Archive for March, 2009

supertvAdjectives sound familiar?
Two years ago former Carat CEO David Verklin left the media agency to become CEO of Canoe Ventures, a company that has a sole focus of making television advertising addressable, engaging and interactive.

Canoe has been working with MSO’s around the country and Cable Labs , the non-profit research and development consortium of cable operators that is dedicated to pursuing new  technologies for  MSO’s, to establish what you may call the framework for the evolution of television advertising’s potential.

Benefits and functionality sound familiar?
The new framework provides format standards, increased availability and usage of metadata, measurement & reporting, and interoperability across different systems.

Convergence here we come, finally.

The Official Word
From the press release today: the new “Advanced Advertising 1.0 Specification” comprises a set of component specification and standards that, individually, allow cable companies to provide more innovative types of advanced ads, such as interactive advertising, Video on Demand advertising within existing VOD platforms, and advanced forms of addressable advertising. Taken together, the Advanced Advertising specification allows multi-system operators (MSOs) to offer such products with consistent technologies, metrics and interfaces across a national footprint. The Advanced Advertising 1.0 spec was developed and will be maintained by a CableLabs Working Group composed of MSO, Canoe and CableLabs technical leads, with selective input from the vendor community.

For the techie geeks like me, the current version of the spec includes the following component pieces:

  1. Specifications:
    1. ETV – A CableLabs specification for interactivity that can be implemented on millions of digital set-top boxes deployed by cable operators. ETV, based on the Enhanced Television Binary Interchange Format or “EBIF,” is part of the OCAP specification so advertising applications written for ETV can run on OCAP (OpenCable Applications Platform) specification, intended to enable developers of interactive television services and applications to design products so that they can run successfully on any cable television system in North America.
    2. VOD Metadata 2.0 – A CableLabs specification for descriptive data associated with a package of VOD content, whether a movie or a long-form advertisement. This metadata is used in MSO and programmer VOD systems today, but in the future will assist in the delivery of prospective ad products for the VOD space, or in adding greater addressability to different types of ads.
  2. Interfaces: There are currently four interfaces for advanced advertising, targeting EBIF, that are in the early draft phase but will be added to the 1.0 spec
    1. Service Measurement Summary Interface (SMSI) – enables MSOs to export information about the execution of a campaign.
    2. Interactive Fulfillment Summary Interface (IAF) – provides a means for messaging generated by an interactive application to be exposed to an external entity.
    3. Interactive Application Messaging Platform (IAM) – provides a critical interface between interoperable applications (apps distributed to more than one MSO) and MSO systems, defining the common form of messages instantiated by interoperable apps and how MSO systems decode them.
    4. Campaign Information Package Interface (CIP) – provides information to the MSOs on the configuration of application messaging processing, such as identifiers relevant to the messages.
  3. Standards: Relevant SCTE standards that the CableLabs Working Group has decided should be supported as part of the Advanced Advertising 1.0 spec
    1. SCTE 35 – enables measurement, enhanced applications and ad placement on linear and on-demand content – includes related support from SCTE 30 / 67 / 104.
    2. SCTE 130 – separates new addressable ad delivery systems from ad decision systems that allow for dynamic ad selection for interactive, linear and on-demand content.

What Does This All Mean?
Canoe has propelled the industry forward, and the first step of creating the standards and framework for a national roll-out was the biggest step. Within the next few weeks the first pilot programs will deliver custom creative to consumers in different geographic locations across a national campaign. The anticipation is to next move addressability to a household level.  Later this year we’ll see what has been a drab implementation of VOD pushed into the iTV promise that we have all been waiting for – where a consumer can interact directly with ads and click into more engaging experiences.

On top of all of this, the new framework also sets the stage for the eventuality of centralized ad delivery, and direct set-top box-level research. It’s a bright day for the TV industry.

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buy-sell-exchange-photo For those who are wondering why I am writing about the TV industry today, the annual TV upfronts is an important event that affects the entire  media ecosystem, and ignoring the largest macro-economic event in the media industry is not a wise move.

For anyone who has worked for a major marketer, media agency or  TV network, the month of May represents an interesting and eventually an evolutionarily outdated event – TV upfronts.  The upfronts (for those that live under a rock) is the time of year that major advertisers and their agencies plan and buy a large share of their TV ads for the coming year. The networks package up their new series and existing hits and provide a dog and pony show that only the advertising industry can do.

Over the past few years we have witnessed some interesting changes in the upfronts. On the buy-side, in some instances major marketers pulled out, opting to plan and buy ad hoc throughout the year rather than commit to large scale upfront buying (but not to a degree that affected media sellers or the tradition itself).  On the sell-side, we’ve seen a full on integration of digital channels in the packaging of ad programs, and there are small upfront events hosted by online only entities as well (mainly video), taking full advantage of the planning season. The upfront sessions have as much to do with major networks selling online inventory, particularly video, as they do television. Well …  maybe not as much, but it’s become increasingly more important to the networks.

Digital Video

Hulu was just officially ranked the number two video site on the web after YouTube.com. For the advertising industry that is huge news. Unlike YouTube, which grew because of consumer generated content, Hulu grew because consumers embraced the high-value production type content you would expect from NBC and Fox. The consumer adoption is a boon for marketers. Rumor has it that Hulu is conducting ad hoc upfront presentations and I imagine that we’ll soon hear about a small bash during the formal upfronts in May. The only downside – the price tag. Ads on Hulu are sold at CPM’s that are exponentially higher than TV. That simply can’t last and the model will have to change.

Advertisers Pulling Out?

Apparently many big advertisers, like P&G for example, have been exercising their contractual rights to cancel a portion of what they purchased upfront last May, which will severly impact networks income between now and the 2009 upfront in May. I have to imagine this sets a somber tone for the upfronts and the potential from these same advertisers and categories. So it begs the question – in this economy, what will the 2009 upfronts be like? Oh yeah and the bigger question. .. does it really matter for anyone other than the networks?

Yes TV ratings are eroding as it is, yes low consumer confidence will affect budget for big box retailers and their budgets, yes the automotive & financial categories in an upheaval, and yes there is a general conservative and ROI-sensitive mindset amongst marketers. You’d think that this year’s upfronts will be going down in history as an evolutionary milestone of marketer hesitancy. We’ll see. Networks have begun selling at higher CPM’s as a way of adapting. One thing’s for sure – the trend continues to give digital a leg up, even amid our own identity crisis. The lack of standards, high CPM’s, and confusion over measurement hasn’t made it easy in the digital video world, but the growth rates and addressability cannot be ignored by advertisers.

Another interesting tidbit – Ad Age reported that Univision is scrapping plans for the traditional upfront presentation in New York (last year was a bash in Lincoln Center) and will be hosting several smaller events in key agency markets, bringing the presentation to agencies versus asking them to fly in to the upfronts in NY. Probably a wise move and definitely a sign of the times. CBS will be selling less inventory upfront and focus on continued sales during the scatter market (ie: the rest of the year). NBC has jockeyed for position and will begin their upfront presentations a bit earlier than the other networks, a move they made last year as well.

So, Why Does This Matter To Us Digital Folks?

The concept of the upfronts revolves around supply & demand, or at least the concept of it (often there are no real supply/demand issues). Digital media is rarely purchased upfront because buyers know that there is often an endless supply of inventory to reach our targets. In certain categories like pharma or automotive (even in today’s market), there is a real supply/demand issue and buys occur “upfront”, but the timeline of upfront is different for each advertiser. The concept of the industry getting together for a few weeks of the year to plan out a significant portion of the market is unheard of and will almost never (never say never) happen. The moral of the story is that marketers have a common currency (audience) that they understand, and a historical understanding of what media wieght (GRP’s) required to move their businesses. As an industry we (the digerati) have not been able to help marketers establish that same historical level of budget allocation confidence. Marketers understand that their consumers spend a significant percentage of their media time online, that they are addressable, that we can engage them, and that we can measure that engagement – but until we can establish more industry level data and case studies on specific digital budget allocations as part of a media miz affecting their businesses, we will be stuck in the holding pattern we are now in. It is no wonder the web is often pigeonholed into the direct response bucket by many. DR is very black and white. It’s a shame that the medium has come to this. There have been many calls for creativity, and for revised standards, but I also add to that the call for more research and testing at an industry level. Something the industry once embraced, but has fallen by the wayside. Digital media IS the most accountable media, we CAN engage consumers, it DOES move the needle. I ask the IAB and 4A’s – can we systematically formalize this data for the world to see?

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dgdYesterday I had the honor of being the emcee for two half day conferences, DigiDay Mobile & DigiDay Social. During hard economic times, the turnout for these conferences was actually almost shocking. I was amazed to see a standing room only crowd as early as 7:45am.  This was the first mobile and social media conference for DM2 Events (soon to be renamed DigiDay Events, I believe), run by Nick Friese, formerly of MediaPost & OMMA.

If you couldn’t make it in person, there were many attendees in the audience posting play-by-play sound bytes via Twitter, and others blogging about it. Presentations will be available via slideshare as well.

While it was a long day chock full of interesting presentations, I’ll whittle it down to a few paragraphs…

DigiDay Mobile

The mobile conference kicked off the morning discussing the elephant in the room – the economy. The main take away was that although many marketers still look at mobile as an experimental channel, usage and adoption among consumers is still increasing. The ability to easily integrate mobile into an overall marketing mix presents tremendous opportunities to engage consumers.

The presentation that resonated most with me and many of the conference attendees was by Jeremy Wright from Nokia (co-founder of Enpocket, which was acquired by Nokia several years ago). Jeremy provided a truly global perspective of how ubiquitous and powerful the mobile channel has become, how in emerging markets the mobile web is THE web, how the world is becoming clickable, and how reach matters (imagine that).

DigiDay Social

This was a fun event to emcee. Social media marketing is the hottest topic in the marketing world today. Everything is becoming infused with social media tools and experiences, and the tipping point on diving into the social media world is behind us. It is no longer a “nice to have” capability for an agency, nor an ancillary tactic for marketers – social media marketing has become its own discipline and requires the strategic planning and acumen as any other marketing discipline.

The opening keynote for the social media conference was Scott Monty from Ford.  Scott has become a social media brand himself and has helped Ford become a leader in social media for the automotive category. His keynote focused on how Ford uses various social channels to connect with consumers. Ford’s positioning is “Drive One” and their social media positioning is “Meet One”.

Other notable presentations included a case study by Don Steele, VP Digital Marketing for MTV Networks, who preached engaging consumers where they habituate online. The four pillars of MTVN’s social strategy: Organic, Smart, Engaging, Honest. It was great to hear about how MTV works within and monitors social networks, social bookmarks, picture and video sharing sites, Wikipedia and more. This was one of the few holistic presentations I’ve heard in a while. Way to go Don!

The panel on social media measurement and ROI, as expected, was a highly tweeted panel. Although there are no standards for measuring social media ROI, it’s become a given that as any business investment, it has to have a return, even if the return is hard to measure and part of a bigger picture – which of course social media is on both counts.

The last panel of the day was about “What are you doing/buying right now? Where can you get the best ROI on your social marketing investment?” – this panel reflected the advertising side of social media, a topic not discussed for most of the day that focused on the marketing applications versus advertising. Although audience members probably wanted to walk away with a short list on what to buy beyond Facebook and MySpace, not many specifics were discussed. Although mainly focused on advertising, the panel reminded the audience that social media is still about providing value to the consumer  and engaging them in the right manner. A solid point driven home was that the “click” is inherently an anti-social behavior – why make someone move away from a social activity they are participating in (not that anyone is foolish enough to use clicks to measure anything, right?!?). Panlist Eric Wheeler, CEO of 33Across helped to end the panel with a great line that he quoted from David Olgilvy  “Never stand between a client and their drink.”… and a lively cocktail hour (or two) followed!

See you at the next event!

402px-the_thinker_auguste_rodinShame, shame, shame on me for breaking my own blog rules. The last 2 weeks has been the longest I’ve gone without updating The Digital Blur in a very long time. I apologize to my regular readers and have adequately reprimanded myself…

So, a lot has happened in the last two weeks!

Last week the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies) conference concluded. Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I was able to stay up to date on the major sound bytes throughout the days, as they were happening, thanks to some of my fellow colleagues, like David Smith of Mediasmith (thanks David and others!). There were many discussions regarding the value of digital marketing, how agencies can deal with the shifts to social media and generally the economics of making money offering digital advertising and marketing services. But more on that in its own post…

Bigger Ad Units

For at least the last year or so, many in the industry have been screaming from the mountaintops that online advertising needs to become more creative, engage consumers better, establish more value and prove that it can push the needle for marketers. Last month Randal Rothernberg from the IAB posted a passionate manifesto and a call for the industry to step up (worth a read by the way). Today the Online Publishers Association released a press release regarding a proposal for three new standard ad units:

  • The Fixed Panel (recommended dimension is 336 wide x 860 tall), which looks naturally embedded into the page layout and scrolls to the top and bottom of the page as a user scrolls.
  • The XXL Box (recommended dimension is 468 wide x 648 tall), which has page-turn functionality with video capability.
  • The Pushdown (recommended dimension is 970 wide x 418 tall), which opens to display the advertisement and then rolls up to the top of the page.

While we know that bigger units have proven over time to increase both brand measures and direct response, we as an industry are still missing one of the fundamental challenges. We work with a different media currency than other media. While most media sells audience (impressions = audience / reach), the digital industry sells gross impressions (reach x frequency). Savvy media buyers request frequency caps and plan around reach & frequency, but from what reps tell me, this is the exception and not the rule. Likewise many buyers don’t even track the depth of metrics available. With the currency difference measurement is key. One last point is that accountability does not by default equal direct response. All approaches are measurable and more accountable online, not just DR.

Badder Facebook Pages

Yes that’s “Badder” in the good sense of the word! Last week Facebook converted “fan pages”  into the marketers’ equivalent of a Facebook profile, complete with the inclusion of all activity into friends’ feeds (so far the holy grail of Facebook). It’s amazing how much steam Facebook has picked up in the last 18 months. Or is it? Maybe they simply built a better mousetrap, so to speak. The experience, social graph connections and permission based ecosystem that Facebook provides is far superior at attracting the general public than other social networks. Historically (albeit a short history), Facebook has not been overtly focused on ad sales like the other social nets. The advertising products available have been innovative, and where possible, take advantage of incorporating social graph data. There has been no cost for marketers to create groups or fan pages, nor to distribute applications. Many marketers have been quite successful at engaging consumers in this manner.  The conversion of fan pages into business profiles and having the activity included in the Facebook news feed will create far more engagement. This was a great move, and inevitably the customization and tools attached to this can be a future source of revenue for Facebook.

Burgeoning Social Networks

(forewarning of a little sarcasm and devil’s advocate positioning to follow)

Nielsen reported today that as of Dec ’08, social network and blog activity has surpassed email,  as the now 4th most popular activity on the web.  Newsflash – social media is growing faster than other media – well…all together now – DUH! Heck, 3 of the top 10 websites are social media.

picture11

But let’s dig into this a bit, shall we…

Nobody is unaware of the fact that social media is exponentially growing. Also, let’s be realistic, how much can email (or search or portal) reach grow? We’d have to invent a whole new population for that. Tracking email reach, which involves installed clients, may not provide the complete picture here. Either way – does it really matter? Email isn’t going away. In fact, the more social media you participate in, the more email becomes the glue where you receive reminders that there is a message waiting for you  in one of your social inboxes.  I actually predict a social media shake out at some point – people have information and inbox overload. Ultimately, an inbox is an inbox is an inbox, right? From the consumer’s point of view, some of their email is now just heading to a different inbox. Even consumers accessing content via RSS feeds will reduce their reliance on email for accessing similar content, including our marketing communication. Of course, from a marketer’s perspective access to these inboxes, and the loss of control, is a whole other ball game and that is the angle here.  The bigger picture is a general shift from “push” to “pull” – from outbound communication totally controlled by the marketer, to inbound communication controlled by the consumer. I would have loved to see the Nielsen report broken out demographically. I have seen research that shows the younger generations abandoning the frequent daily use of email as a regular communication channel in favor of social networks, but nothing indicates email is going away from a reach perspective. Even according to the Nielsen report – it’s the second fastest growing activity on the web. The web has always had its roots in communities and they have always garnered a fair share of traffic and participation and always will. Email is dead – long live email.

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