Canoe Moves Full Steam Ahead on Addressable



Cynopsis Medias First Morning Read

Canoe Moves Full Steam Ahead on Addressable

Cathy Applefeld Olson

More programmers, more brands, more data enablement. That’s the mantra at Canoe, the ad tech consortium owned by Comcast, Charter and Cox, as it both widens its breadth and digs deeper into perfecting VOD dynamic ad insertion and linear addressability.

The company wrapped 2019 with 10,071 VOD ad campaigns in its pocket, up from 7,476 the prior year, and continues to add programmers and brands. Canoe counts as clients 97 national networks from 22 programmer groups that include ABC, AMC, A+E, CBS, Discovery, Epix, Fox, Hallmark, MTV, NBC, Showtime, Starz, TNT and Univision. And it was announced this summer that AMC and Discovery were the first join the On Addressabilty initiative which is being technically enabled and operated by Canoe.

The momentum of addressable advertising is particularly salient during a year where existing market trends have been accelerated.

“In the current business there’s not really any double-digit [ad sales] growth anymore. It’s single digits and it’s flat, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as a lot of networks are starting to hit sell-out levels in their footprint,” says Chris Pizzurro, Canoe’s SVP of global sales & marketing.

“If you’re in that position, you do a few things,” he says. “You try to grow your footprint, or you try to squeeze more value out of the footprint you have. That’s the context of what we are doing on both fronts. That’s where On Addressability comes in, and that’s where global deals come in. On Addressability is all about, ‘I’ve got all these great viewers. Can we deliver more relevant content to them in different ways that create more value to the advertisers and the brands?’”

Pizzurro breaks down industry challenges and opportunities, and Canoe’s approach:

Cynopsis: AMC and Discovery are the latest to join the On Addressability family. How are the pilots going?
Chris Pizzurro: Very well as there are lots of moving parts in motion. Canoe is the enabler. Our job is to get it all working, and then on a continuous basis make sure it’s working the way it should. The goal of the pilots is to get a couple programmers in, have them get a couple of their advertisers to come along for the ride and to basically set up an end-to-end system so we can establish base targeting criteria, whatever that may be in your advanced target. The idea is to set up the different ecosystems, which is really the same thing we did for VOD years ago. Part of the ecosystem is the programmers. Part of the ecosystem is the technology stack that each programmer uses.

Which companies are in the technology stack you’re enabling?
We work with both Freewheel MRM and Google Ad Manager as the CMS/ADSs. Those are the technologies that the majority of programmers have. And then we’re taking the addressable audience segment criteria from LiveRamp, one of our audience matching partners, and we are talking with other partners in that space. We want to have it so that advertisers participating in the pilot can pick their audiences, and then once we do that, that’s where it passes down through Comcast, Cox and Charter—our pilot footprint—and have the ad most relevant to that audience play out on linear and on VOD. That’s where the brand can say, “I just want to reach educated $75K-plus homes on Discovery or AMC programs,” or something like that, and that desired audience goes through LiveRamp and securely matches with the cable operators’ subscriber base. That triggers ads, and does the scheduling and trafficking across VOD and linear. And then we need to get all that data back, filter that back through Free Wheel and Google Ad Manager, and then have that reporting come back out to the programmers.

That’s a lot of moving parts. What’s the onboarding process like for a new pilot partner?
It’s work, but we like to think of ourselves as the “simplification layer” between the programmers and the MVPDs. You have the advantage of people having done this with each individual cable operator with the local inventory for a number of years. So we’re not making stuff up from scratch. But, Canoe’s job is to make each of those individual systems work as one. One MVPD might have solved the problem this way, another solved another way. So we’ve got to normalize all that and find the common denominator between them all. That’s how we build these platforms to scale. That’s what we’ve been plowing through for the last few years. There are weekly working groups and calls and everything you can imagine. It’s all about, we use the term alignment—aligning the different players. And now it’s about bringing national programmers into the mix. We are knee deep in that process of alignment.

Canoe has also been active in conversations with companies outside the US. Can you catch us up?
We’ve been talking with folks in Canada, in Latin American and in Europe. A lot of those conversations are around not quite the alignment stage, but understanding where they are, what they’ve got and what alignment would look like. And then, what are their plans for scale on VOD, what’s their plan for addressability, what do their targets look like. We have some paperwork with the trade organization LAMAC, for programmers in Latin America, to try to get a pilot up to do the same kind of work at scale with cable operators and satellite companies in Latin America. And in Canada with the trade group ThinkTV, working with a consortium of programmers and operators and distributors on bringing VOD to scale and introducing addressability into all of that. It all goes back to the footprint. Either you have to grow the footprint or make the footprint more valuable. That’s what addressability’s all about.

Canoe has been a leader in asserting best industry practices. So here’s a speed round. Where are we on ad latency?
There’s no ad latency in traditional VOD, but that’s still a challenge on the IP/OTT space. We still see IP platforms where there’s latency—no ads for a second or cutting into ad breaks. If you’re a programmer and you have your program going out on 20 different platforms, you may concentrate on those bigger platforms where you’re getting the most views and not really care as much about a platform where you’re only getting a few million views and no big revenue. It’s difficult now because once you’ve got a platform under control, two new platforms pop up. It’s kind of like Whac-a-Mole. But no matter what your platform is, it needs to be of high quality for the consumer. If it doesn’t work—meaning it reliably works every time I turn the thing on—they’re going to cancel their subscription and go somewhere else.

There’s still a lot of work to do there. You really have digital folks separate from linear TV folks and now that your delivery is just on a campaign and you have to flow back and forth. A handful of companies are getting it done, but the majority of folks are not optimizing with ease where they can just look at a campaign and all the inventory they have across cable VOD and linear, and Hulu and Roku and know the impressions they have across all the platforms.

As the world starts to do more streaming, more OTT and more CTV, you still need accurate cross-platform measurement. These are the three pillars of advertising: On the front end you need forecasting, that then gets handed off to execution and it needs to play out, and then on the back end you have measurement. It’s critical. If you don’t have accurate measurement, you can’t get paid.

Ad pods?
It still seems to be holding pretty well at four ads per pod. As a lot of my networks are starting to be sold out, there is that temptation to add another ad unit, but that’s how linear got into trouble years ago because they added too many ads to TV. So we are holding at around that four number because adding more units is just not an option any more. Netflix and Amazon Prime have made that a non-option. That’s your ceiling, and you need to get creative.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the myriad challenges of 2020, television viewing remains up across all distribution avenues—making the task of knitting together linear and non-linear ad inventory more imperative than ever. Streamlining and unifying linear and non-linear ad executions across platforms is Canoe’s core mission, and with more pilots in progress, the needle continues to move forward.

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