Comcast Wants To Lead Interactive Ad Charge

Comcast's top executive believes it's "imperative" the cable operator give advertisers a user-friendly way to beam targeted messages into millions of homes within the next several years. The same philosophy applies to interactive ads, in which a viewer could potentially engage in impulse e-commerce.

"The money is humongous--and real cash," Comcast chairman-CEO Brian Roberts said Wednesday at an investor conference.

That calculus would appear to come from advertisers' increased interest in employing Internet-style targeted ad techniques on linear TV--and the massive amount of ad time Comcast has to sell via the two minutes an hour per channel that it retains for itself.

Roberts said that after Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, moves aggressively to roll out phone service for businesses over the next year, offering widespread targeted and interactive ad opportunities becomes a chief corporate focus. The cable industry has dipped its toe into various initiatives in those areas--propelled by data and capabilities from set-top boxes--but it has yet to make a notable splash.



"It's a strategic imperative to the company, whether that's a one-year or five-year achievable milestone," he said.

He suggested that Comcast would take the lead in encouraging other cable operators to band together to offer advertisers the opportunity to run targeted or interactive campaigns well beyond Comcast's 24 million homes. The idea: national reach would provide a high-tide-lifts-all-boats phenomenon. Cablevision has expressed a similar interest in forming a turnkey service that would offer advertisers the opportunity to buy targeted or interactive ads that could potentially reach tens of millions.

"It would be really great if the cable operators could work together to present advertisers one platform, one set of metrics, one Nielsen-type data--whether it's Nielsen or whomever," Roberts said.

Multiple MSOs have held discussions along those lines and launched an initiative to develop the infrastructure. Roberts said the cable industry's research arm, CableLabs, is working on developing a system that would allow MSOs to link together and launch a one-stop-shop for the new types of ads.

Targeted ads can take many forms, from aiming ads at specific regions or neighborhoods to arguably the Holy Grail of "one-on-one" ads that reach individual homes, based on demographic and other characteristics. The latter, of course, would take longer to develop.

There have been some fits and starts in the interactive ad realm--one that could be particularly noticeable to the cable industry. Chase's credit card unit late last year launched an interactive campaign with satellite competitor EchoStar, allowing it to gauge viewer interest down to the household level by clicking on an option to receive more information.

Chase has also experimented with a household-by-household targeting initiative with Cablevision.

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