Atlas Positioning to Shoulder VOD Ads

May 23, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Aquantive’s digital technology division, Atlas, has entered the video-on-demand business via a partnership with VOD software- and server-maker SeaChange to introduce VOD advertising campaign software.

The Atlas on Demand software is designed to help advertising agencies optimize their VOD campaigns. Aquantive is a digital marketing services and technology company.

Within VOD inner circles it had been expected for some time that Atlas would make a play in VOD space. That’s because Scott Ferris, senior VP and general manager of the new Atlas on Demand division, has had a vocal presence in cable industry groups. He serves as the chairperson for ID!A’s data/metrics committee for VOD, a part of nonprofit digital media consulting group DiMA, and is a member of CTAM’s On-Demand Consortium.

“[Atlas on Demand] is a media planning buying campaign management tool to optimize or make the most value of inventory,” Mr. Ferris said.

Atlas plans to build its early VOD business through the relationship with established VOD player SeaChange. As part of the partnership, SeaChange will integrate Atlas on Demand advertising tools into its VOD software. That will enable Atlas to reach SeaChange’s cable operator customers, allowing those operators to link up with the agencies using Atlas that place on-demand buys.

Though Atlas is launching with SeaChange, the technology is platform-agnostic and can work with any VOD provider or platform, Mr. Ferris said. Atlas hopes to strike deals with other VOD platforms to grow its usage. Atlas on Demand will be available in the first quarter of 2006.

The Atlas migration into VOD is noteworthy for three reasons: It’s another step toward better measurement and understanding of VOD; it’s the first tool set targeted to agencies; and it’s the latest example of how online tools are converging into the TV space.

SeaChange will roll out the Atlas capability as it simultaneously fires up technology it’s been testing to enable VOD ad insertion on a household-by-household basis, allowing advertisers to target individual homes. Though marketers probably won’t want to speak directly to individual consumers, they can use the capability to target more finely specific groups or niches within a neighborhood, such as bicycling fans or kayaking aficionados. SeaChange is testing the household-targeting capability with a cable operator and an alternative on-demand service provider.

Targeted ad delivery is one of the capabilities of Atlas on Demand. The software effectively manages the “life cycle of VOD,” Mr. Ferris said, because it adds the front-end component of handling media planning and buying along with the trafficking of the ads and ultimately the analytics of who watched the ads and for how long. That last piece is also what entrenched VOD measurement firms such as Rentrak and Everstream are best known for, though they provide data to the multiple system operators while Atlas will target agencies.

Online software tool Atlas Online helps agencies aggregate the gross ratings points, or impressions, that they achieve on the Internet and interpret them into reach and frequency. Atlas will do the same with VOD, Mr. Ferris explained. Advertisers can then create reports on a campaign. Atlas on Demand will let advertisers replace ads that aren’t being viewed with more effectives ones and to rotate ads.

“We are about making the agencies successful, and to do that they need to understand [what inventory is available], how it’s priced,” Mr. Ferris said.

Atlas’ clients for its online product include Mediaedge:cia, Initiative Media and OMD.

Atlas on Demand will be built into Atlas’ existing online tools, allowing agencies to use one campaign management tool for both online and on-demand.

Mediaedge is considering using the on-demand system, said Mike Bologna, director of emerging communications at the agency. “The industry is taking off and there is definitely a need for measurement and accountability and Atlas is putting together a platform with agencies in mind,” he said. “We have a very good existing relationship in the online world, so it makes sense to extend that relationship in the on-demand world.”

Working with SeaChange helps establish a certain degree of uniformity for advertisers since SeaChange systems are installed in more than 100 markets in the United States across eight of the top 10 cable operators. That reach makes it possible for agencies to view the success of a campaign across various MSOs, rather than trying to parse together how a buy fared based on disparate data from different MSOs.

Atlas also has an advantage of familiarity as it enters the market, since it’s already on the desktops at many agencies, said James Kelso, VP and general manager for advertising systems at SeaChange. Atlas on Demand should help on-demand advertisers understand not just whether an ad was viewed but whether it was effective, he said.

“Atlas is helping agencies figure out how they want to address this marketplace, how they want to create a campaign and tweak it,” Mr. Kelso said. “So our partnership is very useful in learning what this business ultimately needs to evolve to. Everyone is sure there is a pot of gold in household-level advertising.”

The migration of companies from online into VOD is a natural progression, said Pat Dunbar, co-founder of the ID!A program, a project managed by the DiMA Group to develop advertising guidelines for VOD. Many of the people heading up new media at ad agencies have come from the online space and are used to seeing data that comes out of the Web-tracking rather than sampling data, she said. “The expectation because VOD is digital is that those same metrics will be available,” she said.