How Much is the TV Watching You?

There was a story in the Wall Street Journal not long ago on Canoe Ventures, a company made up of six of the largest US cable companies: Comcast, TimeWarner Cable, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp., Charter Communications and Brighthouse Networks. The purpose of Canoe, says its website, is to “re-energize TV”, which in this case means making ads more compelling to you and me.

Isn’t that sweet of them?

How are they going to do this? Well, by targeting the ads to individual households using a technology called “community addressable messaging,” which allows “advertisers to select cable households within particular areas that have demographic factors, such as income, in common,” says the WSJ.

According to Canoe's representatives in hearings before the US Congress, “Community addressable messaging does not use deep packet inspection, personally identifiable information, nor set-top box data. Cable subscribers already are notified about the general use of third-party demographic data via cable operator privacy notices. As we build a common foundation for advanced advertising capabilities that TV networks can use to make ads more relevant, useful and engaging for customers, all of our products are being developed with consumer privacy protection at the forefront.”

However, that concern for privacy may give way to the desire to get to specific households.  As noted in the WSJ story, companies like Unilever (which makes Dove soap, Lipton teas, among many, many others) want to know exactly who is in front of the TV screen, like a mother with a young child, so a specific ad can be targeted to the mother or the child. They also want the capability for people being pitched to be able to easily get more information about the product or service being pitched.

Couple that information with other available databases and a bit of data mining, and you could have a pretty good profile of exactly who is watching what when in every household and their purchase history in your cable network.

According to the WSJ, Canoe is having trouble being able to sync up with all the different cable boxes being used, and the amount types of viewing habit information is still limited and coarse in nature. But unless privacy laws restrict it, it is probably only a matter of time before your viewing habits will trigger TV ads made just for you.

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Willie D. Jones
 
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