Targetted ads: US service providers opt for the opt in

26 Nov Targetted ads: US service providers opt for the opt in

TelecomTV, UK, By Brad Fitzpatrick, November 25, 2008
Targeted advertising for Internet users has met with a firestorm of criticism from privacy advocates and legislators in the US, but despite the flak several service providers seem set to go ahead and deploy targeted ad capabilities in their networks in the next year or two. Instead of focusing targeted ads at Internet users, the service providers intend to aim them at their own developing IPTV subscriber bases. While these service providers haven’t talked publicly about how they will use those capabilities, some of their vendor partners believe they have an opportunity to better explain a network process that previously led to so much controversy, and to gain customer support by giving users the choice of whether or not they want to opt in to a targeted ad program. Targeted advertising is based on the idea of providing customers with ads for products and services that are likely to care most about, given their usage patterns and service preferences. The stated benefit is the same as with the related, broader concept of service personalisation: Customers who are able to access service features and content—including ads – packaged around their unique desires and interests are more likely to be happy customers. The technology most closely associated with targeted advertising thus far has been deep packet inspection. DPI has great potential to help service providers manage network traffic, and to help them draw intelligence from traffic and usage patterns that ultimately can be used to improve the service experience of end users. However, DPI has suffered from at least two instances of poor decision-making by service providers. First, it was applied by U.S. cable TV firm Comcast Corp. in a way that inhibited the broadband usage of some peer-to-peer Internet users, a result that Comcast denied was intentional. Second, a number of other service providers who used DPI technology this year to collect user behaviour information and conduct targeted ad trials did not – in the eyes of the aforementioned privacy advocates and legislators – adequately inform customers of those trials, or their rights to participate or withdraw. But DPI is just one piece of the targeted advertising puzzle. Another thus far less-controversial piece – on full display at the recent TelcoTV 2008 conference and exhibition in Anaheim, California – is represented by the ad insertion technologies that actually splice TV content and place the ads. Ad insertion has been done by cable TV providers for years, as a way of delivering regional and local TV commercial to local audiences. Thierry Fautier, director of solutions marketing at IPTV vendor Harmonic, Inc., said that while cable TV firms have used ad insertion to a limited extent, U.S.