• All Eyes on Cable Industry's "Project Canoe"

    To the disappointment of many, it looks like there won't be any big news about the cable industry's "Project Canoe" at the Cable Show convention in New Orleans this week.

    Project Canoe is a high-profile partnership among the nation's six largest cable companies (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Bright House Networks) to enable national interactive advertising campaigns to be executed across the companies' cable operations. The code-name Canoe is meant to emphasize that cable operators are working together in the same boat, so to speak.

    For the past nine months, the partners' Canoe leads have been meeting weekly. Once a top secret initiative, Canoe's existence was leaked in a September, 2007 Wall Street Journal article. But since then there has been no new information, leading to speculation about how much progress has been made.

    Yet Canoe remains a top priority throughout the industry, and for good reason. With big advertisers like GM and Intel shifting their once big-budgeted TV ad campaigns to the Internet in significant sums, it's key that the cable operators need to figure out a way to not only protect the $5 billion or so that they generate in spot-cable advertising today, but also to increase their piece of the $70 billion dollar TV ad spend or cut into other slices of the massive US total ad spend pie. The next 3-5 years will be critical as cable advertising, the Internet and broadband video jostle for advertisers' affections.

    The buzz in New Orleans suggests advertisers and agencies are excited about Canoe, though its development seems slower than they prefer. Why the slow progress that's perceived? Several operators stated that integrating the infrastructure required to execute Canoe with cable's legacy systems is hard stuff. No doubt. Then of course there are other key priorities weighing on the industry resources, such as the February 2009 digital transition.

    Meanwhile, the Internet and broadband video advertising continue steaming ahead, giving advertisers and their agencies the measurement and targetability that they yearn for on TV. Cable operators have been stymied in their ability to jointly offer advertisers easy access to a nationwide or near-nationwide footprint, especially critical for Video on Demand. Canoe addresses this and other opportunities, in part by creating a set of standards for all to follow.

    The only Canoe "news" at this week's Cable Show came from Comcast's Steve Burke, who stated that a CEO would be announced on June 1. Comcast is a key player in Canoe, funding between $50-70 million of the $150 million initial investment. Rumors have swirled that David Verklin, who recently stepped down as CEO of Aegis North America (a large advertising services firm) will assume the position of CEO. If true, that could be the news to break on June 1.

    For those of us who have been around the interactive advertising and TV mulberry bush for many years, Canoe's potential is exciting. But we're hoping that the Canoe gets it in gear. Paddle on, gang.

    What do you think of Project Canoe's prospects? Post a comment now!