Digital program insertion (DPI) has pretty much hit the mainstream now that most large cable operators have become fully engaged with digital simulcast deployments, but there remains another hurdle on the horizon for DPI. The next frontier for DPI is inserting fresh ads into the video on demand (VOD) environment. In the existing model, ads are merged with the VOD content several weeks in advance before the content is made available. The holy grail moving forward is to provide more personalized, real time and dynamic ad insertion into the ever-increasing on-demand environment. There have been several recent announcements on this front, including one in Febuary by Comcast Spotlight, which is the advertising sales division for Comcast Cable, and Tandberg Television. Using Tandberg’s AdPoint platform, the goal is to insert ads initially into content on Comcast VOD networks such as SuccessTV, Music Spy Videos and DriverTV, with plans to eventually expand this paradigm to additional on-demand content. Current VOD ads not timely With ads currently being “baked” or “merged” into content ahead of time, advertisers and programmers are limited to running more evergreen type ads and aren’t able to include more timely material. “Today’s technology is redefining how media and advertising will ultimately be delivered to consumers, and AdPoint (which is a combination of software and hardware) is a key component for us to enable that delivery,” said Paul Woidke, Comcast Spotlight’s vice president of technology, in a press release. “The ability to manage both content and distribution is a major competitive differentiator, and having the technology components to do this helps to keep us one step ahead.” Two VOD ad models Comcast, Adelphia and Charter were part of C-COR’s DPI press release in February. Charter will be using C-Cor’s ad insertion solution for its first addressable advertising trial this year. Charter’s Pragash Pillai, VP Advanced Engineering for Digital Video, said there are two common approaches for VOD advertising. One of these methods is called “telescoping.” “Telescoping is where you’re watching a channel and you get a banner or trigger up on your screen,” Pillai said. “There’s a brief intro to the ad, and if you want more information, you click on an icon. When you click on the icon, it transfers you to a VOD platform, and now the long form plays out over the server. “The switching of the ad from the banner to the VOD server requires a thin client in the set-top box, and the ad is played out of the VOD server similar to a VOD session. It’s pretty straightforward.” The other method for future VOD advertising creates a more personalized approach when customers opt in to provide information. The playlist concept works with the existing VOD business management system (BMS), system resource manager (SRM), and asset management system (AMS) by adding what Pillai calls the “ad decision system” and the “enforcer system.” “The ad decision system is responsible for associating the advertisement with the programming,” Pillai said. “It will tell you what ad is supposed to play with what content. The enforcer system is responsible for making sure that the decision made by the ad decision system has been enforced effectively. It’s essentially software that is doing all of this functionality.” When an ad comes in from a broadcast company, empty spots are placed in front of and behind the video asset when it’s encoded, according to Pillai. A video metadata identifies the spot, and the enforcer populates the spot, or triggering location, with the advertisement from the ad decision system. “I can actually customize the playlist by knowing the user by having some data gathered,” he said. “It becomes a customized playlist like an iPod playlist. “The nice thing about this is that everything is done on the VOD server, so you don’t need to have an additional system to splice ads, which is much more complicated on the linear side. With this system, we’re leveraging existing infrastructure with the addition of some software.” Pillai said Charter “will have something this year” on the playlist front for VOD addressable advertising. Charter is also looking at what level of granularity will work best with personalized ads. In theory, ads could be replaced every 30 minutes, but that would require a much more robust backend system, and the return may not be that much greater than replacing them every other day. “Eventually, it’s (addressable advertising) going to look like the Internet model,” Pillai said. “When you go to Google and do a search, a search engine populates those (ad) spots, but the ad you see is not the ad I see. They populate them on the fly based on some mathematics and IP addresses.” Ad revenues bolster VOD platform One of the benefits to addressable and dynamic advertising in the VOD world is that it can provide a new revenue stream for free content. Last October, Comcast passed the 1 billion mark for programs viewed through its VOD systems, and with a footprint of more than 21 million homes, the new advertising model would open the floodgates for VOD revenues. A recent report said customers may not want to pay for each piece of video content piecemeal, instead preferring a monthly subscription that lets them get all of the movies. This is consistent with todays subscription VOD (SVOD) model with offerings from networks such as HBO and Starz. “That doesn’t really give us a good payback immediately, so in my mind we need advertising as a piece to support some of the VOD capital,” Pillai said. “In my mind, ads will have some role in subsidizing the VOD platform.” Products For a rundown of some of the DPI and related VOD products both on the market and coming soon, check out the sidebar .. Mike Robuck is associate editor of Communications Technology. Reach him at Sidebar DPI Product Roundup The following comprises some of the products found in the DPI and related VOD and digital simulcast categories (specifically mentioned in the article on VOD/DPI convergence are Tandberg’s AdPoint and C-COR’s DPI insertion platform): Ad Server platforms – SeaChange International’s Spot Digital Transport Stream Inserter series – C-COR’s IP-based DPI insertion platform Decoder (for use in simulcast scenarios) – RGB’s Simulcast Edge Processor – VCom’s CableVista Edge Decoder Encoder (Most support SCTE standards) A recent entrant: – EGT’s DPI RateLock (launched at NCTA) Insertion Systems (for linear ads) – Triveni Digital’s StreamBridge CR30 DPI – Wegener’s Compel Q DPI System Management/Backoffice – Tandberg Television’s AdPoint Management/Configuration – Harmonic’s NMX Digital Service Manager DPI Server – Scientific-Atlanta’s ROSA Video Processor/Splicer – BigBand Networks’ Broadband Multimedia Router – Motorola’s TMX 2010 Transport Multiplex – RGB’s Broadcast Network Processor (unveiled at NCTA) – Scopus Video Networks’ IVG-7500 Intelligent Video Splicer – Scientific-Atlanta’s Digital Content Manager – Terayon’s DM 6400 Network CherryPicker

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