cable tvYou know that iTV saying about how, in an ideal TV advertising world, ads for dog food would only be broadcast to households with dogs? Well, that may soon be the case in 500,000 homes in the New York City area.

Cablevision Systems is poised to announce the largest experiment to date in targeted television advertising, reports the New York Times. Homes in Brooklyn, the Bronx and parts of New Jersey are about to get ads based on data concerning their income, ethnicity, gender, or whether the household harbors children or pets.

The data come from market-leader Experian, which collects its information through public
records, registries and other sources. It anonymously matches subscribers’ name and addresses
to what it knows about them, and assigns demographic
characteristics to individual households.

Experian can also function as a sort of data-based matchmaker if
advertisers supply them with their own customer data. So GM, for
example, could advertise — or not — only to customers who already own
one of their vehicles.

The potential accuracy of the targeting does raise questions. While the
New York area has one of the world’s largest concentrations of
single-person households,Cablevision’s experiment is being conducted
in areas where multi-person homes are more common. So how do they know
who’s watching, and when? The targeting won’t take into consideration
what program’s being watched, but dayparting may help resolve at least
some of that problem.

Another data issue is churn. In a period of rampant and escalating unemployment, for example, will Experian’s “household income” data be fresh and relevant? Or frequently updated? Churn is always an issue in data-land, but perhaps never more so than now.

Nevertheless, Cablevision is rolling out the new system, which requires no hard- or software upgrades on the consumer side, after running an eight month test of its own. The company claims its targeted ads drew significantly more subscriptions than
untargeted ads.

Funny. Wouldn’t you already have to be a Cablevision subscriber to see targeted ads on its system?