This Technology: alternative content is the splice of life

If you thought cable advertising was starting to get hyper-targeted before, here’s a news nugget that stretches the boundaries of the medium ever further.

Denver-based This Technology, a provider of software that injects dynamic video advertisements into on-the-fly video streams, has figured out a way not only to associate targeted ad spots within IP video streams that show up on tablets and smartphones, but to get targeted ad spots placed within alternative programming that’s used as a replacement for what’s normally on the air.

Dizzy? That makes two of us.

Here’s what we’re talking about. Let’s say you’re watching ESPN or TNT when either of those networks has scheduled a prime-time game involving your home-town major league sports franchise. In many cases, when that happens the national game gets blacked out in your local market because a local broadcaster or regional sports network owns the immediate market rights to the game. So if you want to watch the game, you have to tune to a local channel. On ESPN during that three-hour period, an alternative program is substituted into that local time block.

With us so far? Good. As you know, on “regular” TV there are established mechanisms for overriding that national broadcast with alternative programming that respects the local rights arrangement. But in the emerging world of IP video, only recently has the industry R&D arm CableLabs completed specification sets that allow for the injection of alternative content to live video streams for tablets and other IP devices. (You can read about them here.) Companies like This Technology and others have developed intelligent platforms for recognizing broadcast stream events and inserting alternate content into them when rights conditions warrant.

Advertising angle

But suppose a local advertiser has booked an ad spot in the local break of ESPN during that same block of time. When the alternative content gets stitched in, there has to be a way to get the purchased ad to play. Either that, or the local cable advertising provider concedes the booking to a make-good.

This Technology is introducing at this week’s Cable Show 2013 a way to both handle the insertion of the alternate content block into the IP video feed associated with a national TV network AND to get the correct 30-second ad to appear within it. It’s a novel “splice-within-a-splice” arrangement that underscores how technology is evolving to support cable’s emerging IP video environment.

“MVPDs need to be able to duplicate functionality across their QAM and IP networks and providing alternate content delivery is a key part of that,” said Dave Fellows, former Comcast CTO and This Technology technical advisory board chair, in a press release announcing the new wrinkle to This Technology’s Alternate Content Delivery System. (If you’re at The Cable Show this week, you can see a live demo at booth 3623.)

In reality, the odds that an advertiser is going to be bummed out because his/her local spot doesn’t show up in the alternative content block for a one-time event are slim to none. For one thing, the audience watching live video on tablets is small to begin with. The subset that happens to be tuned in to the alternative content is smaller still.

But the bigger issue is that going forward, the cable industry will have to come up with ways to extend its local ad footprint against emerging video technologies that are certain to grow in prominence over time. This Technology is thinking ahead on how to do that, and its introduction of a new process for doing so illustrates how a new cadre of technology suppliers is trying, pardon the pun, to cover all the bases.