Smart, but not quite there yet: Are Smart TVs ready to revolutionize TV Synchronization?

15th November 2016
Note: article originally published on Marketing Tech News

Providing exciting features for users – and intriguing targeted advertising potential for brands – smart TVs are steadily gaining ground. However, is this new technology ready for prime time when it comes to TV Synchronisation? Andrew Finkelstein, Director of Business Development at TVTY Americas, weighs in.

Since the advent of the first TV sets in the 1930s that brought the cinema experience to the comfort of home, our relationship with television has undergone huge shifts. Following the introduction of color TV, the development of numerous channels with cable and satellite and the arrival of HD and now Smart TVs, TV viewership is going through another major change. Second-screens are radically changing the way people consume TV.

87% of consumers report using a second screen while watching TV, and do so actively, as the 27 million tweets recorded during this year’s Super Bowl, or the unique audience of 5.1 million people who viewed Game of Thrones related messages during this year’s season finale.

This impact is also measured with TV advertisement: 66% of smartphone owners turn to their phones to learn more about something they saw on a TV commercial, resulting in an instantaneous impact on both brand searches and non-brand searches. In fact, research shows the positive increase is 25%-40% and 60%, respectively. That’s why synchronizing advertising with your own (or your competitors’) TV ads is becoming increasingly crucial to make sure brands ‘own the moment’ and make the most of the opportunities offered by TV advertising.

Synchronizing with what’s on TV requires first being able to identify, accurately and at scale, individual programs or TV ads at a specific moment. This can be done several ways depending on the type of TV distribution: “linear” TV, where the viewer has to watch a scheduled TV program at the particular time it’s offered, and on the particular channel or “connected TV”, where content can be accessed on-demand, through apps installed directly on the TV and/or through consoles such as Apple TVs or Roku.

How can TV ads be identified?

For linear TV, synchronization can be done in three ways:

  • Audio Fingerprinting
  • This consists of connecting to TV channel’s audio feeds, hearing what’s being broadcasted on TV, and matching it to a database of audio content (similar to what Shazam does for songs).
    While operating at scale isn’t an issue, provided there is access to the TV channels audio feeds, audio fingerprinting doesn’t pick up visual differences between videos. This is a problem when a different product is shown so it’s generally not as accurate as video fingerprinting.

  • Video Fingerprinting
  • Video fingerprinting: similar in concept to audio fingerprinting, but based on images rather than sound. Video fingerprinting is more accurate because it can identify even small changes in ad creatives.

  • Audio Listening
  • In this case, the user grants access to its smartphone or tablet microphone through an app, which in turn enables TV synchronization vendors to tap in and listen to background noise (for instance, a commercial airing on TV).
    This technology relies on users’ handheld devices, and so should provide precise data on what a user is watching. However, it comes with a few flaws: if the TV is on mute or not loud enough, audio listening will not work. Additionally, this solution leads to a more intrusive user experience than both fingerprinting technologies because it requires passive “listening” through the users microphone on their smartphone.

Connected TVs are connected to the internet, whether through game consoles, Blu-ray disc players, streaming media players like Chromecast, Roku or Apple TV, or with built-in access like a ‘Smart TV’.

They present unique synchronization challenges, as they enable viewed content to be defined at household level, essentially making its programming unique. Theoretically, connected TVs allow for more granular synchronization: the standard by-products of being connected to the Internet, such as an individual IP address, should enable household-level identification and targeting.

The challenge when synchronizing with a connected TV is that two data sets are needed: both targeting and viewership data. The targeting data is able to single out the users while the viewership data provides messaging relevant to the content viewed.
The variety in connected TVs (see figure below) makes for a number of different technological scenarios, adding another layer of complexity: some connected devices (gaming consoles, media streaming devices like Roku, Chromecast or Apple TV) mostly provide app-driven content (for instance, the HBO Go, NFL Network, or Red Bull TV). They, however, do not provide data on TV content viewership. The connected devices that do not provide data on TV content viewership comprise almost half of all connected platforms.

“Smart TV data is currently available for less than 15% of US TV viewers”

Smart TVs have the capability to monitor what viewers are watching built into their hardware. On paper, this would enable full, multi-device and multi-channel messaging to viewers. However, at this stage, few TV manufacturers share the data collected by their Smart TVs, including market leading brands like Samsung and LG.

While connected TVs are on the rise and represent a significant opportunity in the future, linear TV still represents a large majority of TV viewership: eMarketer found 206 million US adults will watch TV through traditional channels (including cable & satellite providers), while 130 millions adults will watch digital TV.

Furthermore, while theoretically providing advanced targeting capabilities, smart TV viewers represent less than half of US connected TVs. Digging deeper, Samsung and LG amount for 43% of all Smart TVs, meaning that, at best, smart TV data is currently available for less than 15% of US TV viewers.  

So what’s the takeaway?

Firstly, advertisers aiming to synchronize digital advertising with what’s on TV should avoid focusing solely on Smart TVs: while gaining ground on linear TV and covering a respectable user base, Smart TV rarely allows the data access required for real-time, accurate synchronization creating a lack of scale.

Linear TV remains the preferred way people watch TV, and still provides unparalleled reach. While linear TVs do not provide the technological means to target a specific household, intelligent probabilistic approaches can enable to ensure synchronization budgets are focused on the most relevant audiences. For instance, focusing on domestic Wi-Fi signals vs. mobile connections, or targeting the most-frequently used second-screen devices, like tablets. Moreover, the scale of linear TV enables to capture wider conversations as well, for instance targeting milestone TV moments (like the Olympics, broadcast on NBC, or the season finale of The Walking Dead).

Here at TVTY, we developed a combined approach to provide the most accurate moment marketing solution, at scale: for linear TVs, we develop multi-dimensional probabilistic models combining all the filters relevant to a brand (like connection signal, device type, DMA & geo-targeting, TV network, length of sync time …) to ensure we are addressing the right audience.

Additionally, our extensive moment marketing platform enables us to identify – and leverage – all the moments that make sense to your brand, in addition to TV. You could for instance leverage post-show social chatter with our Social Trend trigger, or target weather conditions for your weather-sensitive products, harness the emotion of sporting events, amongst other moments like pollen, pollution, financial markets, or even customized moments based on your own data sources.


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