INdustry: Ensequence + Zeitera = A Compelling New Approach to ACR for Companion Apps

Recently, Ensequence and Zeitera announced a new partnership for companion app publishing using automatic content recognition (ACR). I found this quite intriguing. I couldn't recall any other ACR companies doing deals with ITV publishing companies. Something was different.  

Before proceeding, let's refresh what this is about. ACR has become a buzzword of sorts and the lines describing various uses of automatic content recognition are starting to blur.   

ACR--What It Is. ACR systems match the audio or video that a sensor is detecting with a database of known audio/video signatures or "fingerprints."

ACR for Music. Shazam popularized the use of ACR to identify the music that a person is listening to. With Shazam turned on, a smartphone can tell you the track and band of a song on the radio.

ACR for TV Companion Apps. Shazam, IntoNow, Umami and Zeitera are some of the companies that use ACR to launch companion applications on smartphones, tablets, or any other connected device. In this case, once the match occurs, the action taken is to launch a specified application. This could be a voting app on your phone that launches at the end of "Dancing with the Stars," for example.

ACR for TV...on TV. Smart TV's are connected devices too. "ACR TV" should be a big boom in 2012 as new TV's ship with ACR systems embedded in the TV's themselves. This will allow the voting app to appear on your TV at the end of "DWTS."

It's early days, but already, the debate is on as to which form of ACR will be most important. But we'll leave that for TVOT NYC in December.

My conversation with Aslam Khader, Ensequence's CTO, focused on their new approach to building companion apps. Or at least, it was the first I've heard of such an approach.   

Prior to this new partnership with ACR tech provider Zeitera, content providers that wanted to develop companion apps would partner with IntoNow or Shazam. Each of those companies has deployed an app that runs on smartphones and tablets. To deploy a companion app, the content provider builds an app and sends it to one of the partners. If the consumer has the IntoNow app running when "DWTS" is airing, the ACR identifies the content, looks for associated apps, finds the content partner's voting app and launches it at the predetermined point in time.

This works well, but there are certain issues. Centrally, the market for the content provider's app is constrained by the ACR partner's ability to (a) build audience for the ACR app, and (b) train the audience to turn on the app during the TV viewing session. Additionally, there are a lot of nervous execs that worry about control. The ACR partner has the technical ability to launch any app once the content has been identified. And, while there are a lot of hallway assertions, there presently isn't any strong legal regime that clearly assigns the application spawning rights to the underlying copyright owner. It is technically possible for Pepsi to "buy" the application rights to "American Idol" from an ACR tech firm. That would be uncomfortable for Fox and the owners of "AI," who have Coke as a primary sponsor. This, anyway, is the much-batted-about concern.   

Ensequence and Zeitera are taking a different approach. They provide content providers with the ability to build and manage their own ACR applications--with both the application and the ACR system built in. This is indeed a horse of a different color. Now, "American Idol" can build their own ACR application. It still needs to be turned on, but they can promote download and activation of the application on air. They can also build a base "American Idol" app that launches both content and sponsor applications at various points during the show. And, importantly, they get direct access to all the data generated by the application.   

This doesn't stop the independent ACR companies from selling "American Idol" to Pepsi, but it does allow "American Idol" to leverage its large TV audience to build its own large connected devices audience; and that should, if nothing else, give them a large ability to fill the market opportunity with their solution. Put differently, if Pepsi can only buy a very small portion of the connected device audience for "American Idol," while that may be very annoying, the sky won't fall.

The new extension of Ensequence's iTV Manager to support companion apps is part of a strategic focus on solving problems for content publishers. Ensequence has been deeply engaged in interactive TV since its founding over 10 years ago. While the company continues to offer authoring products for ITV in the market, Aslam told me that the company is now increasingly focused on providing a platform that content managers can use to manage their applications from authoring to deployment and measurement.   (http://ensequence.swipht.com/itv-manager-programmer-edition)

 

Aslam also pointed out that while they like the new approach with Zeitera, they are open to whatever approach content providers prefer to take and they will happily work with any ACR company that their customers select for a given application.

For my part, I think Zeitera's decision to openly license the ACR system libraries for incorporation into third-party apps makes great sense and should draw real attention, and the partnership between Ensequence and Zeitera opens some real interesting opportunities for content providers.

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Michael is the president and CEO of MediaTech Strategies, a consulting company that helps investors and operating companies develop and capitalize on emerging media technologies.   He has over 18 years' experience in the media technology business, including previous CEO roles at Ucentric Systems, where he pioneered the multiroom DVR category and PhyFlex Networks, where he developed a new access network solution for cable.  Michael previously held senior executive positions with OpenTV, ICTV (now ActiveVideo Networks), Motorola and Playboy TV.  Through his consulting practice, he has provided services to more than 50 companies of all types, stages and size.

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