I won’t bore you with my decades-long interest in what was once termed “interactive TV.”Back in 1990, I was publisher of a b2b magazine titled “Interactive World” which looked at the earliest, way-before-the-Internet days of a topic called “interactive marketing.” The topics we covered were phone-based interactivity (the use of IVR and 800/900 numbers to promote and sell products) and something that was called interactive TV. Looking back at such companies as Interactive Network and TV Answer, who used funky parts of the broadcast spectrum to connect with consumers via TV (for those interested look up Qube), it’s startling to see how far we’ve come.
Interactive TV has morphed into second screen TV, social TV and other not-so-ingenious terms, but the disruptive technology driving this trend is automated content recognition (ACR). ACR, as seen in Shazam, IntoNow and other app services, listens to audio coming from your radio, TV or other original source (karaoke does not work) and recognizes it by matching the fingerprint of the source to a database of exemplars (baseline originals). An example makes this come alive: you are listening to the radio and hear a song you like but have no idea who sings it or the title. You take out your Smartphone, click Shazam and it captures the fingerprint of the song and matches it against its database of music. Digital marketers, wait for it: at that point, the listener is offered the ability to buy the song. Cool, huh?
TV is the battleground for ACR and most Smartphone users have at least one app that uses ACR. IntoNow, now a part of Yahoo, understands you are watching the Super Bowl and not only allows you to “check in” to your social networks but also can serve you content relevant to what you see on screen. Player rosters, news, etc… And that’s where the digital marketer come in. Pepsi and Yahoo teamed up using ACR to “Tag the ad, get a Pepsi.”Viewers who used the IntoNow app to find and tag a Pepsi MAX commercial received a digital coupon (good for a free soda for the first 50,000 participants). Since a tag is broadcast to users’ social media streams and to a news feed within the app, it automatically spreads word about the ad. And that’s just the tip of the interactive marketing iceberg.
As with many disruptive technologies, we are not quite there yet. While your creative mind percolates with ideas to promote and sell by automatically recognizing content, there are a few issues. In almost all cases, there is no dynamic database of scheduled TV commercials to create baseline examples to automatically recognize those ads in real time. In the case of Pepsi, the app knew which specific ad it was looking for. At the same time, ACR is subject to interference by ambient noise which leads to inaccurate results. TV manufacturers such as Samsung (natch) are looking at incorporating ACR technology into the set for more accuracy in content recognition. Also, Apple’s AirPlay and Microsoft’s Smart Glass use a different form of ACR where protocols in the Xbox and Apple TV recognize content on a mobile device without the need to create an audio fingerprint.
From the guy hawking Veg-o-Matics on the boardwalk to home shopping channels, marketers understand the intersection of commerce and content.. ACR is one technology looking to provide brands the opportunity to pitch interactively to consumers where they live—in front of the TV.