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Disney, NBCU, Turner, CBS and More Join Vizio-Led Addressable TV Advertising Consortium

Can the TV biz finally get its act together to target ads to viewers the way internet companies have done for years?

A new consortium, led by TV manufacturer Vizio, is promising to assemble the right technology platform and media partners to make addressable ads on television a reality — as soon as early 2020.

The group, dubbed “Project OAR” (for “Open Addressable Ready”), said it will define technical standards for TV programmers and platforms to deliver targeted advertising in linear and on-demand formats on smart TVs. The founding members include Disney Media Networks (which includes ABC, ESPN and Freeform), Comcast’s FreeWheel and NBCUniversal, Discovery, CBS, AT&T’s Xandr and WarnerMedia’s Turner, Hearst Television and AMC Networks.

OAR’s enabling technology will be developed by Inscape, the automatic content recognition (ACR) and data-tracking company owned by Vizio — but the group says the technical standards will be fully open and available to all comers. The consortium aims to have a working product to demo this spring 2019 with full deployment targeted for early 2020.

“We all recognize the most important goal of this initiative is to drastically enhance the TV experience for people at home,” Vizio founder and CEO William Wang said in announcing the launch of Project OAR.

The goal of Project OAR is to give owners of TV ad inventory, whether programmers or distributors, the technical ability to monetize TV impressions through segment-based audience targets and dynamic, addressable ad insertion.

“TV programmers reach a massive and passionate audience, but have lacked the precision targeting of digital,” said Mike Dean, CBS’s SVP of advanced advertising and automation. “Through OAR, CBS will combine relevance with our reach to deliver a better experience to our viewers and better ROI [return on investment] for our advertisers.”

Added Jesse Redniss, EVP of data strategy/product innovation for Turner and GM of the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab: “It’s important for us to come together as an industry and create connective experiences that matter to fans, and that includes how we use data to inform and broaden spaces like addressable TV.”

To be sure, there’s still a lot of heavy lifting need before Project OAR’s vision comes to fruition.

Vizio has pledged that once the standard is developed, it will deploy support for OAR addressable ads on its footprint of smart TVs, which is currently around 10.5 million. But it remains to be seen whether other TV and connected-device manufacturers, like Samsung Electronics, Sony or LG Electronics, will join the effort to give Project OAR the scale it will need to be commercially viable. Inscape has held conversations with several TV manufacturers but “we’re not in a position to announce any,” said SVP of sales and marketing Jodie McAfee.

Another unanswered question is how Project OAR’s addressable ads will be measured. Nielsen, long the TV measurement standard, has its own addressable-advertising strategy for internet-connected TVs. The company recently formed Nielsen Advanced Video Advertising, after acquiring addressable TV technology provider Sorenson Media in a bankruptcy-court proceeding. Nielsen claims it has all the components to build an “end-to-end, AI-optimized platform” for targeted TV ads that encompasses delivery, data-driven targeting, unified campaign management, and measurement.

It’s possible that the Project OAR and Nielsen initiatives could be aligned, but for now they’re on separate tracks. For Project OAR, “the group understands and agrees that there will be a need for a measurement solution, and we’re discussing what that will be,” McAfee said. As for working with Nielsen, “that’s an option we would absolutely consider.”

[UPDATE: In a statement provided to Variety, Kelly Abcarian, GM of Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising Group, said, “We’re excited to see momentum in the industry toward an addressable future. We believe that the quickest way to collectively make addressable advertising scale is to come together.”]

The business model enabled by Project OAR works like this: The group’s members will co-develop the open specs and provide them to any interested parties. Once that’s functional, publishers (the inventory owners) can negotiate deals with Vizio or other OEMs to facilitate the delivery of addressable ads. “We view ourselves as an enabler. We’re not in the inventory business,” McAfee said. “Our position is, a rising tide lifts all boats.”

A key design goal for the OAR standard will be to deliver a system that adheres to privacy requirements and is technologically robust, while still giving TV networks the ability “to create unique and enriched advertising experiences” on top of that, McAfee said. “We are making this flexible enough to enable interactivity and other bells and whistles that have yet to be imagined.”

The consortium has launched a website, projectoar.org, with more info on the initiative. The discussions for Project OAR began last year, with the group formalizing the consortium at the 2019 CES trade show in Las Vegas.

Project OAR members have contributed fees to the consortium but McAfee declined to disclose what the funding amounts are. “Everyone has made a commitment in terms of resources to the group,” he said. “We all have skin in the game.”

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