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Orange and CANAL+ Group test linear addressable advertising ahead of hoped-for regulatory approval

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Orange and CANAL+ Group have conducted what are said to be the first proof-of-concept tests for linear addressable ‘broadcast’ TV advertising in France. The trial began last September over the Orange IPTV network using a specially updated ‘player’ application within the set-top boxes. This enables advertisements that are being unicast to effectively replace the standard multicast feed. Thus, every household watches the multicast, but different homes see different unicast ads during a break.

The two companies have been testing addressable advertising for 18 months, having focused originally on Replay (catch-up) TV services to decide how to handle personal identification, anonymity and other privacy issues. This latest trial was focused on technical delivery and was designed to highlight some of the methodologies that can be harnessed across the rest of the French TV ecosystem, to encourage harmonisation.

Thibaut Mathieu, Director of Anticipation for Interactive and Multiscreen Services at Orange, and Virginie Dremeaux, Digital Marketing Director for CANAL+REGIE, outlined their work at Future TV Advertising Forum in December. A video showed a standard multicast ad break playing out in two homes, then splitting into different ads as one home received an addressable unicast ad.

The new Orange player application contains three players: one to play out the original multicast and two to insert ads. The addressable ads can be delivered through either of the unicast players. If one addressable advertisement is served via ‘Player 2’, the next one could be delivered via ‘Player 3’, ensuring a seamless switch and a good user experience. The SCTE 35 protocol is used for messaging.

Mathieu explained that viewers who tune-away from an advertising break – which is 30% of all users according to Orange figures – can still be served addressable ads if they return to the channel later in the break. “This is a core business requirement, and from a technical point of view we must be agile enough to handle it,” he said.

Mathieu predicted that addressable TV advertising would deliver EURO 200 million of incremental revenue to the French television industry over the next three years – half of it from geo-targeting via the TV.

France will arrive relatively late to this party because of a 1992 regulation that says a live TV feed should contain the same advertisements for all households. CANAL+ Regie’s Virginie Dremeaux called the rule “pre-historic”, but she is hopeful that industry lobbying of the French government will pay off and this barrier to targeting will be lifted this year, or maybe in 2019.

The need for action is increasingly urgent. She told FTVA delegates: “For the second year in a row in France, investment in digital [advertising] is higher than for TV. We are concerned about that. We consider addressable TV a potential lever for our economic growth.”

Mathieu views the current regulation as a threat to the whole TV ecosystem. IPTV is a major part of the Pay TV universe in France, and he noted: “We have the biggest market share among IPTV operators. And if the IPTV world does not evolve in France, we are sure that the TV market will not evolve.”

Dremeaux admitted that it took some time to get everyone, including all the broadcasters, behind addressable TV. “I think we are all aligned now.” As well as putting pressure on regulators, the French TV industry has been working towards some harmonisation in how audience segments are defined, data is handled, ads are delivered, and how results are verified.

The first set of Orange/CANAL+ tests, in September 2016, helped to establish the ground rules for privacy, including how you handle opt-ins. Orange is putting privacy and user control at the heart of the experience. “We are not coming from the OTT world – and this is not Facebook or Google. We want to protect the personal life of our customers,” Mathieu emphasised.

Once addressable is enabled, Orange customers will provide their informed consent via the set-top box – or choose to opt-out. They will be able to change their choice later, easily. Orange is proposing that the set-top box ID will be renewed every 24 hours to guarantee anonymity. And of course, only Orange will have access to household profiles, even if anonymised data associated with them is shared with channel owners.

Dremeaux believes that linear addressable TV advertising will deliver the best of TV and digital for advertisers. “Some [media] budget is moving to digital so we must consider how we reverse that trend and bring it back. We think addressable TV is an appropriate answer.”

She argues that TV is still in great shape – and is still delivering excellent reach for advertisers, with French TV totalling 1 billion ad contacts per month last year. “That is far more than YouTube or Facebook could achieve in the same time,” she pointed out. “TV is still very powerful and that is before you mention brand safety and verified measurement, and attention and engagement.”

With 60% of the ad contacts in France delivered through a connected set-top box already, she says the country is ready for addressable. Everyone is still waiting for regulators to turn their attention to this subject – but there is still opposition to television geo-targeting (one of the potential high-value gains for TV) from the out-of-home and print industries.

The ‘delays’ have at least encouraged collaboration and some common understanding within the French TV industry. Given the inter-dependence of broadcasters and platform owners, and the need for multiple operators to deploy before addressable reaches scale, we could find that France moves quickly when the regulatory barriers are removed.

Photo: Thibaut Mathieu of Orange

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