France Télévisions takes ad targeting over DTT to household level

France Télévisions has taken advanced advertising over digital terrestrial a step further by demonstrating targeting down to household level using the HbbTV hybrid broadcast platform. This goes beyond previous trials or deployments where targeting over the latest DVB-T2 networks has either been just at a transmitter level or in combination with an OTT service over the internet. The aim here is to show that the broadcast service alone can enable targeting with the help of a suitable platform such as HbbTV and signals via the SCTE 35 standard to determine when and where to splice alternate ads in. SCTE 35 is the joint standard from ANSI and the Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers – describing how to insert cue tones inside broadcast MPEG Transport streams.

This comes at a time of growing interest in the US over the potential of the emerging ATSC 3.0 digital terrestrial standard for more advanced services including ad targeting. The standard, due for first implementation in 2020, was developed later than DVB-T2, which holds sway in Europe as well as some Asian countries, and was designed from the ground up for hybrid broadcast/broadband services. However, the France Télévisions demonstration is designed to show that DVB-T2 can also deliver advanced advertising with targeting down to household level, even if it does require the hybrid HbbTV platform.

France Télévisions has been testing substitution of a commercial with a targeted spot on DTT households equipped with HbbTV-compliant set tops though its advertising arm FranceTV Publicité, in conjunction with the country’s DTT transmission company TDF along with advertisers Sofinco and St Hubert. The ground was laid a year ago when two of France Télévisions’ channels, France 2 and France 4, started offering targeted advertising by area served by each transmitter. This allowed spot ads aired nationally to be replaced by local ads in all households with DTT sets within each transmitter area. Advertisers were then able to broadcast a national advertising spot for the whole of France several times a day and simultaneously switch in another spot aimed solely at the inhabitants of a given region.

This made use of the AdsEdge technology designed to insert pre-stored targeted content into a live stream over in principle any network. This supports standard interfaces, combining the functions of the Ad Server and Splicer. It uses an Ad Server to store content files as well as schedule files that list all the insertions to be performed during the day, while also generating data for advertisers. It then acts as a Splicer to update the live stream with ad content upon reception of the SCTE 35 triggers.

Since then some other European broadcasters have launched full campaigns using similar addressable advertising techniques over DTT at the regional level. SevenOne Media, the advertising sales subsidiary of German broadcast group ProSiebenSat.1, in October 2018 ran an addressable TV advertising campaign with media agency pilot Hamburg for four weeks. This enabled addressability by city so that viewers in Cologne saw a different commercial than those in say Munich, delivered again via IP targeting using HbbTV 1.5.

But these were only at a regional level and now France Télévisions has applied HbbTV to take it down to the household. Such household level targeting can be accomplished by combining the broadcast stream with an OTT service to deliver the various ads to be inserted. Alternatively, the ads can be downloaded in advance to the set top and spliced in from there as the content is played out to the TV set.

France Télévisions did not make clear which technique it used and did not respond in time to our query. However, it did point out that commercial targeting of ads over broadcast services was still prohibited in France anyway and so going live would require relaxation of the rules there.

Elsewhere though the race is on among pay TV operators, as well as broadcasters, to offer addressable advertising. Liberty Global in December 2018 announced it was deploying a cloud-based platform from New York based Cadent to enable targeting of ads to households within its cable TV services. Its UK subsidiary Virgin Media will be first to deploy the new platform, largely because it has already been working with Sky’s Ad Smart technology which has supported addressable advertising since 2014. Liberty Global chose Cadent because it has APIs that can integrate with third-party advanced advertising systems including AdSmart. Other European broadcasters and operators are therefore very much playing catchup with Sky over addressable advertising.