Whether intended or not, big cable ops have set expectations rather high for their Canoe Ventures project designed to bring in up to $15bln per year in addressable advertising revenue. And now that Canoe’s well-respected ad guru CEO David Verklin is at the helm and the company ramps up for its Q1 2009 launch, expectations have perhaps reached levels that will be difficult to satiate—at least initially. This is Canoe’s primary challenge. Sure, it would be nice if the ad platform actually works and attracts a decent slate of top advertisers.

But the expectation game is its own animal, often capable of making or breaking a product. This applies to any situation. Take Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin, whose performance at Thurs’ debate will almost certainly go “better than expected” because of the media skewering she has endured in the last week. Expectations are lowered. So she really needs only avoid major gaffes to exceed them. Canoe, on the other hand, has been riding a wave of relative excitement similar to the early days of Palin. But like Palin, Canoe’s honeymoon may be coming to a fast end—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as its network starts to roll out next year. Lowered expectations mean it will have more room to evolve into a useful service rather than shine on Day One. Skepticism has already started percolating: A new Pike & Fischer study predicts that cable operators will fall short of reaching their $15bln annual revenue target over the next 5 years. In fact, it argues that “the ultimate value of the investments in these advertising technologies will be significantly less than the industry is hoping.”

Meanwhile, a piece this week in Advertising Age—the Bible trade publication for Madison Avenue—interviewed a litany of ad execs who while pleased that cable’s trying to add addressability were relatively lukewarm about Canoe’s initial “Creative Versioning Platform.” The basic take was that it doesn’t yet provide enough granularity. They want to separately target each household, and even different TVs within each household—a freedom advertisers now enjoy when it comes to the Internet marketing. Canoe isn’t quite there yet, although many expect that capability will become reality in the next 2 or 3 years. Until then, Canoe is playing the expectation game. And lowering them isn’t such a bad thing—as long as Canoe’s full promise eventually gets realized.

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