Comcast dresses up Sky AdSmart as its own, enticing cable rivals

US cable has formed a united front in addressable advertising, with Cox and Charter wasting no time signing up to Comcast’s newly launched On Addressability initiative – attacking the addressable marketplace from the standpoint that it should begin with the content distributors and only that way can it enhance the entire advertising ecosystem. A little arrogant, perhaps, considering Comcast On Addressability is essentially Sky AdSmart in disguise.

It came to light earlier this year that Comcast was beginning to adopt AdSmart in the US – at a time when initial commercial deployments of addressable advertising within broadcast have been confined to vertical systems defined by pay TV operators like Sky. There’s a slim chance Comcast will admit to On Addressability being Sky AdSmart dressed up in new US cable clothes, but we have tested the waters for comment anyway and will update on the off chance we hear back.

It would make perfect sense though, given the resounding success of the European pay TV powerhouse’s addressable advertising initiative – so why would the cable giant bother building an entirely new addressable platform?

Indeed, Comcast can hardly deny our assertations given the integration of AdSmart assets with NBCUniversal’s Audience Studio back in March, in what was clearly a precursor to AdSmart making the trip in the opposite direction. The NBCU deal essentially aimed to provide better international reach and measurement for brands, forming an advertising monster feasting on data from 50 million set tops – funneled into something called an AI-powered contextual media planning tool for TV. This essentially entails slotting ads into relevant US content with the aim of bringing consumers an “organic viewing experience.”

If there transpires to be distinct differences between the foundations of On Addressability and Sky AdSmart then Comcast has done a poor job making it clear. Comcast Advertising’s main marketing spiel is helping distributors on addressable frontiers by working on definitions and standards, as well as educating advertisers on use cases and values of a fully-activated addressable world. It will also look at identifying best practices and business standards for transacting on addressable campaigns for inventory and content owners. All very fluffy – but how does it work?

While On Addressability lacks its own technical explanation (suspicious?), we know that the original SkySmart ad technology – as it was then known – was built around Cisco technologies, making Sky’s recent investment in NDS spinout Synamedia an apt one. Synamedia has promised to deliver online video advertising with systems like AdSmart and to supply operators with better big data. The company has spoken about supplying a similar system to Adsmart – which allows both addressable advertising on the broadcast system and push VoD storage of adverts on local DVRs, as well as programmatic sales of online video adverts.

AdSmart also appeals due to its flexibility in being integrated with third party APIs, for example from Cadent Technology (née Black Arrow), which was selected by Liberty Global in December 2018 to deploy a cloud-based platform to enable targeting of ads to households within its cable TV services.

AdSmart has risen in popularity even to the extent of inking a deal with rival UK operator Virgin Media in June 2017 for programmatic advertising. This linked Liberty Global’s ad system with Sky’s AdSmart to allow programmatic deals to be offered across both in one pass – meaning more programmatic purchases directly from both operators.

Embracing addressability by cleverly segmenting audiences to drive up revenues per hour of broadcasting is a no brainer – and advanced addressable advertising technologies like AdSmart are there for the taking to give companies like Sky a notable advantage. Although it’s worth noting AdSmart doesn’t come cheap.

But while operators like Comcast, Sky, Charter and Cox are embracing addressable advertising, some broadcasters and networks have been unable to follow suit because they have been denied real-time access to viewership information, as well as the ability to insert ads dynamically in individual homes.

Comcast used this week’s launch to hit home how addressable advertising needs a collaborative effort between marketers, content owners, measurement companies and technology providers. Research conducted recently by Comcast Advertising shows that the majority of advertisers would be willing to buy more addressable TV advertising if there were better measurement systems, with 53% of respondents choosing this as top priority. Other key challenges identified are proof of ROI (51%), easier to buy at scale (48%), more addressable inventory (34%), agreed upon standards across the industry (34%), better ways to ensure consumer privacy (32%), more secure ways to share data (31%), and better understanding of appropriate use cases (29%).

President of Advertising at Comcast Cable, Marcien Jenckes, said, “TV is a tremendous, resilient medium with unparalleled reach and engagement, but data has changed the way that marketers use media. Historically, TV has lagged digital in this area, and this must change. Our industry needs to find a way to fully participate in, and lead, the data-driven future of advertising as only TV can. We’re fully committed to making this happen. That’s the impetus behind the On Addressability initiative.”

There remains great interest over how Sky’s strategy will evolve under Comcast, how the two will be aligned and the only clear message so far is that Sky’s AdSmart will figure prominently in an accelerated addressable advertising push both in Europe and the US.