Interactive TV Ads – Is There a Demand?
Recently, Coke aired an interactive advertisement during the NCAA Final Four basketball games. I thought I would try it out. When the ad starts, it declares “This is a drinkable commercial,” then prompts the user to “Shazam now to drink it.” I launched Shazam on my smartphone, it picked up the audio, and launched a Coke Zero ad on my phone.
The ad depicted a Coke glass full of ice with Coke Zero being poured into it.
Pressing that button took me to another page that prompted for my birthdate and phone number. About 20 minutes later, I received a text message with a URL to a barcode to redeem for one free 20-oz. Coke Zero. Pretty Cool! You can try it out using the ad on this Youtube link.
But it wasn’t quite as easy as I made it sound. By the time I had dug through the screens on my smartphone to launch Shazam, the commercial was over. Luckily, I was using my Xfinity X1G set-top box which includes a time-shift buffer feature, so I could just rewind 30 seconds and re-run the commercial. It would have been MUCH EASIER if I could have just picked up the remote and clicked the “OK” button to have Target send me the coupon!
The Quest for Interactive Ads
For years, advertisers, cable operators, and television manufacturers have sought the best way to engage viewing audiences with interactive ads. The cable industry went down the path of EBIF and tru2way, and for a while there was a flurry of second screen apps. Although there were over 25 million EBIF-enabled set-top boxes deployed in the US at one time, the promise of interactive ads never really materialized.
Another platform for interactivity is the smart TV. Since 2011, some smart TV manufacturers have been embedding Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) in various television models to enable HTML5-based applications to launch on the TV. LG has their “Live Plus” feature based on Cognitive Networks engine, several other manufacturers use Cognitive or Samba ACR engines. Showtime has “enhanced” their original content with interactive applications (SHO Sync) based on this platform on LG TVs. Ensequence has enhanced advertisements with the Samsung platform.
Smart TVs with embedded ACR can support synchronized interactive applications, but it can also cause some problems. What happens when the set-top box displays a graphical overlay, such as a menu or even an interactive application, and the Smart TV does the same? This is known as “app collision,” and is a problem recognized by the industry.
Interactivity in the Future?
The fact that advertisers are still seeking ways to engage audiences through interactivity makes me optimistic that the issues discussed can be resolved and consumers will have simple ways to interact with advertisements. With 4K and 8K televisions coming out with much higher resolution, the real-estate for interactive applications is even more compelling. I am looking forward to the ability to pick up my remote (or better yet, respond with voice control or other simple interface) to get my free Coke Zero.
Debbie Fitzgerald is the Director of Client Application Technologies at CableLabs.
CableLabs’ Open Source Contributions
CableLabs is an active member in many open source communities, with three of our recent contributions highlighted below. We’ve found that engaging with these communities and presenting our intended contributions is incredibly valuable. When our interests align with these projects we’ve generally found the open source community eager to help. Other times we get advice on the best approach for implementing our changes. Occasionally we’ve discovered that they have no interest in a particular feature, which may influence what we do.
HTML5 Signature Tests
CableLabs’ HTML5 Signature Test project created a set of tests for evaluating support for specifications referenced by DLNA’s HTML5 Remote User Interface (RUI) guidelines. While the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) had some functional tests available, there wasn’t a comprehensive suite suitable for validating what the cable industry required from an HTML5 RUI Client. This effort benefits cable operators by verifying that an HTML5 RUI Client on a VidiPath device supports the features they intend to use in their applications.
We created a custom test generation tool that extracted W3C’s WebIDL interface definitions from the specifications and, using some hand-built test data, created the tests. The resulting test suite is compatible with the W3C test framework, and can be run individually or in bulk.
This work is all Open Source and has been contributed to DLNA for VidiPath client certification. It will also be contributed to the W3C test effort as soon as their test framework provides sufficient HTTPS support.
CableLabs’ HTML5 Remote User Interface (RUI) is a custom WebKit-based browser that contains additional functionality supporting traditional cable video services on consumer-owned devices such as smart TVs, tablets, laptops and smart phones. This technology allows cable service providers to deliver interactive program guides, linear programming and on-demand services directly to an HTML5 web browser. CableLabs has made the RUI software publicly available and our contributions to the open source community have helped increase adoption by consumer electronics (CE) and browser vendors.
The HTML5 RUI is Open Source and has been used by CE vendors for their product development, and by various browser venders who “cherry picked” features to incorporate into their products. We’ve also made numerous contributions to WebKit, where one of our developers (Brendan Long) has achieved ‘committer’ status, and to Google’s Blink project, where we added alternate audio/video track selection to the media player.
WebKit-based browsers, by default, use the GStreamer Multimedia Framework for rendering audio and video. As part of our HTML5 RUI work, we added support for cable services to GStreamer. This includes the dlnasrc component for interacting with DLNA VidiPath servers, the ccdec component for translating CEA 708 captions into WebVTT (used by browsers) and the dtcpip component, which supports integrating a DTCP-IP library into GStreamer. Additionally, we patched the tsdemux component to extract metadata from MPEG Transport streams enabling services, like ad insertion, within a browser.
With the exception of the DTCP-IP library, which is licensed by DTLA, this work is Open Source and has been used by consumer electronics and browser vendors, and has also been contributed to GStreamer.
By participating in Open Source communities, CableLabs has made contributions that advance the platforms. Open Source distribution has increased adoption and we have gained valuable feedback throughout the process.
For more information on how to effectively participate in Open Source projects, please contact Eric Winkelman.