CES and the Augmented Television Roadmap for Success

Just returning from CES last week where we packed 32 meetings into 4 days, we’ve had a chance to digest everything we saw and heard from the show. Beyond the expected glittering gadgets and devices, its been interesting to watch over the years as CES has become as much a show about content as it is about hardware. As the software that drives televisions and set top boxes becomes more important than the actual hardware, manufacturers have realized that the content experience is the final frontier of product differentiation and defensibility. This has created a blizzard of connected device ecosystems and platforms, and there are now at least 10 different offerings trying to win the standards war.

As the market continues to mature, it’s becoming clearer as to what’s required to deliver the connected television experience, although the murkiest piece is exactly what the consumer wants and will respond to. The hoped for outcome of course is that a connected experience drives a substantial increase in total consumption, user engagement, and a second screen with which to deliver more immersive and targeted companion advertising experiences.

To deliver on this opportunity though requires a complex coordination across two markets, which historically haven’t had much opportunity or need to interact: the content producers (i.e. broadcast and cable) and hardware manufacturers (set top boxes, televisions, gaming consoles). As a result, the market feels like a bridge that’s being built from opposite banks of a river that hasn’t yet met in the middle.

So based on my many conversations, the ingredients for success have become clearer. It looks something as follows:

Metadata as the Foundation: The theme we heard over and over again was the difficult of building a comprehensive search and discovery capability when most video assets have poor or lacking metadata. Further, virtually no one has scene-level metadata and thus a timecoded augmented television experience is nearly impossible. This type of metadata can of course be created manually, which many have tried. However, in every case the resulting ROI on such an approach was negative. What’s needed is an approach that is mostly automated but with full editorial overrides. RAMP of course has been preaching this since we launched. Industry Readiness Grade: B

Automatic Content Recognition: The ability to synchronize an augmented experience with the program a user is watching is another problem to solve. CES saw lots of announcements in this area including Audible Magic, Gracenote, and Nielsen’s MediaSync. These approaches range from watermarking to audio hashing but all seem like solid approaches. However, I think there’s an impression in the market that these are augmented experiences, which they are not. They are one piece of the puzzle, like metadata. They simply move you closer to being able to deliver an augmented experience by recognizing what’s on the television. Industry Readiness Grade: B

Socially Infused: The state of the art in augmented television is social television. Its relatively easy to associate twitter feeds and the social graph with particular television shows, and this information is highly useful and engaging. Not surprisingly, this is table stakes for any augmented television experience. A number of consumer facing offerings are making good progress in this area including IntoNow, Miso and Zeebox. Industry Readiness Grade: A

Augmented by What? Here’s where it gets murky. Aside from social, most programmers aren’t sure yet what an augmented experience should look like. Meaning, what is the right kind of content and features to associate with a given program and if more challenging, with a given scene within a program. Is it trivia, polls, related content etc? The big challenge here is that having flexibility here means you must be able to aggregate, organize, and contextually deliver the right piece of related information at the right time. Most programmers do not have such a content catalog at their fingertips ready to deliver in this manner. Industry Readiness Grade: C

Presentation and Delivery: Adding to the complexity is the classic standards war that breaks out at the beginning of every major media shift. There are at least a dozen “ecosystems” currently in market (as I predicted here 18 mos ago). These include everyone from the television manufacturers to the cable operators to the OTT players like Netflix, Google, XBOX and Apple. The current state of the world is unsustainable. One publisher I spoke to had to write 18 separate code bases to cover 100% of the connected TV universe. This will shake out as winners are declared (my money’s on Apple and XBOX as platforms, and Android as an OS). Industry Readiness Grade: C

The Ad Opportunity: And finally, the big so what? What is the goal of augmented television? Clearly the excitement comes from the opportunity to double the available inventory per program (i.e. going from one screen to two screens) as well as delivering immersive interactive ad experiences on the small screen to go along with the brand messages on the big screen. Based on contextual video experiences like The People’s Choice Awards, user engagement jumps by almost 70% when presented with rich interactive related content. If successful, this removes the notion of digital television cannibalizing linear television as there no longer would exist such as line of demarcation. Of course this places a new burden on the television advertiser to re-think their campaigns, and needing to include fully interactive experiences and creative to go along with the traditional 30 second spot. Industry Readiness Grade: D

We are a whole lot closer than we were last year. Not surprisingly, the technology is out ahead of the advertiser or content experiences, and we’ll see big leaps on this front in 2012.