TV and Cable Cos. Take Page From Online

Two separate but related news items caught my eye today. First, Comcast has acquired social networking technology provider Plaxo in order to integrate social network-like features that let viewers share programming, among other things. Second, Turner Entertainment Networks announced a new plan to index content within television shows so contextually relevant ads can be served during subsequent commercial breaks.

Beyond holes in Turner’s plan that I’ll get into in a minute, these are moves that signal an interest among television providers to learn from what is working on the Internet. As Marc Andreessen asserted yesterday (see past post), television and other established media have to look to software to benefit from the innovation cycles that aren’t possible with their relatively fixed formats.

What Plaxo could do for Comcast involves more potential for growth than what will be possible at the onset. The idea is to integrate a system that taps the social and viral qualities of social networking to drive consumption of television content and ads. Plaxo already works with Comcast in some markets to provide software that ties together its triple-play products.

Future integrations based on this software will include things such as interfacing telephone calls and messages through the television. More value-added integrations are further off, such as greater pull-based content delivery and Web-like interaction with product search and communications. Here IPTV will have an architecture advantage over cable, but Comcast is moving in the right direction.

On to Turner, it’s likewise moving in the right direction, though its plan is to mashup contextual ad placements with traditional push-based 30-second ads, which kind of misses the point. In search, a great deal can be gleaned about intent from an isolated query. Television ads are much more passive. Just because I sat down to watch a particular movie, it doesn’t mean I’m interested in a specific product mentioned halfway through the film that may or may not have any thematic connection.

Contextual placement in other words is much more effective when intent can be determined, which is hardly the case here. This will improve with some of the aforementioned moves toward IPTV and its capability for behavioral targeting, product placement and “telescoping” items of interest for more information or purchase (think cooking shows and home improvement).

It’s good that TV execs are thinking differently, but it will take a few iterations and lots of other moving parts (user behavior, IPTV deployment, etc.) before they get it right.

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