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'Addressable TV': Big Data's Next Trick For Targeting You

Though already in use in many homes, ability for advertisers and political campaigners to target individual viewers is rapidly expanding

Jon Queally, staff writer

A Dish Network Corp. receiver in Parker, Colo. (Photo: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)

If you like when Amazon or other online retailers follow you around the internet advertising a certain style of boots you may have googled three week ago, you'll love the rapidly expanding technology that allows your television provider to sell political ads that target you and your family specifically based on what a data analysis firm has told them about your viewing, consumer, and other habits.

In the encroaching world of big data, the new technology—called 'Addressable TV'—may not come as a surprise, but as the Associated Press reports Monday, the tactic of targeting specific homes with advertisements (whether for political hopefuls or commercial products) is set to proliferate wildly.

As the Associated Press reports Monday:

Data geeks look at everything from voting histories to demographics, magazine subscriptions to credit scores, all in the hopes of identifying their target audience. The advertiser then hands over a list of targets and, without the viewer necessarily realizing it, the ads pop on when viewers sit down to watch a program if their broadcaster has the technology.

"This is the power of a 30-second television commercial with the precision of a piece of direct mail targeted to the individual household level," said Paul Guyardo, chief revenue officer at DirecTV. "Never before have advertisers had that level of precision when it came to a 30-second commercial."

The level of precision on televisions has long been a dream for political campaigns, which are decided by relatively small groups of voters. President Barack Obama's campaign in 2012 experimented with it on a small scale, but too few homes were in broadcasting systems equipped to handle house-by-house decisions.

But earlier this year, DirecTV and Dish Network announced a partnership that would allow political clients to reach into about 20 million households by matching up customers' identities with their satellite receiver, much like a telephone number rings at a specific handset.

Describing how the technology works, Brian Fung of the Washington Post explained recently:

While your set-top box is idle, it'll tune into a channel that's playing the ad you're meant to see. It'll record the ad using DVR, then insert it into your regular programming while you're watching a show — replacing or bumping the ad that was supposed to air instead. This can be replicated for any household that subscribes to Dish or DirecTV, so a political strategist can pick you out and feed you a unique message.

Though the satellite providers so far seem to dominate the service, cable giants like Comcast are also exploring and developing the technology for a more large-scale rollout.


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