Google Fiber plans to track its Kansas City customers’ television viewing habits to target ads to specific couch surfers.
That means your neighbor might see a different commercial than you while watching the same basketball game. And your kids, watching that game in another room, might see yet a different spot.
That super-narrow targeting represents something nearing a holy grail for television advertisers, even as it raises privacy issues about a company selling TV service tracking what its customers watch.
On a post to its online product forum on Friday, Google Fiber said the targeting “allows you to see ads for nearby businesses — like the car dealership downtown or the neighborhood flower shop.” It says it will start “a small trial” in early April. Kansas City will be the first market where the technology will be deployed — by Google or any cable company.
Never miss a local story.
The practice won’t mean Google Fiber customers will see any more ads. Rather, like most cable companies, it will sell targeted spots replacing some national advertising.
Customers who don’t want those targeted ads, the company says, can change the settings on their TV boxes to opt out. But those who do nothing will see ads aimed at them based on their viewing behavior.
Targeted ads will not be tailored from customers’ Web surfing behavior, the company said. A competitor, AT&T, offers discounts on its fastest Internet service in return for tracking Internet habits and gearing ads based on those profiles. But AT&T does not sell targeted TV ads grounded in viewing patterns.
Google will target commercials for advertisers based on the category of show a viewer watches, such as news, sports or home improvement.
Ad Week describes the sort of sharpshooting ad sales rolled out on Google Fiber as a “game changer.”
“This is a big deal,” the trade publication said. “Direct, one-to-one measurement of viewers is … a giant step forward on television.”
Advertisers buy most television commercial airtime based on broad assumptions about what type of consumers are drawn to various flavors of programming. That’s why pickup trucks are pitched during football games and commercials for fabric softeners appear during “The View.”
Google Inc. makes its billions analyzing Internet searches and Web views to tailor online ads to match what consumers appear interested in. Although the Google Fiber ads won’t draw from that same data of online behavior, they migrate similar thinking to the TV screen.
Consider Sunday’s Kansas-Wichita State basketball game. Interest in the Kansas City market is likely to be broad — old and young, KU devotees and haters from Missouri. But imagine placing ads during such a high-rating event that recognize one viewer spends several hours a week watching kitchen shows and might be a sucker for an ad for knives. Or others, glued to the same basketball game, who see a motor oil ad because they watch five hours a week of auto racing.
“You want to get the ads to the people who are actually interested in buying this stuff,” said Roger Entner, who monitors the industry for Recon Analytics. “It reduces waste for the advertiser. They can increase their chances of putting their product in front of somebody who is more likely to buy.”
Consequently, Entner said, Google will be able to charge those advertisers premium rates for running their targeted commercials.
The ads will appear during live broadcasts and on DVR recordings.
“Fiber TV ads will be digitally delivered in real time and can be matched based on geography, the type of program being shown (e.g., sports or news) or viewing history,” the company said. “An advertiser that advertises on football games may want to deliver an ad to households that regularly view football games, even when they are viewing other programming.”
Google announced the program, which also allows advertisers to place different ads on different sets within the same household, to its TV subscribers as the fourth item in an email sent late Friday.
It also signaled to advertisers that they’ll be better equipped to pinpoint their sales pitches and compared the new technique to what Google does online.
“If you’re a local business in Kansas City, just as with digital ads, you’ll only pay for ads that have been shown and can limit the number of times an ad is shown to a given TV,” the company said in its blog post.
Entner speculated that the targeted ads might ultimately draw attention from federal regulators over privacy concerns. Think of someone who has friends over to watch TV. The targeted ads that appear during a show might give visitors insight to what that person watches when no one else is around.
“It can very quickly get to that creepy part of the equation,” he said.
Although Google Fiber TV customers will get those ads if they do nothing, the company notes in its email, its online settings instructions and its forum that customers can opt out.