The joint venture of the six largest cable television operators in the United States is abandoning its community addressable advertising initiative. Canoe Ventures has scuttled the service, which would have targeted commercials to different demographics. The plan was to allow advertisers to deliver an alternative commercial to a subset of the audience based on their level of income, according to where they lived. It turns out it was harder than they thought.

The current project has been discontinued after a trial in 3 million out of 60 million cable homes, partly due to the limitations of older cable systems and operational restrictions. It transpired that advertising schedules would have to be fixed well over a week in advance.

Cable programmers and their advertisers “wanted a more flexible product,” according to David Verklin, the chief executive of Canoe Ventures, who was previously chief executive of Aegis Media Americas. “We were trying to use 20th-century technology to enable a 21st-century advanced-advertising product.”

They are now looking at a new system that would bypass the older advertising insertion systems of some cable operators.

There are still plans to launch a limited form of interactive advertising later this year, or maybe early next year, in which viewers can press a button to request further information about a product or service. Even then, the facility is only likely to be available in around ten million homes, far fewer than originally envisaged. The system will be based on the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format, or EBIF, developed by the CableLabs consortium.

“Canoe is fundamentally an interactive television company for the next 12 months,” said its chief executive, characterising interactive advertising as “a lead generation application”. Subsequent facilities could include sponsor supported votes and polls, and ultimately transactional sales opportunities.

Such services have been available in the United Kingdom for many years, but the fragmented nature of the cable television market in the United States has so far inhibited the ability to deliver services nationally. It seems that Canoe, the cable coalition formed just over a year ago to address this, may have underestimated that challenge of delivering addressable advertising.