and the "I+" participants would surely welcome Dish to their offering.

Over time, there are options to weave addressable advertising into the mix. Joan Gillman, who heads sales at Time Warner Cable, said the company is looking at launching addressable options on its service first on video on demand and then linear feeds.

While addressability based on geography is increasingly available, Gillman said a hindrance to carving up a market based on demographics is slowed because there is a failure to agree on what those demographics should be -- home owners vs. renters, luxury car owners, young men, etc. It's not feasible to create custom solutions for each advertiser, Gillman said, but if the ad community were able to agree on perhaps five or 10, the process could move quicker and lead to a "business model" that can be scaled.

If Verizon and AT&T can work together with Comcast mixed in, how hard can that be. 

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