I read a pretty interesting article over at The Wall Street Journal which I don’t really view as an unbiased news source, but which does have massive resources to come up with interesting articles. The article in question talked about how personal information is being used by some cable and satellite operators to target advertising to households much like we do with online advertising.

The article opened with an example of personal data being used to target ads, the content was prescription-drug records obtained from insurance companies. First off, I have to believe that it would be illegal for them to disclose that and if not, then it should be. This is one of those things that I find fault with at WSJ among other problems that plague major media outlets these days which I won’t get into.

For example, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse says this:

Insurance companies are considered financial institutions under the federal GLB law. Like banks and brokerage houses, they must provide you a notice of how they gather and use your customer information. You may have the right to opt-out of sharing some information with other companies.

To learn more about the insurance privacy laws in your state, visit your state’s Department of Insurance website. Find your state’s Department of Insurance by visiting the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website. Medical information gathered by an insurance company may also be shared with others through the Medical Information Bureau (see below).

So if your insurance company were to release that information without notifying you then they have illegally shared that. If you do not know what you have opted-into for your insurance company, I suggest you go opt out of them sharing anything.

But, privacy issues aside, the article did have some valuable information on how TV is finally learning from online advertising. The WSJ article mentions Visible World. Here is copy from their site.

Visible World is the leading provider of targeted television advertising solutions. Our suite of services enables advertisers, agencies, and media companies to target addressable, interactive, and measurable ads.

Visible World Connect is a unique addressable distribution platform that enables advertisers to increase consumer relevance and engagement by targeting messages to specific segments, from national programs, to local neighborhoods, and even down to specific household segments! Connect supports targeting, measurement, and interactivity anywhere TV can be bought today!

Now TV advertising has always been targetable to some extent. There has long been a distinction between national and local advertising slots on the networks. Visible World seems to be taking it to a finer grain and is able to target specific households. I have to believe that one of the ways they do that for things like consumer packaged goods is by acquiring store loyalty purchasing information.Those cards that you sign up for at every store, they generally have your name, address, and track what you purchase. That could then be translated into which cable company serves your address, which means they could then send you advertisements based on your purchasing decisions.

Cable and satellite companies are working on all manner of pinpoint ad targeting. They have to I imagine, it’s the only viable way for them to continue on since online advertising is becoming more and more finely tuned in regards to targeting. In fact, they are trying to do exactly what we do online with ad targeting.

You don’t really see the local granularity until the end when it shows the local agents. It’s no surprise that Visible World also offers online advertising, is it?

The WSJ article also cited Cablevision who has a system in place that allows things like A/B testing and specific demographic targeting based on households simultaneously watching the same show. Cablevision Advertising Sales represents 3 million customers in 30 cable systems in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in addition to handling local commercial advertising for News 12 regional networks, Optimum Autos and Optimum Homes.

One of the most advanced companies, Cablevision Systems Corp., has rolled out a system that can show entirely different commercials, in real time, to different households tuned to the same program. It can deliver targeted ads to all the company’s three million subscribers concentrated in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Generally, they strip personal identifiable information before they make it available to advertisers. So for example, they might know that you watch or rather your set-top box was tuned to a show like Fringe. They can then gather up all the data they collect and say to an advertiser, “We have 500,000 homes watching Fringe, so they are interested in Science Fiction, etc.” An advertiser could then target specific ads that might correlate to sci-fi in some way, much like what is done online.

And the cable and satellite providers know they’re in trouble as the WSJ pointed out,  “This is our Sputnik moment,” said Tracey Scheppach, senior vice president at Starcom MediaVest Group, a unit of advertising firm Publicis Groupe SA.

Nice, they likened themselves to the Space Race, how grandiose.

Anyway, this is nothing shocking or surprising. If TV didn’t go this way, all ad dollars would be in jeopardy of departing for online. What this really does is perhaps slow that trend, if it gains widespread adoption and becomes reliable. But with more and more of us heading online to watch video content, it’s likely that falling audience numbers might still be a larger driving force to push money online than not. I also just read some interesting news that print and TV advertising did far better when coupled with online advertising so it seems that it’s still got a lot of value in comparison.

There are also firms, like Kantar, whom we write about from time to time, that are combining the viewing information with offline purchasing and other behavioral and demographic information that is then sold part and parcel as targeting information so that advertisers and get a more precise use of their money when purchasing ad space for their campaigns. Again, it’s nothing new, we do it online. I recall writing that Brightroll was even able to track things like impact on retail sales based on ad viewing online.

Opting Out of Data Collection

The WSJ article did do people a service in the article. A sidebar gave the following information.

DirecTV subscribers can opt out by contacting the company at (800) 531-5000, www.directv.com/email, or DirecTV Privacy Policy, P.O. Box 6550, Greenwood Village, CO, 80155-6550.

TiVo Inc. says users can opt out by contacting customer support. Details at support.tivo.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1279.

A Charter Communications official says customers can’t opt out of collection of audience-measurement data. The firm says it removes personal details, including names, before sending data to outside companies.

Cablevision Systems Corp., which can show different ads to different households, lets users opt out of seeing targeted ads by calling (888) 425-2591 or by going to www.optimum.net/Privacy/Preferences and selecting an option to not receive Addressable Third Party Advertising. Cablevision says it doesn’t license viewership information.

Comcast Corp. is gearing up for a test of ad-targeting this year. A spokesman said the firm has yet to determine whether there will be an opt-out option, but that “privacy and notification will be key considerations.”

The WSJ article and sidebar were both done by Jessica E. Vascellaro