Is Big Cable’s Canoe Paddling
By Timothy R. Hawthorne
May’s National Cable Television Association (NCTA) convention stirred
up renewed hype for Project Canoe,
Big Cable’s joint effort to leverage
set-top box data and dynamically distribute addressable, interactive advertising nationwide. There have
been more meetings than motion so far, but perhaps
its impending rechristening will inspire project
leaders to match its many promises with actionable
To be fair, collaborations among competitors
are often slow going. But developing operational
protocols is doubly difficult when technology drives
the process. That’s why, for every big challenge that
Canoe plans to tackle, machine-based solutions raise
critical human questions.
THE PROMISE: Dynamically inserted creatives.
Real-time creative deployment would allow advertisers
to buy a single timeslot, but populate it with a host
of custom creatives for different demographics — be
they housewives, Northeasterners or horse racing
fans. Commercials that appeal to known interests will
boost viewer retention and won’t waste precious ad
spend on disinterested eyeballs.
THE QUESTION: Once technology enables flexible and
simultaneous delivery to multiple narrowly defined
targets, how many advertisers can afford to create the
scores of specialized spots this micro-focus demands?
THE PROMISE: Advertising engagement through
interactivity. Although generating sales seems a worthier goal, t he current advertising grail is “
engagement.” Successful brand-building satellite and
cable trials already have inspired viewers to
click their remotes’ “Select” buttons to telescope from short teaser clips to lengthy
promotional videos. Generating leads
. A 34-year
ing viewers to click for coupons or product literature
is an even more promising direct response tactic.
THE QUESTION: Will interactivity-enabled calls-to-action call for the best action? No one, obviously, will
“click-to-buy” cars. But just as predictably as DRTV
viewers phone in to order QVC specials and infomercial items, they’ll certainly tap their remotes for
single-click impulse buys.
THE PROMISE: Precise addressability. By merging
subscriber information with set-top box behavioral
data, the resulting cable consumer profile should be
even more detailed than what the online sphere offers. Coupled with dynamic ad insertion, Big Cable
will reliably get the right ads to the right homes.
THE QUESTION: Will viewers actually watch them?
Customized addressable commercials are worthless
if people use digital video recorders to skip them, or
abandon their TV sets for snack breaks. Cable clearly
will benefit from the technological advances that
Canoe hopes to perfect, but imaginative humans must
still construct informative and entertaining creatives
that keep the viewers’ eyes glued.
Dramatized, Project Canoe’s saga would play well
on SciFi as its story fits the formula nicely. Canoe’s
touted innovations are technologically viable, but
when implemented, something will surely go haywire
— something that a lone voice in the wilderness will
have predicted early on, as planners and engineers
pushed myopically onward, working hard to get the
Equally certain, no SciFi leader would name
such a project “Canoe.” They’d pick something
big and bold … like “Titanic.” Not that I’m
predicting such a demise for Big Cable, for
addressability and quick delivery will
be a direct response boon — so long
as we keep our eyes on those big