sp312eApril 5, 2012 – Coincident, supplier of interactive TV support technology to several broadcast networks, has expanded its portfolio to enable synchronization of companion device apps with live and on-demand cable TV services without requiring use of automatic content recognition techniques.
Along with providing a means by which viewers can access augmented content on their tablets that’s precisely timed to what’s showing on the TV screen, Coincident’s new SyncScreen platform, through interactions with set-top software, allows users to pause a program to view the augmented content and then pick up where they left off. This capability applies to ads as well, thereby allowing advertisers to deliver long-form ads to viewers who want more information.
“One reason SyncScreen really matters to operators is the revenue model is creates for advertising,” says John Gilles, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Coincident. Noting the faltering status of the industry’s EBIF platform as a means of delivering interactive ads, Gilles says, “Thirty seconds is not enough time to engage viewers with additional advertising content in a meaningful way. Through video telescoping on the companion device we’re extending the engagement to suit viewers’ and advertisers’ needs.”
The SyncScreen platform is drawing strong interest in cable, as evidenced by operators’ choice of the technology as “best new idea” among nine vendor innovations that competed for the honor at the CableLabs’ Innovations Showcase in March. The annual event held at the organization’s winter conference in Philadelphia also featured technologies from ConteXtream, Digitalsmiths, Elemental Technologies, Joyent Inc., Myriad Group, Philips, Technicolor/M-GO and Thuuz.
Not surprisingly the lineup of innovators was replete with IP-oriented solutions, many cloud-based, that reflect the industry’s shift away from reliance on cable-specific platforms like EBIF and tru2way to engagements with Web-oriented technologies. For example, ConteXtream, a provider of network virtualization software partially backed by Comcast Interactive Capital and Verizon Investments, demonstrated how the company’s Software-Defined Networking (SDN) products can be employed to virtualize Wi-Fi service and other access gateways so that their functionalities can be scaled to hundreds or thousands of locations using low-cost commodity hardware.
“ConteXtream is bringing the promise of Software-Defined Networking to the cable industry to provide MSOs with a new approach to monetizing and managing broadband networks,” says Sharon Barkai, founder of ConteXtream. “Our grid software helps MSOs migrate to a cloud architecture to increase flexibility and scalability while reducing time-to-market for the introduction of new services.”
The selection of Coincident’s technology over other categories of technology that are emerging as vital components of the new cable service environment attests to the importance operators continue to ascribe to interactivity in content and advertising even as old approaches have failed to catch fire. “ScreenSync TV is the future for cable operators,” because it allows “ them to pair a companion app with ancillary content from the cloud,” asserts Coincident’s founder and CEO David Kaiser.
As previously reported (January, p. 1), Coincident is delivering interactive viewing experiences for NBC, CBS, Fox, MTV and other unnamed program suppliers in conjunction with Web distribution of TV shows after they’ve aired over the air and on cable. In the case of the Fox show Glee, for example, online viewers can call up songs, behind-the-scenes action, actor bios and much else from a changing tableau of options that appear in sync with the flow of the program.
At the heart of the Coincident technology is what it calls “ITML,” or Interactive TV Markup Language, an easy-to-use XML-based tool that allows post-production editors to identify frames in the video they want to use as app triggers for a given segment of the program. They can then tie that segment to any variety of online content that’s accessible via URLs.
The same type of experience can be created with live TV broadcasts through access to the prompts and online content on the companion device, provided the ITML-based prompts are in sync with the flow of the program. Coincident has created an IPG template operators can use to create a tablet-based navigation system that allows the user to select programs for viewing and, in the case of programs that are augmented with SyncScreen interactivity, access the online-delivered stream of prompts and augmented content options that match what’s running on the TV screen.
Popular options available with Glee, for example, include a karaoke app that feeds lyrics with the instrumental soundtrack of a song performed on the show, options to view bonus performances, including original performances of popular songs, backstage footage and information about actors. An e-commerce app allows viewers to purchase and download songs, which has resulted in millions of song sales for the program producers, Gilles notes.
“Fox has a deal with Apple and collects a bounty on purchases of Glee performances from iTunes,” Gilles says. The volume of such sales was a major driver to the producers’ decision to compose original songs for the program, which generates higher revenues from copyright royalties on such purchases, he adds.
For the cable live viewing companion application, in instances where the subscriber’s set-top is equipped with a DVR, the user has the option to pause the live playing of the TV program to allow time to watch the augmented content without losing track of what’s going on in the show. The portion of the live feed that is transpiring during the pause phase is automatically recorded by the DVR, which than becomes the source of the continued viewing when the subscriber resumes watching. The software triggers deletion of the program from storage once the user completes viewing of the show.
“In the case of time-shifted shows being viewed from the operator’s VOD system, our software leverages that infrastructure to enable viewers to pause and resume watching shows following viewing of augmented content,” Gilles says.
Coincident has also built support for synching ITV companion apps with live events like sports, notes Mark Schwartz, a product manager at Coincident who ran a demo of ScreenSync for ScreenPlays at the firm’s headquarters in San Francisco. “The second-screen experience includes options to find friends on Facebook who are watching the show and chat with them and to sign into Fantasy Football updates on player stats,” Schwartz says. A variety of other options can be programmed into the system as well, some of which require that a production person be assigned to insert interactive components as the event unfolds.
“With live events you can’t pre-curate, so we’ve created a dashboard that allows somebody in the production truck to push apps to the live broadcast,” Gilles says. “They can offer viewers access to information on a player central to some play or trigger a contextual shopping option that fits with what’s going on at a given moment.”
While Gilles acknowledges the ecosystem for engaging live production of interactive apps with sports is “inchoate” at this point, he notes cable companies with stakes in sports programming, such as Comcast has with NBC’s airing of the Olympics, are in a position to expedite introduction of companion app ITV in such situations. “The technology to live push isn’t that exotic,” he says. “You can see examples where the ecosystem issues could get settled fairly quickly.”