The Rise of the Second Screen and the Future of Television

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There are clear hurdles to overcome in attaining the goal of TV Everywhere. These include ensuring strong encryption and rights management between the device and user entitlement and delivering the best quality of streaming service to the device where ever it may be. A key aspect will be recognition, through IP identification of whether the user is in house or out of home. Another important aspect is the ability to request the stream from the CDN as opposed to a close-managed IPTV network.

Tvinci co-founder and VP of business development Ido Wiesenberg told CSI: “There are plenty of solutions in the market which enable this switch, however the backend system will need to recognise where the user has dropped off the stream from within the house, to continue from the same stream off net, and in addition, referring back to the beginning of my answer -- in some cases requesting a license from an alternative DRM provider.”

Synched Advertising

Content identification includes the automatic recognition of broadcast advertisements, thereby enabling companies to trigger synchronised and interactive calls to action on the TV screen itself. Such ACR-based ad triggering would allow big-box retailers to present actionable promotions, discounts, and specials to targeted viewers, fully synchronised to a televised ad pertaining to the relevant product, store, or region.

“As the primary screen becomes linked to the web by way of connected set-top boxes and smart TVs, the ability to make these devices content-aware opens the true potential of television advertising,” says Terpstra.

Civolution’s SyncNow enables synchronised ad delivery to second-screen applications by using Civolution’s broadcast monitoring infrastructure of more than 2,000 TV channels worldwide, of which more than 1,250 are national and local channels in the U.S. It has been tied with ad-management and distribution platform DG to trigger TV synchronised advertisements. It is also being integrated with set-top box chipsets from Broadcom Corp.

Terpstra says it enables a new generation of “content aware” devices to open the door to opportunities for direct calls-to-action, targeted advertising, gamification, and social media integration on television viewers’ primary screens.

It is not alone. Zeebox’s similarly named SpotSynch triggers ads that appear in the live stream area of the Zeebox app. For traditional spot adverts, it will appear for the same duration as broadcast ads but then retract to a clickable tag, allowing users to find and interact with it later.

One of the leading independent second-screen platforms, Zeebox has the support of Sky in the U.K. and Comcast in the U.S.

Zeebox has major investors such as BSkyB in the U.K., Network Ten (Australia) and NBC­Universal/Comcast in the U.S. Sky’s sales team enjoys an exclusive sales relationship with Zeebox, allowing founder Anthony Rose to claim that Zeebox is not a disruptive technology. Yet where Zeebox doesn’t have a broadcaster relationship, “We may sell ads on channels direct with brands,” he says.

Capablue has also trialled a proof of concept using automatic watermarking technology to sync ads with the linear output of U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, although this has yet to be adopted commercially.

“Our proof of concept encourages the viewer to interact with a brand by delivering a much more sophisticated advertising experience that pushes content straight to the consumer in a non­intrusive way,” says Cape.

Fellow U.K. commercial broadcaster ITV, PLC already enjoys an exclusive U.K. deal with Shazam Entertainment Ltd., which adapted its audio­recognition technology to enable viewers of commercials to receive additional content or click­to­purchase. Since their launch during the final of Britain’s Got Talent in May 2012, Shazam-­enabled ads have delivered more than £700,000 to the bottom line. The relationship has been extended to augment content around live programming, the first application for which was in support of The BRIT Awards in February.

Synchronisation Technologies

The main techniques for content synchronisation are watermarking and fingerprinting, both of which eliminate the need for user interaction and establish and maintain a synchronised session.

Audio watermarking, as used by Civolution and Intrasonics, applies an audio stamp, inaudible to the human ear, to content either prior to being broadcast or at the point of playout.

“One advantage is that all the information you need is carried by the content so you don’t need to access any online service,” says Civolution CEO Terpstra. “The flip side is that you need to integrate watermarking systems [software or hardware encoders], usually inside a broadcaster’s playout facility. In the past this was a challenge, but we are past the point where this is an issue.”

Red Bee Media Ltd. developed a companion app for The Walking Dead that allows viewers to interact with the show’s content by predicting the number of people who’ll be killed by zombies in each episode.

Intrasonics does this for prerecorded content by licensing a spectrum of exclusive software codes. “These can be used to trigger a second screen activity at key points [e.g., for Channel 4’s Facejacker] or they can be used to establish a time synch with the clock in the devices,” says Woodley. “Once established you can run play­along behaviour timed with the clock.”

The other main options are “fingerprinting” systems in which apps on smartphones and tablets identify TV programmes and movies by “listening” to a few seconds of the dialogue or soundtrack as they air, and match them with an index of content.

Zeebox, for example, uses the Gracenote Entourage Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) to deliver a synchronised second­screen experience allowing the platform to automatically provide additional information, votes and polls, tweets, and presence and transactional opportunities, all synchronised to the programme being viewed.

According to proponents of watermarking, however, this method is costly in terms of building and maintaining a sufficiently large library for any show and therefore is harder to scale.

“It’s no good at telling you exactly where you are in the timeline of content since the process of extracting and identifying the sample takes too long,” claims Woodley.

However, neither technology is perfect. “Audio requires close integration with the microphone hardware/software on a device, which can limit the types and variety of devices supported,” says Plunkett. “Audio can also suffer from certain environmental challenges associated with volume levels, interference, and microphone placement. From a commercial perspective the costs of licences need to be considered as they can become substantial when the number of shows increases.”

Oregan Networks’ Hirson warns that audio fingerprinting introduces privacy concerns. “A companion device captures a snapshot of any audio activity in the proximity, including speech, delivers that sound bite to the cloud servers for fingerprint analysis. How secure is that process? It is highly likely that the delivery of the sound bite is insecure, and there is no guarantee that the servers treat this as sensitive information either.”

Oregan’s Media Browser provides an API that can be used directly by the companion device and any applications to query the activity on the client device. In addition, it can give accurate information to authenticated clients about the service that’s in use.

An alternative is IP synchronisation, where device support can be much broader than for audio recognition and potentially includes any web device. However, there are latency issues. It only works in tandem with the live transmission of the show, making it unsuitable for time­shifted or on­demand content.

“IP can trigger events which are close enough to broadcast that the experience works fine for the millions that play it,” McDonnell says. “One of the disadvantages of audio detection is the need for a mobile app -- there is not yet a workable solution for web browsers which are far more accessible to audiences.”

Civolution CEO Terpstra says he believes that a hybrid market will exist for a considerable time where homes will be a mix of IP and non­IP. “The beauty of audio watermarking is that this technology doesn’t care whether devices are connected or not,” he says.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 Streaming Media Magazine European Edition under the title "The Rise of the Second Screen."

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