Why the Mobile Industry needs to keep an eye on Cable’s Canoe Ventures

In the Mobile World Congress Summary weblog entry I made reference to the Cable industries targeted advertising initiative, Canoe Ventures.

Canoe Ventures is backed by most of the US cablecos, including Comcast, Cox, Cablevision, Charter, Bright House, and Time Warner.  Its purpose is to make cable’s advanced advertising applications easier to buy and use, and on making the results easier to measure.  N.B. this is a quite customer focused mission; not one mention of technology or esoteric audience qualifiers.  The head of Canoe is David Verklin, the former CEO of Aegis Media Americas.  N.B. they brought in an ad-man, so the organization understands what the customer (advertising industry) needs.

So Canoe can work among disparate MSOs and cable systems, its platform uses the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) and tru2way, and defines a common way to collect and report audience data. Focusing on CableLabs’s EBIF enables coverage of most set-tops in the market today, including those used by Verizon FiOS.  Canoe is initially focused on a product called ‘Creative Versioning,’ which will use the cable industry’s architecture and ad zones in an effort to make targeted ads more relevant to their viewers.   They’ve defined two templates, based on EBIF: One for voting and polling, and one for “request for information” applications.

Imagine these scenarios, you’re watching the game show and as the presenter asks you to vote and some cute buttons appear at the bottom of the screen, and from the remote you place your vote.  Or an advert for a national pizza chain comes on, at the bottom of the screen appears a button with ‘place your order with your local pizza place now’ which again is activated with the remote.  All designed for easy viewing on the 10 ft viewing experience.  But most importantly on the back-end; the system makes it easy to target and measure within how advertisers do business today.

Canoe is focused squarely on serving the cable industry at this point.  But EBIF is relevant to both the satellite TV and telco TV service providers.  In fact, Verizon is a leader in EBIF, recently announcing its Verizon FiOS Widget Bazaar based on EBIF.

The critical characteristics in Canoe are:

  • Industry acts in co-ordination, not multiple independent operator activities.
  • They create a JV, so competitive issues between operators are removed
  • It’s led by someone from the customer’s industry, so its focuses on what matters to the customer (advertisers).
  • Its starts small, with incremental improvements that are easy to understand, and then quietly quantifies and tests them out before bringing them to market.

For both the advertising challenge and the third party developer challenge facing the mobile and broader telco industry, Canoe provides a clear case study how another industry is tackling the problem.  But as a note of caution, Comcast’s cable ad business accounts for 5 percent (and falling) of the MSO’s total revenue.  Don’t expect these JVs to have a dramatic change on the existing business model.