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Buy the People, for the People

4/12/2008 2:00 AM Eastern

Soon, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to buy a TV spot — on any one of 94 networks, including A&E Network, Bravo, CNBC, CNN, Discovery, ESPN, Fox News Channel and MTV — delivered to any of Dish Network customers' 14 million set-top boxes.

Google has been running its TV Ads service in a closed trial, with advertisers by invitation only, since last June. The service sells 15- and 30-second slots in Dish's local advertising inventory, in online auctions that close 24 hours before air.

Now, in the next few weeks, the search giant will make the service publicly available to anyone who signs up online, said Keval Desai, Google TV Ads product-management director. “We want to open up the floodgates,” Desai said, adding the actual launch date is still a moving target.

Google had fallen behind schedule on the project because it had “completely underestimated the complexity of the deployment,” according to one industry executive, who declined to be identified.

Desai acknowledged that Google, in preparing for the public launch, has had “scalability things we had to work on in the background.” But he maintained that there have been no technical problems or other issues with the service to date.

Advertisers that have bought airtime on the Dish local avails — which are available in all dayparts — include PC manufacturer Lenovo and Priceline.com, as well as much smaller companies, such as online perfume retailer FragranceNet.

“It's people who have very, very large budgets and it's also some people who have never done advertising on TV before,” Desai said.

Desai declined to say how many advertisers are participating in the closed beta test, or to specify how many ads Google has placed on Dish except to say, “We serve millions of impressions daily.”

With the public availability of Google TV Ads, the company wants to expand the available inventory through deals with cable operators and programmers.

“Obviously, we want to get the national network spots,” Desai said.

For advertisers, the service is supposed to provide more Internet-like accounting. Google reports the exact number of Dish set-tops that displayed each ad, and buyers pay for only the actual impressions after the spots air. Ads can be targeted by network and daypart; by geography; and based on demographic data provided by Nielsen.

But why would cable companies choose to work with Google?

After all, several major operators, including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, are developing their own standardized systems — under the code-name Project Canoe — to allow marketers to buy addressable and interactive TV ads.

According to Desai, the Canoe initiative promises to enable the cable industry to work with third parties like Google TV Ads, and to allocate a portion of their inventory to a wider market of buyers.

“We have a huge base of advertisers,” Desai said. “If we can make money for our partners, if Comcast is seeing revenue they didn't have before, I can't see why they wouldn't want to work with us.”

If Google allows anyone with a broadband connection to buy ad time, the quality of commercials is likely to decline.

“With tons of advertisers suddenly having the option to advertise on TV, we'll see a lot more unprofessional ads, and some inevitable blunders by confused first-time advertisers,” Pinny Cohen, an Internet marketing consultant, wrote on his blog last month. That will also “dilute the special status of TV as being an 'all-professional zone,' which made it harder for people to miss watching it.”

At the same time, Cohen noted that the ad-tracking features provided by Google are incredibly useful to marketers. With the second-by-second tracking tool, a producer can identify “a moment in your ad that was either offensive, irrelevant or extraneous, and should be modified or deleted,” he wrote.

Desai also emphasizes that Google staffers will continue to check every single TV spot that's submitted, to approve the content before allowing it to air. This will help ensure an ad conforms to decency regulations and other standards.

Dish also is allowed to review ads and reject those deemed unsuitable.

“In the short term, it's not going to be fully automated, because you need a human to make sure it meets the policy,” Desai said.

September