Targeted ads are about to take over your TV. There is (almost) no escape.


What's the Experian demographic for "Gangnam Style" viewers, I wonder? (itupictures)

First it was the satellite TV providers. Now, it's the cable industry's turn to start serving you targeted advertising. And it's about to happen on a much larger scale.

Comcast and NBC Universal are wooing marketers with the ability to target individual households watching video on demand. It's similar to what Dish and DirecTV announced earlier this week, though the satellite providers are limiting their offer only to political advertisers.

The cable-owned service, which will be called NBCU+, won't just be for VOD viewers. It'll also allow marketers to target groups of consumers that fit certain demographic and interest profiles. For example, Comcast says, car dealerships that are interested in selling large vehicles will now be able to show its ads for SUVs to families. (Presumably, that means singles might see ads for sedans, and people in the midst of a mid-life crisis might start getting ads for convertibles.)

To build these profiles, NBCU+ will combine existing subscriber information with data pulled from other sources, such as loyalty card purchases, box office sales and even car registrations. Acxiom and Experian, two of the country's largest third-party data brokers (and a target of Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D-W.Va.) ire), will likely be used for this purpose. Not only will the insights help NBCU+ put the ads in front of the right groups, but it'll confirm to marketers that their targets actually viewed the ads.

For those who find it creepy, you can opt out of the program here.

The amount of variation in targeted or "addressable" advertising is to some extent limited by the costs of producing a new 30-second spot. It might get off to a slow start as marketers figure out how to use the technology in early tests. But soon, there will be no place in media that isn't subject to targeted ads.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.

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