In a deal that recalls the late-90's enthusiasm for the geotargeting promise of newfangled wireless technologies, CBS plans to begin selling ads targeted to the neighborhood or even block level. The capabilities come through a data alliance with Loopt, a mobile social network that pinpoints users' location with the help of carriers.
The ad offering may well avoid the spam-stigma associated with direct messaging on phones. That's because ads will only appear when opted-in Loopt users visit one of CBS' mobile properties, for instance the mobile versions of CBS Sports and CBS News. When they do, CBS will recognize their exact location and have the option of serving an ad for services in the surrounding blocks.
Cyriac Roeding, EVP of CBS Mobile, said his team will initially sell the placements to national advertisers with local branches and franchises, and might later sell to local advertisers through CBS-owned stations and affiliates.
"Media agencies want to increase efficiency and effectiveness of their ad spend, and obviously we're helping them with that," he said.
Loopt's service works using GPS as well as cell tower triangulation data from Sprint's network. For now Sprint and its Boost Mobile unit are Loopt's only carrier partners, but the firm claims it will shortly announce other carrier relationships. Until it does, subscribers to other networks can use neither Loopt's geo-targeting features or be served hyper-local ads. Since its launch in late 2006, Loopt said "hundreds of thousands" of people have used the service, but declined to say how many of those users were returning.
Its deal with CBS marks Loopt's first foray into advertising. A spokesperson said consumers must explicitly opt in to receive geo-targeted ads from CBS advertisers. The mobile social network has not begun offering the local ad opt-in to new users, but plans to do so immediately.
The CBS/Loopt deal is not exclusive and Loopt is free to allow other ad sellers to use geo-location data supplied by its carrier partners. The company has no immediate plans to sign other ad sales agreements, however.
The technical limits on who can be served an ad raise the question of how many consumers CBS will be able to reach with its new mobile initiative. Roeding said his direct sales team will begin selling the location-based ads in Q2 as part of a "trial phase." CBS says its mobile properties brought in 5 million unique individuals during Q4 and recorded approximately 75 million page views.
"It's getting serious now," said Roeding, referring to mobile ad sales in general. "We're getting out of these testing stages and we're now talking to large brands about more significant dollars."
The next step he added is to simplify mobile ad buying. "We can't have this complexity that's almost endemic for mobile," he said. "Media agencies need to be able to book ad space with a simple call."
In addition to its direct sales force led by Rich Calacci, CBS Mobile now works with four mobile ad networks: Third Screen Media, Millenial Media, AdMob and Rhythm New Media.
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