Advertising evolution or revolution?
As digital video recording and
video-on-demand mature, it only follows that advertising in
those domains will inject itself and attempt to do the same.
TiVo Inc. is the latest to jump into the mix with
a "next-gen" product (see story further down), and two relatively
high-profile advertisers (General Motors and The WB Television
Network) have already jumped in to see how or if this will
With more than 3 million DVR subs now, maybe timing is on
TiVo's side with this new U.S. entree. There were a few misses
Some may recall RespondTV. It didn't get very far after hitching
its hopes and dreams to the original (and much maligned) DCT-5000
platform. Companies like OpenTV
Corp. and Navic
Networks have fared much better.
To understand the appeal of interactive advertising, one must
only look to the U.K., where such advertising carries premium
status. Time will tell if U.S. viewers will also respond favorably.
We do know that ad-skipping is still a common occurrence among
DVR owners. According to a new survey from Leichtman
Research Group (LRG), 88 percent of DVR owners said
they usually zip through commercials when viewing a recorded
program. Not overly surprising. If the option's there to skip
an ad, viewers will usually take it. TiVo owners (and DCT-6412
users, apparently) are only a Google search away from some
simple codes that uncork latent 30-second skipping capabilities.
It only presents more fuel for those who are building interactive
and more targeted advertising platforms.
The advertising model will change, but will that model change
in an evolutionary or revolutionary way?
e-mail, and I'll share your thoughts in a future issue.
A path to server coexistence?
There's a new technology in town
that aims and claims to give operators the virtual keys to
the on-demand future: the ability to mix and match a wide
range of server types and brands on the same system.
That newcomer, the Edge Resource Manager (ERM), also manages
the use of edge bandwidthwhether it's for video-on-demand
or some other type of service that utilizes QAM resources.
At least two vendors have emerged in this new product category:
LLC and Camiant
Inc. The youngest of the two is Vertasent. Camiant
is best known for its policy servers for the PacketCable Multimedia
from the industry's Next Generation Network Architecture (NGNA)
project, the ERM, at its core, is aware of and manages the
use of bandwidth at the edge of the network. Its role is to
allocate that bandwidth as a session (a VOD session, for example)
is set up and later broken down. The concept also shows up
in Comcast's Next Generation On Demand architecture.
But the ERM will handle much more than on-demand, though VOD
is likely the first application for it. It will also apply
to other applications and devices that will tie up QAM resources,
including switched video, the modular CMTS and call management
The importance of ERM devices will grow as video bandwidth
requirements become more unpredictable and begin to look more
like high-speed data applications, said Ed Delaney, Camiant's
VP of marketing and business development.
Early on, MPEG-2 streams were encoded at about 3.75 Mbps.
With HD and switched video entering the picture, the bandwidth
question becomes more dynamic. Operators, Delaney added, "will
have to put intelligence at the edge to manage those requirements."
Perhaps the more forward-looking element for ERM is its ability
to allow operators to run more than one type (and brand) of
servers on their VOD networks. Under today's networks, a video
server from one vendor and the server from another can't share
resources on the network. Also under today's VOD networks,
all QAM resources are controlled by the session manager, which
is also controlled by the system's VOD vendor in most cases.
"It becomes impossible for MSOs to mix and match different
servers from different vendors in the same headend," said
Manas Tandon, Camiant's director of product management. "The
ERM decouples the whole system."
But beyond the obvious multiple source benefits, what other
advantages might operators find by doing this?
For starters, some servers may be better than others for particular
types of VOD titlessuch as a big hit versus a less popular
library title. Server and stream requirements might also be
different for audio applications than they are for video services.
"Some are good at streaming, and others are good at switched
broadcast. One server type might be good for top content,
and others for streaming HD," Delaney said.
Although some VOD software platforms can support different
VOD servers, it's a "fuzzy fact" as to whether they can mix
and match servers in the same headend, said Bruce Bradley,
Vertasent's VP of product and market management.
Despite the claims of ERM technology, it still has to hook
into existing VOD and QAM systems to actually work. Vertasent
has already integrated with two QAM vendors (Motorola Inc.
and Harmonic Inc.), but has not announced the same with server
vendors. Camiant is talking to the usual suspects, but has
yet to announce any integration partners.
But integration is one of ERM's biggest challenges. Because
of competitive forces, it's likely that QAM vendors will be
more willing to do integration than the VOD companies might
"The tension here is how to achieve that modularity and flexibility
to enable these services, and how to make sure you can keep
everything integrated," said Joe Matarese, chief technology
officer of C-COR Solutions.
C-COR bought VOD and ad-insertion firm nCUBE earlier this
year. "The question is…what's the value of that [using
different servers in the same headend] versus the operational
challenges of managing a new vendor?" Matarese wondered. "The
tell-tale sign will be when someone does this for the first
time. Then watch for six months to see how quickly the next
operator jumps in." That, he noted, will determine the "operational
sanity" of the concept.
Operators have been known to switch out one VOD vendor for
another, but no MSO (so far) has publicly disclosed a test
or deployment of multiple video servers in the same VOD system.
TiVo 'tags' new ad platform
Inc. aims to prevent ad-skipping and to increase the
value of ads in "time-shifted" environments with a "next-generation"
interactive advertising system, and has secured a couple of
clients to help prove out the concept.
The DVR pioneer has also secured two big clients to help prove
out the concept: General Motors and The WB Television Network.
new system will give those companies the ability to insert
a customized call-to-action or a branded "tag" in their commercials.
The branded tags replace generic ad tags previously used by
the DVR company's advertising clients.
If viewers select the tag, they are "telescoped" from the
spot to view longer-form promotional footage, and given the
ability to request more information. The program being viewed
is paused during this time. Telescoping has become extremely
popular in the United Kingdom, and such ad real estate carries
a premium there.
The concept is also gaining ground among U.S. cable operators,
either in-house or through partners. Comcast
Cable, TiVo noted, has already said it would use TiVo's
ad platform on the MSO's legacy DVRs beginning in 2006.
GM will use the new customized tags to promote OnStar, and
its GMC, Chevrolet and Saturn brands. The WB, meanwhile, will
use the tags to promote upcoming shows. Using the green thumbs-up
button, the TiVo remote will enable viewers to record a single
episode or a full season of a given WB program.
Although it's new to TiVo, the concept is anything but. Wink
Communications, acquired by OpenTV
Corp. in 2002, was among the concept's vanguard.
The first iteration of Wink offered some limited graphical
information to appear on the screen, and enabled viewers to
request a brochure or some other form of information. Charter
Communications is still using some of the original
Wink technology in some of its systems. "It's a very simple,
but powerful application for advertising," explained Thomas
Hagopian, OpenTV's SVP and general manager of programming/advertising.
OpenTV has since added a heavy video element to its ProSync
platform, which is offered today on DBS with EchoStar
Communications and Foxtel
"The payoff really needs to be video. That's what viewers
really respond to," Hagopian says of today's telescoping techniques.
"What seems to create some energy in the market is long-form
video; it's the core of what gets advertisers excited, and
gets greater use out of the video they're already producing."
ProSync also has the ability to pause live programming in
set-tops with on-board DVRs when viewers access interactive
Bresnan rides Rentrak
Communications has agreed to trial a video-on-demand
(VOD) measurement and reporting platform from
Rentrak's proprietary OnDemand Essentials system will enable
Bresnan to supply anonymous, encoded VOD transaction information
via the already-installed C-COR
Inc. nABLE backoffice platform.
Bresnan has agreed to test Rentrak's platform for one year.
Rentrak said it marks the first time its system will obtain
usage data from the nABLE platform.
"Rentrak will enable us to more accurately monitor and analyze
on-demand viewing preferences so that we can further enhance
our video-on-demand offerings to our customers," said Bresnan
Vice President of Operations Jim Gemmill, in a statement.
Rentrak also has agreements with Cablevision Systems Corp.,
Charter Communications, Comcast Cable and Insight Communications.
DePrez helms new EGT unit
Greg DePrez, the former head of
subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) at
Starz Encore Group, has joined EGT
Inc. to help the digital technology firm start up
a new Emerging Applications division.
EGT got out of the blocks with MPEG-2 standard-definition
encoders, but is now evolving with encoders that support advanced
codecs and high-definition television. Further, the new unit
will be dedicated to new apps that support digital video platforms,
including VOD, HDTV, DVRs and digital advertising.
DePrez, who will spearhead the new division from Denver, said
EGT has realized that it will also have to build relationships
with content providers, which want to maintain high quality
levels as technology extends them new opportunities such as
HD and VOD and challenges such as advertising.
During his career, DePrez has served as a conduit of technology
and programming. Before helming SVOD at Starz!, DePrez played
an integral role with pay-per-view at Tele-Communications
Inc. (TCI). Near-term, DePrez said he will be doing plenty
of homework on the technology and launching discussions with
advertisers to identify where the "pressure points" are as
they adapt to the all-digital environment.
Cox frees up VOD
Communications has added 700 hours of "free" on-demand
content. Free titles, to be offered via the MSO's "FreeZone"
category, will come from networks such as A&E, Classic Kids,
Concert TV, Discovery, Discovery Kids, DIY Network, E!, Fine
Living, Food Network, HGTV, History Channel and NFL On Demand.
In addition to boosting the value of digital, Cox hopes the
additions will benefit its advertising ambitions.
"The addition of Free On Demand content is beneficial to our
advertising clients because it will increase traffic in FreeZone
and the likelihood customers will find valuable information
from our advertisers alongside favorites from cable networks,"
said David Pugliese, Cox's VP of product marketing and management.
Cox offers VOD in San Diego and Orange County, Calif.; Las
Vegas, Nev.; New Orleans, La.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Omaha,
Neb.; Hampton Roads, Va.; Connecticut and Rhode Island.
We are making changes and additions
(including several international deployments) to our Web-based
"living" deployment chart. If you have a
new deployment to report for the VOD Scorecard and the Web-based
deployment chart, please contact CED editor