Multiscreen Ad Systems Solidify TV Nets’ New OTT Biz Models

Alex Garcia-Tobar, CEO, SyncTV

Alex Garcia-Tobar, CEO, SyncTV

By Fred Dawson

May 10, 2012 – As TV programmers prepare aggressive new online strategies aimed at streaming live as well as time-shifted programming they’re inspiring new vendor solutions that bode well for managing ad campaigns in this complex multiscreen environment.

Until now cross-platform campaign management has largely been the purview of suppliers supporting cable operators’ efforts to engage Madison Avenue in advanced advertising strategies. But the latest vendor efforts in this direction are prompted by broadcasters themselves, who are looking ever more like multichannel service providers in their own right (see March issue, p. 1).

“We’re now bundling various trafficking and billing platforms with many enhancements into an integrated advanced campaign manager that will greatly simplify management of multiple advertising product types,” says Steve Boettcher, vice president of technical solutions at Harris Corp.’s Broadcast Communications Division. “This will allow any type of digital media distributor, including broadcast affiliates and cable TV networks, to manage all their inventory in one system.”

Harris is partnering with SyncTV to enable dynamic placements tied to specific devices that are targeted in the multiscreen streaming flow. “The key is to be able to create a campaign once and then sell different ads into different devices depending on whatever criteria you want to use to define where and when to place a given ad,” Boettcher says. “In the over-the-top environment you need to be able to interconnect with the microcodes on all those devices, and SyncTV allows us to do that.”

SyncTV, with a multiscreen publishing platform that was built expressly for these new service models, is engaged in other partnerships along these lines, including one with transcoding system supplier Harmonic, notes SyncTV CEO Alex Garcia-Tobar. “We’re seeing a lot of activity in this space as suppliers to broadcasters respond to these new online programming strategies,” Garcia-Tobar says.

The new Harris campaign manager is aimed at integrating the online side of advertising with traditional cable TV and broadcast advertising in whatever ways work for a given entity. “Pressure is coming from advertisers who want single campaign placement both within traditional linear broadcasts and a myriad of additional multimedia delivery modes,” Boettcher says. These new forms of delivery are revealing alternate sources of revenue that need to be addressed through interactive and addressable advertising.

Along with enabling online multiscreen advertising modes the Harris platform can support new approaches to the traditional modes, even including linear over-the-air advertising, he notes. For example, a broadcast station can use digital spectrum and advanced antenna technology to beam ads specific to different localities within its service area.

But it’s the online environment where the urgency for new advertising solutions is especially strong. This is why tight integration of ad placement software with transcoding to enable on-the-fly ad placements in multiple streams has become part of a new product initiative at Envivio, a leading supplier of systems in the multiscreen market.

Traditionally Envivio has been focused on developing transcoding products for the network service provider sector, where its advocacy of software systems developed to run on off-the-shelf processors has had a profound impact on the market. But the emergence of TV programmers and other entities as distributors in the multiscreen premium content space has expanded Envivio’s strategy, says Matt Smith, vice president for Internet TV solutions at Envivio, who joined the company a year ago after serving as chief systems architect for Inlet Technologies, now owned by Cisco Systems.

“When I came on with Envivio I was charged with building business serving broadcasters,” Smith says. “Our goal was to create the features and functionalities specific to their market.”

The result of those efforts is Muse iTV, a set of advanced features that optimizes the transcoding platform to allow content providers to deliver high-quality video to any device, including tablets and smartphones, he says. For example, the platform offers new features for Apple iOS 5 including multi-language support and time-shifted functions such as I-frame scrubbing, fast rewind and fast forward capabilities with image preview.

Where advertising is concerned a key application involves use of the SCTE 35 and 104 ad insertion protocols, which work in tandem to cue ads in the transport stream and to let the encoder know which frames mark the start and finish of an ad based on readings of time codes provided by either SMPTE VITC (Vertical Interval Time Code) or LTC (Linear Time Code), depending on which is used in a given program stream. This is a challenging process when it comes to orchestrating ad timing across multiple “chunks” in the adaptive streaming fragmentation process, Smith notes.

“Broadcasters were pleasantly surprised to find this had been automated to where they can integrate ad management into the multi-stream encoding process,” he says. “Now they can build their campaigns with four to five 9s reliability.”

The SCTE 104 mechanism opens many possibilities when it comes to timing functions in the multiple streams delivering a given TV program to different devices, he adds. “It has a lot of potential beyond ad placement, which is something we’re working on with other participants in the SCTE standards process,” he continues. “We’re looking at it for program placement command and control.”

This is a potentially vital function for this new program distribution environment where the idea is to populate virtual channels with content that comports with the complex usage and distribution rights that differentiate premium subscription content from what can be sent live over the Internet. “On the horizon we’re seeing models devoted to delivering content on a B-to-C basis, not necessarily with direct transactional relationships with end users but certainly with partners like Xbox, Roku and AppleTV,” Smith says. “Programmers see a future where traditional pay TV and these new models diverge as the distribution architecture changes.”

As he probed programmers’ needs Smith says he was surprised to see they wanted to build architectures with encoders that can support highly dynamic modes of distribution into the online packaging environment. “They want support for different renditions for different workflows, different rights management formats, packaging-specific metadata, etc.,” he says. “We’re creating the flexibility to do all this without having to use different encoders. Now broadcasters will be able to converge all these processes into a complete ecosystem support platform with a lot of horsepower.”