OpenTV Launches Ad Server

Interactive television software firm OpenTV is aiming to make profile-based TV advertising a reality with the introduction of its ad serving solution.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based iTV player, which sells set-top box middleware, delivery applications and Web browsers, now plans to begin marketing OpenTV Advertise, its foray into the digital television advertising market. Using the software, a content producer or television network can traffic ads in iTV content and applications, as well as manage billing and campaign reporting.

Similarly to Web advertising, OpenTV Advertise ads could be targeted based on recipients’ profiles. In developing the product, OpenTV worked with Cambridge, Mass.-based Predictive Networks, a startup that builds anonymous iTV user profiles based on behavior — channel surfing and use of Internet features via TV.

The launch is expected to greatly expedite the roll-out of targeted iTV advertising, which despite several deals and alliances, has seen little in the way of actual product. OpenTV Advertise works only in connection with the company’s middleware platform, which is installed on 23.5 million set-top boxes globally, through alliances with more than 50 network operators — handily topping a list of competitors that include Liberate Technologies (which is currently embroiled in a patent suit with OpenTV) and Microsoft Corp. .

WOW Digital TV, which manufacturers set-top boxes for broadcast reception of digital television and iTV signals, has signed on as the first customer of OpenTV Advertise. WOW is currently testing its technology in conjunction with KSL-TV, a Salt Lake City-based NBC affiliate.

“As a complete ad management, delivery and insertion software solution, OpenTV Advertise empowers network operators, content providers and advertisers with the opportunity to learn more about their target audiences and tailor campaigns accordingly,” said Michael Collette, senior vice president marketing and business development at OpenTV. “We believe OpenTV Advertise can provide a better focused interactive advertising campaign that ultimately translates to a more personalized interactive viewing experience for the consumer and a better return on advertising dollars.”

The new product competes with rivals’ advertising offerings, which include an alliance between online ad server DoubleClick and Liberate. Others in the field include iMAKE Software & Services, a partner (and former subsidiary) of DoubleClick rival 24/7 Real Media , that also has deals with SeaChange International and Pace Micro Technologies.

While marketers might salivate at the prospect of tracking and targeting television advertising, such efforts are more immediately likely to further fan the flames of controversy surrounding iTV profiling. Consumer advocacy groups like the Center for Digital Democracy have charged that cable companies and interactive TV firms are working to skirt the tenets of the 1984 Communications Policy Act, which forbids cable companies’ from collecting and sharing users’ viewing habits.

Meanwhile, industry groups contend that they’ve done nothing at odds with the Act — which may not cover satellite and other types of TV signal delivery. Predictive Networks, for its part, says it does not collect personally identifiable information, nor does it save or share any individual’s channel viewing data. Rather, the company’s technology generates a profile by analyzing viewing data; after contributing to the profile, the data is discarded.

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