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Richard Green

President and CEO, CableLabs

How he’s innovating: It has been said that when cable companies feel threatened, they form a joint venture.

And with Google threatening to transition its dominant acumen for targeted advertising into traditional media platforms including cable television, now would be a good time for each of the major cable carriers to get in the same figurative boat and start rowing the same direction.

Enter the appropriately code-named Project Canoe, a joint industry initiative, technology for which is being developed by the nonprofit cable industry research and development consortium CableLabs, based in Louisville, Colo.

Set to be introduced publicly in greater detail later this year, Canoe would replace the technologically isolated “kayaks” of the top cable MSOs with a single, simplified set of standards for the design of two-way set-top boxes.

The technology — based on the same Java-based code as Blu-ray — would not only enable a whole range of interactive features for cable customers, it would allow for far more advanced audience tabulation and “addressability” for advertisers.

In short, the boxes would allow cable companies to gather more data on their customers: Just as Google knows what sites you surf and what you buy online, cable companies would now keep track of what you watch and conduct surveys on your tastes and purchasing habits. This, in turn, would allow advertisers to, among other new things, “telescope” their ads so that, say, cat food ads only get delivered to cat owners.

Not coincidentally, the sudden acceleration of the decade-old Canoe initiative comes as the all-powerful Google is experimenting with addressable advertising on Dish Network. In February, Comcast announced it would provide between $50 million and $70 million to help kickstart Canoe.

“We’ve probably been working on this for 10 years, but competition is certainly an element in moving this thing forward,” Green says.

How long it will take to replace millions of older set-top boxes with these standardized next-generation devices will “depend on many market forces,” Green notes, but he adds that Comcast wants to roll them out “as fast as they can.”

Take: “What this platform will do is introduce a common set of software and create a two-way experience for the viewer,” says Green, explaining the interactive capabilities of Canoe. “Everyone can now vote people off the island.”

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