DirecTV to Roll Out Targeted Ads, Privacy Concerns

Satellite television provider DirecTV is set to introduce “targeted” or “addressable” ads, advertisements tailored to viewers’ interests, lifestyles, and demographics.


Satellite television provider DirecTV is introducing “targeted” or “addressable” ads, advertisements tailored to viewers’ interests, lifestyles, and demographics. The company plans to roll out the program in August or September of 2011 to some 10 million households, creating an ad platform far more valuable and effective to advertisers than traditional TV spots.

That’s good news for advertisers, but it’s likely to spark privacy concerns among DirecTV’s 19.1 million subscribers.

Rather than display advertisements across a generalized market, targeted ads will be based on a more personal level, allowing advertisers to customize their pitch to reach an intended audience. After an advertiser chooses the types of homes it is interested in, DirecTV would be able to find that demo in its consumer-base using third-party data providers. Do you have children and pets? Ads might now include more minivan TV spots and ads for dog food, the Wall Street Journal reports. Or how about a high-paying job in finance? You might be lumped in with the crowd that sees Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs wealth management spots plaguing their airwaves.

Though not on a per-person basis, this mining of consumer data is somewhat similar to marketing online, where advertisers take advantage of a practice called behaviorial advertising. Google and Facebook–to name only a few–track users’ behavior online and refine ads based on their web-surfing habits–in Gmail, for example, ads are chosen in part based on the keywords in your email text. Such viewer-specific targeting has helped to make online ads more lucrative, and has already been implemented in many video services from YouTube to Hulu.

But the ads have also sparked complaints from consumers and the FTC, which recently proposed a “Do Not Track” tool to curb privacy concerns.

Addressable ads won’t be as targeted and personal as online ads–DirecTV must still hinge on bulking demographics together for general awareness campaigns. But could they some day feel similar pressure and criticism as their online equivalents have?


Perhaps DirecTV subscribers will start to see an “opt-out” button on their remote controls–or, at the very least, a larger “mute” button.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.