WSJ: Google selling, tailoring cable TV ads

Google is working with a small broadband provider in Concord, Calif. to tailor cable television ads to specific audiences.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Google is working with a small broadband provider in Concord, Calif. to tailor cable television ads to specific audiences. In other words, Google is trying to do the same targeting in cable television that it does with keywords.

The news, reported by The Wall Street Journal Saturday (subscription required), indicates that while Google has had its share of problems working with old media (CBS and Viacom) it is gaining some pals (BBC for instance).
The Journal describes the Google effort as just a toehold to its television ambitions, but getting better targeting of advertising is a direction the entire cable industry is heading. All Google has to do is get a slice of television advertising and it'll fuel its growth for years to come. As Donna Bogatin reported in December and August, Google hasn't been shy about its television ambitions. Google sees TV ads as a waste land just begging for better targeting and return on investment for advertisers.

According to the Journal:

Google since last year has been steering TV commercials to subscribers of cable provider Astound Broadband, a unit of WaveDivision Holdings LLC, according to four people familiar with the matter. When Astound's customers watch TV, some commercials spots they see have been sold to advertisers by Google and delivered to the cable company so they appear in the normal breaks in programming as other ads do.

The effort is early, but could highlight things to come. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has mentioned that Google is tinkering with TV advertising but never got specific.

There are hurdles to this plan though. Google has to walk the line of serving better ads without targeting via personally identifiable information. In other words, consumers may have to share information with Google to get better ad targeting.

The Journal reports:

The Concord effort, being conducted with a small group of advertisers, is aimed at testing the computer and network infrastructure needed for Google to broker and deliver commercials to cable systems more widely. In the test, advertisers are buying commercial placements through an auction system, people familiar with the matter say. But it is at an early enough stage that the buys are being handled manually by Google salespeople, rather than through a full-fledged automated auction like the one Google uses to sell ads online, one of the people says.

So far, Google isn't targeting specific households and as it moves along with this project a privacy backlash is possible. For instance, what's to stop Google from comparing its cable information with its own customer information? It may not be that hard to target an individual household. After all, every time we visit a Web page we leave a "clickprint" that can get pretty close to identifying a person.

But if the Astound effort works out other cable providers may be receptive. Unlike the companies like Viacom cable firms have no content issues with Google. Google and cable companies are both content distributors. Working off those similarities may result in more partnerships in the future--especially if there's money to be made.  

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