Get ready for ads to show up more regularly on the same screen as your favorite TV shows.
Today, San Francisco-based Watchwith is announcing a new platform that could propel the placement of ads overlaid on TV shows. Founder and CEO Zane Vella told me the new capabilities enable interactive, overlaid TV ads to be available at scale for the first time.
The new platform adds interactive ads to a company’s repertoire, and — most importantly — it makes those ads available on programmatic or automated ad platforms, beginning with Google’s DoubleClick for Advertisers.
Vella noted that, for TV advertising, “95 percent are still direct sales” between the network and the advertisers. Less than five percent utilize the automated, programmatic platforms that now power much of web and app advertising, he said.
The new platform also employs a machine-vision technology that semi-automatically finds the contextually right moment for ad placement.
The machine-vision tech processes the video in a TV program, and makes suggestions for human approval about the best times to place an ad. After all, you don’t want an ad proclaiming the virtues of a new detergent to appear just as a beloved character is negotiating a death scene.
That tech came from the Motorola Home set-top video technology that telco equipment manufacturer Arris bought from Google in 2012. Arris is an investor in Watchwith.
Vella said the placement suggestions are based on certain rules of thumb developed from conversations with the networks. For instance, don’t cover up someone’s face with an ad, and don’t show text in an ad when there is text already on the screen.
When the ad is contextually appropriate, he said, “audiences respond very well.” One example: Buicks are used to transport participants in the Bravo series Best New Restaurant, and then Buick ads are occasionally overlaid in the show using Watchwith’s platform.
Overlays on TV programs have become increasingly valuable real estate. Often placed in corners, they commonly promote other shows on the same network. Occasionally, those corners or other screen locations are also used to provide additional content like character backgrounds, a short interactive quiz, or even an ad.
Founded in 2012, Watchwith has previously been in the business of adding interactive content like factoids, trivia questions, and purchase offers on the TV screen you’re watching, or on a mobile device as you’re watching TV. Participating networks have included NBC, Bravo, Syfy, USA Network, and others, as well as second-screen apps like Beamly and Shazam.
Vella noted that the Syfy network in particular has “been a real pioneer of interactive content,” particularly for its Defiance series. In one set of overlays, for instance, the user is prompted to click with the remote control to see stills and text overlays of how the special effects in a particular scene were created. Clicking again returns the viewer to the full screen.
The in-program overlaid ads can use standard Interactive Advertising Bureau standard formats or Watchwith’s own formats. Ads can include interactive promos for other shows, opportunities to purchase program-related content, or brand-awareness campaigns, employing interactive graphics, animation, or photos.
It remains to be seen if the layer of ads on a TV show — on top of product placement in the show, as in Best New Restaurant, and the regular commercial breaks — is just too much for the viewer. If the ad actually expands on the TV content — an ad for the sauce shown in a restaurant scene, for instance — then viewers might embrace them.
For advertisers, overlaid ads have the advantage of not being skippable via fast-forward, as commercial breaks are. They also can help monetize TV programs shown on other platforms, like computers and mobile devices.
Vella pointed to EnSequence as one competitor for interactive ads on TV, although without the programmatic tie-in and the machine vision. Other vendors like Sorenson have also been offering information and advertising overlays.
Watchwith said it has deals for the new platform in the works now with several TV networks, of which it can only mention Fox Entertainment at the moment.