Time to lift veil of secrecy on interactive TV and VOD data

Steve Donohue, FierceCableTime Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and other MSOs say they want advertisers to shift spending from the Internet to advanced advertising platforms on cable, but a lack of data involving the number of cable subscribers that click on interactive TV ads or watch video-on-demand programming is thwarting the industry's efforts.

Following the demise of Canoe Ventures' interactive TV advertising arm, Cablevision announced last week that more than 600 advertisers had used its advanced advertising platform last year, buying ads that contain interactive overlays or dedicated advertising channels. Cablevision also boasts that its advanced advertising platforms have generated 4 billion impressions since 2009.

What does that mean? I don't really know. Throwing out a number like 4 billion impressions may impress some. But it's not a piece of data that is useful for media buyers. How many Cablevision subscribers used their remote controls to interact with one of its advanced ads last year? The company won't say. Until it releases more detailed information on interaction rates from cable subscribers similar to click-through rates shared by Web publishers, it may be difficult to convince media buyers to shift spending from the Internet to advanced cable ads.

Time Warner Cable, which touted its rebranded "enhanced iTV" advertising platform today, shares even less data than Cablevision. The nation's second largest MSO, which has been selling interactive and targeted ads since 2005, names two advertisers that are using its platform--the Ohio Lottery and a jewelry store in Charlotte. It doesn't say how many Time Warner Cable subscribers have interacted with the advanced ads, but notes that Brownlee Jewelers has seen a "150% increase in in-store gold transactions" and increased revenue as a result of its TWC media buy.

With Canoe shutting down its interactive ad efforts, the consortium says it is now focused on helping Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other Canoe owners build a platform that would allow media buyers that purchase ads in video-on-demand programming to reach subscribers on cable systems nationwide. For example, it would be easier for an advertiser that bought a pre-roll spot for a VOD episode from Comedy Central's South Park to distribute the ad on systems owned by the Canoe's partners, including Cablevision, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks.

While that's a good approach, there's little public data available that shows exactly how many cable subscribers are watching South Park and every other show available on free VOD platforms from major cable MSOs. Web surfers who visit YouTube can see exactly how many viewers have watched a video. Hulu and other online video sites let users browse content by popularity. You can't do the same on cable.

Watching high-definition TV series on cable VOD is a better experience than using Hulu or YouTube. But advertisers won't take cable's VOD and advanced advertising platforms seriously until the industry begins sharing more data that details how subscribers are watching content.--Steve