VOD Ads: Timing Is Everything


One of cable’s smallest operators may be poised to solve one of the biggest problems confronting video-on-demand advertising.

The operator: Lawrence, Kan. independent Sunflower Cablevision. The problem: Rigid commercial insertion practices that demand VOD advertisers submit commercials weeks in advance of air dates.

Sunflower hopes to overcome objections tied to VOD advertising by introducing a new ad-management technique known as “dynamic insertion.” It’s a way of injecting commercials into VOD program streams at the last possible moment, just after a program is requested by a subscriber.

That’s a contrast from prevailing industry practice that requires commercials to be spliced into VOD programs a month or more before their air date. Currently, most cable TV networks splice supplied commercials into programs at the networks’ editing facilities, before the programs are delivered to cable affiliates. That means advertisers must decide what commercials to exhibit within VOD programs as much as six weeks in advance of air dates. The current system also prevents advertisers from refreshing commercial copy during a VOD program’s run, says Terri Swartz, director of advanced advertising for SeaChange International Inc., the digital video systems provider that supplies VOD servers and software for the Sunflower deployment.

Sunflower hopes to break new ground by working with SeaChange and advertising agency software provider Atlas On Demand on a new way to orchestrate VOD insertion. This month, the companies are collaborating with Paramount Pictures Corp. and its ad agency mediaedge:cia to being shuffling a series of commercials promoting the movie “Jackass number two” within VOD programs supplied by MTV Networks Inc.

·How it works: mediaedge:cia supplies a series of commercials to Sunflower for storage within the cable company’s VOD server array. Media specialists at the ad agency, outfitted with software from Atlas On Demand, are able to designate which of the commercials should run within pre-assigned slots occurring in VOD programs from channels like Comedy Central and Spike.

When a customer selects a show from Sunflower’s VOD menu, the selected ads are digitally spliced into the program stream just before it hurtles through the cable company network to the requesting household.

·A new software set developed by SeaChange, called SeaChange AdPulse VOD, grabs the spot based on selection rules established by mediaedge:cia and places it into the stream.

The software, in concert with Atlas On Demand’s agency-based console, lets advertisers refresh campaign messages as they choose, and also allows them to align the commercial that plays with household demographic characteristics divined from ZIP code-based analysis. Later software generations could go further, allowing a customer in one household to see a different commercial within the same VOD program than a neighbor next door.

Swartz said the new approach is meaningful because it gets VOD out of a trap: Although on-demand TV has the luster of innovation about it, the medium is more cumbersome even than traditional linear television in terms of advertiser timing and flexibility. Swartz says it’s important for cable companies to be able to deliver the same sort of timing and ad-management advantages associated with broadband Internet advertising, currently the fastest-growing U.S. advertising medium, according to TNS Media Intelligence estimates.