Canoe Steers Into Streaming, Augments Addressable & Programmatic Endeavors



Cynopsis Medias First Morning Read


Wednesday June 23, 2021

Canoe Steers Into Streaming, Augments Addressable & Programmatic Endeavors
Cathy Applefeld Olson

In a video market that’s crowded, fragmented and shifting like never before, programmers and advertisers are seeking both institutional knowledge and pioneering leadership as they steer through uncharted waters.

For Canoe, the ad tech joint venture of Comcast, Charter and Cox, helping clients maximize audience reach in a content-safe, tech-sound manner has been the primary goal since its establishment more than a decade ago.

The consortium, which counts as customers over 100 national networks from 22 programmer groups including ABC, AMC, A+E, CBS, Discovery, Epix, Fox, Hallmark, MTV, NBC, NFL, Showtime, Starz, TNT, TVOne and Univision, is continuing to augment its business across sectors and regions. This year Canoe extended its cross-platform capabilities to include not only traditional VOD, but linear addressable, and streaming services, in more regions.

“We’re still doing gangbusters in traditional VOD, but consumer behavior is changing and the new work we’re doing is helping my programmers figure out the reach and frequency of their VOD platform in relation to the other platforms they have,” says Chris Pizzurro, Canoe’s SVP of global sales & marketing.

“The advertiser doesn’t want to miss audience. They need to be on cable VOD and they need to be on linear and they need to be on streaming. For Canoe, our opportunity is working with our programmers to help them know where this ad is going across their platforms, and what is the reach and frequency associated with that, so they can articulate that back to the agencies and brands they’re working with.”

Pizzurro acknowledges “there are more questions” from networks these days as the business grows more complex, but says “there is a bit of comfort in that people clearly now understand where the puck is going. A few years ago it was, ‘My linear rating is going away and I don’t know why.’ At this point, and coming out of Covid, we’re starting to see a clear focus.”

That focus, he says, is concentrated around agility and scalability that enable brands to connect with viewers across networks, platforms and buzz-generating content. Citing the Discovery-WarnerMedia union as the latest in a string of mega-mergers, Pizzurro proclaims, “You need to be big, flexible and multiplatform in order to compete. We are helping our programmers figure out how these things relate to each other in terms of audience delivery.”

As such, the majority of Canoe’s work happens behind the scenes, where executives are helping set expectations, manage outcomes and ensure all parties are speaking the same language. One tricky area, Pizzurro says, is that measurement means different things in different video distribution scenarios.

“We have to first decide, what are we calling a viewer. Is it based on household, is it based on device, is it based on the person?” he notes. “Because if you log onto a streaming service, that’s based on people, but it’s not that way with cable VOD, where you’re logged into the household. A lot of what we’ve been doing for the past few months is getting to agreement on how we are going about doing this.”


Addressable Activity

Among its major focuses, Canoe is continuing to ramp up on addressable advertising by scaling and augmenting pilots it began to assess in early 2020. “A year later, this is a business that is documented on how to scale,” says Pizzurro.

The company brought in former WarnerMedia executive, David Porter, as GM of the addressable business, and in November launched the first linear addressable ad campaign across multiple distributors. Today, it has provided services on 27 campaign lines spanning seven networks, including AMC and Discovery, across all three of its MVPDs for national linear and VOD inventory. As executives parse data related to service assurance, audience segments, revenue optimization and attribution, some key findings are bubbling up. A recent attribution study showed a 6.5 percent increase in website visitors attributable to the addressable campaign.

“What’s been great is to truly figure out how to do it at scale,” Pizzurro says. “Addressability has been done for the past few years separately by MOSs with just their two-minute local avails. What we set out to do, and did do, is to activate this capability on the national programmers’ inventory. So it’s AMC inventory across Comcast, Cox, Charter and Discovery inventory across all three—on linear and VOD.”

Going for scale has required refining existing processes, putting new processes in place and documenting all of the above. “We’ve now set the expectation of what those processes are, so we can take it out to more TV networks and cable operators who will take it out to more brands and more agencies,” he says. “This was all about adjusting—as long as you’re swimming in the right direction and have a goal in mind of scale.”

Pizzurro anticipates business will accelerate through the year. “Especially coming out of this Upfront where you saw lots networks talking about addressability and plans for Q3 and Q4—those are the people we are working with and talking with,” he says. In addition, Canoe will look to support the work coming out of the recently announced Go Addressable initiative.


Programmatically Speaking

As with all of its endeavors, Canoe has also been working behind the scenes on the rapid programmatic evolution to manage expectations and ensure demand side platforms [DSPs] and supply side platforms [SSPs]are speaking a common language for VOD.

“It’s early days, but we fully expect that more and more programmers are going to transact this way,” says Pizzurro. “I can easily see this being 25 percent of the business in a year or two.”

“There’s been the expectation that if you’re a buyer you can go into an electronic system and buy your inventory from the supply side,” he notes. “Clearly that’s the expectation in CTV and streaming services, and Canoe knew we would want to give our programmers the option to open up their traditional VOD inventory to this other set of buyers.”

The company during Q1 2021 enabled two supply side platforms (SSPs), one from Freewheel and one from Beachfront, for access to television networks’ inventory. Those SSPs connected to eight unique DSPs then ran 25 campaigns with Canoe enabling service assurance and revenue optimization.

How’s it going? “There’s been hand-to-hand combat that’s going on, what the DSPs expect, what they can realistically achieve—and it’s good. It’s very healthy dialogue,” Pizzurro says.

“Here’s an example. Every DSP just expects an IP address; that’s how their platforms exist. By definition, in my world, I don’t give out an MSOs IP address. So we’ve worked out ways of, how can I give you a temporary ID that isn’t an IP address but looks like one, but doesn’t necessarily tie back to my household,” he says. “No one wants to have egg on their face, so it’s a matter of finding audience in a safe, secure manner.”


International Relations

Despite most of the world being shut down for the past 15 months, Canoe in the process of expanding its footprint in Canada, Europe and Latin America. The growth speaks to both brand new business ventures as well as extensions that enable existing clients leverage their assets in new markets. To steer that ship, the company promoted long time Canoe executive, Bill Brewster, as GM of the VOD and International business.

“For current customers, right out of the gate they’re asking, ‘How can we leverage what you’ve done with our US entity?—which is the right question to ask,” says Pizzurro. “We’re helping them realize the relationship of VOD and streaming services they’ve been doing with me today, we can do the same thing in, say, Latin America.”

And while entering new international markets presents its share of business and technical challenges, getting down in the weeds and working through challenges with clients is Canoe’s specialty.

Pizzurro says his pitch to new and existing customers is simple but effective: “We know you’re confused. We don’t necessarily have all the answers, but we’ve got this much figured out and we’ll adjust for your market. You don’t have to re-create the wheel. We built this wheel.”

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