Programming

An Advertising Idea That's Spot-On

Weather vet Douglas storms ad-serving world with choice-making technology 5/23/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

SPECIAL REPORT: ADVANCED ADVERTISING 

When he was chief meteorologist at WCCO Minneapolis, Paul Douglas got pretty adept at seeing what sort of weather was coming up around the bend. Since his departure from the CBS O&O a little over a year ago, Douglas is again peering into the future—and placing bets on what television advertising will look like in the coming months and years.

Douglas is partnering with Twin Cities entrepreneur Todd Frostad on Singular Logic, whose Ads by Choice technology allows viewers to tailor the advertising they see based on selections they make from an online menu. Someone in the market for a new pickup truck can request truck ads, for instance, and avoid spots for Mini Coopers.

According to Singular's white paper, Ads by Choice “is capable of being deployed in any environment that allows for a two-way communication between the viewing consumer and the content aggregator who is serving up the ads along with the selected content.”

Ads by Choice's aim is to deliver pertinent ads to viewers—and make them less inclined to zap through spots they see as clutter. “We're trying to connect the dots between the aggregator and the consumer and the advertiser,” Douglas says. “We want to send the perfect spot at the perfect time to the perfect recipient.”

Douglas has had a busy 14 months since the heavy layoffs at CBS-owned stations last spring. He and Frostad, who formerly ran the e-commerce startup Digital River, are also partners on WeatherNation, which provides weather content to broadcast, cable and Web clients.

Ad Model is 'Broken'

But more recently, they've set out to re-engineer the way TV advertising is served and consumed. “Most people would agree that advertising today is broken,” Douglas says. “It's a 20th century model with a one-way flow of information.”

The idea for Ads by Choice came after Douglas says he saw his fourth Cialis ad during a football game 2½ years ago. Singular has deployed the technology on the Minnesota cable system HBC, allowing the residents of some 20,000 households to tailor their ad stream from their set-top box, via a portal they access online or even on a mobile device. It's being used in on-demand and IPTV programming for HBC customers, and is scheduled to expand to regular cable offerings. Major League Baseball is also a beta client.

Singular charges the distributor a license fee for the technology, and Frostad says the distributor can command a higher CPM from the advertiser—knowing that interest in the ad is greater.

In Search of Relevant Advertising

Technology companies have long attempted to figure out how to make advertising more relevant to consumers. Backchannelmedia, for one, offers broadcasters its Clickable TV program, which allows viewers to click on an on-screen icon with their remote; this shoots information on a product or service to the user's Web page. Backchannel has inked deals with a variety of station groups, such as LIN TV and Gray. Tech outfits such as Navic Networks and Visible World also have targeted-advertising products, while Google's AdSense program serves advertising that's based on the user's Web-surfing activity.

Finding the magic connection between viewer and advertiser has long been elusive, though Douglas comes with a history of entrepreneurial success. A 25-year veteran of Twin Cities TV weather, Douglas sold his 3D graphics system EarthWatch for $3 million in 1997, and dealt his mobile weather application Digital Cyclone to Garmin for $45 million.

Crawford Johnson & Northcott co-founder Bruce Northcott knows Douglas from the weatherman's early days in television three decades ago. While he's not familiar with Singular Logic, he says Douglas' smarts makes it unwise to bet against him. “He clearly has one of the more bright and creative minds in the business,” Northcott says. “He may be on to something.”

Douglas and Frostad, who's Singular's CEO, met when Douglas was looking for office space after departing WCCO. Frostad owned the building, and grilled Douglas about his business plan to make sure a potential tenant could pay his rent for the foreseeable future. The two found they had some common ground and decided to join forces on the new ventures.

Both believe the time—and the technology—is right for marketers to offer better-targeted, more-accountable advertising. If done right, they say, such advertising may give TiVo's fast-forward button a much-needed rest.

“The reason why people fast-forward through the ads is that they're spam,” Frostad says. “Give me something I might be interested in, and I won't fast-forward through it.”

E-mail comments to michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

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