Google & Echostar Partnership: a first step towards buying political ads on satellite TV?

As television audiences become increasingly segmented through technologies such as cable, DVRs, and satellite TV, a broadcast-only strategy of reaching viewers just doesn’t work anymore. Satellite TV subscribers, for example, are among the most difficult for political advertisers to reach because ads can only be bought nationally on the non-local channels.

Simply put, while a political advertiser can buy ads on popular cable channels such as TNT, TBS, and A&E by buying through their local cable company, it’s been impossible to buy ads on those very same stations on satellite networks.

Today’s announcement by Google and Echostar could change this dynamic. Google announced today that it will sell TV ads on the 125 stations distributed by Echostar Communications’ DISH network.

The TV ads will work much like Google’s online search ads do – advertisers specify how much they’re willing to pay, and through an automated auction, the ads with the highest price are selected. What’s more, just like in the online search ads, advertisers can choose by geographic region:

Mr. Desai said the television ad system would work much like Google’s existing online and offline advertising systems. EchoStar would make some unspecified amount of air time available to Google’s advertisers. Advertisers or agencies would upload video spots to the system along with their desired target audience or network and would specify the price they are willing to bid for the air time.

Google’s ad system would then select the winning ads and play them on the air. Using information collected by EchoStar’s set-top satellite boxes, it will be able to give advertisers a report showing how many people viewed any ad and whether users tuned it out in the first few seconds.

Google will also use information collected by EchoStar to deliver the ads to their target audiences more precisely, the companies said.

Advertisers will not be able to designate specific households, but will be able to choose individual networks like ESPN or MTV and a time of day. Alternatively, they could choose a demographic group or geographic region, and Google’s system would schedule the ads across a variety of networks.

This is still a pilot program, but it could be the beginning of a significant change in political TV ad buying.