Targeted cable-TV commercials are coming.
Targeted TV advertising has been talked about for decades -- I myself was writing about it back in the mid 90s, and it was hardly a new concept then -- but this long-promised TV-of-the-future technology is taking a big step forward with news that a consortium of the six biggest U.S. cable-TV companies (serving roughly 50 million homes) are investing $150 million to make it real. It's called "Project Canoe." (See Who's Rowing 'Project Canoe'?)
Someday off in the future, when the ultimate history of television is finally written, the switch to individualized, targeted advertising will exceed the significance of even such developments as color, cable, satellite TV and flat panels. (And most certainly hi-def!)
Of course, in a vague and broad sense, targeted advertising has been around for years with different ad campaigns and messages for different regions of the U.S. or for different TV markets.
But that's painting in broad strokes, compared with individualizing the ads to match the household, or even the viewer -- just add face recognition technology to the TV, and given the limited choices, the technical problem of identifying individuals is almost trivial. As for consumer acceptance -- just offer discounts on cable-TV service, and resistance will melt quickly. (Comcast, the biggest cable-TV company in the U.S., is already talking about placing TV cameras in subscribers' living rooms to see who is watching!)
The cable companies are actually playing catch-up to satellite-TV provider Echostar (Dish TV), who already has a deal with Google to develop targeted advertising. (Though few customers know about it, Google is already monitoring the TV watching habits of millions of Echostar households, via software already installed in the satellite set top boxes.)
Ironically, DSL-delivered TV may have some inherent advantages, since a separate stream goes to each set top box already. Whether cable-TV chooses to switch video/audio streams for ad insertion at the settop box, at the headend, or somewhere in-between, there's sure to be opportunity for integrated circuit and IP vendors ahead. But, as with the video surveillance explosion (see Big Brother's business is booming), this comes at the price of ever-dwindling privacy.