‘Commercial Break’ Test Drive

Aristarchos Ltd. unleashed a public beta of “Commercial Break,” an app for iOS devices (Android to follow) that uses servers outfitted with proprietary software and algorithms to monitor a select batch of channels and notify users when the commercials are over.

The company allowed me to give it a test drive ahead of the announcement, and my brief experience using it showed me that it pretty much works as advertised.  I asked the app to monitor channels such as ESPN and CNN (the app’s monitoring of broadcast TV channels is currently limited to the New York DMA) and when the ad break was over, I received an alert telling me that the commercials that were helping to pay the freight on the program I was watching had ended.

After using the app, I can vouch that this video from the company does a good job of explaining how this works. And its use of a Price Is Right-like fail horn makes it just that more entertaining:

So it tells you when the ad breaks are over... and that’s about it. I can now go channel surfing or grab a soda during commercial breaks...worry free!

But I don’t really need their help to do that. I also use a DVR, so I will point out the obvious -- the pause button, fast-forwarding button and those 30-second skip buttons you can program into a remote control also do wonders if a chief goal is not to watch advertising. 

So, the system works, but as a stand-alone app, its appeal is somewhat limited.

And it’s apparent that Aristarchos agrees, as company CEO Haim Kairy told me that integrating the technology into set-tops and cloud DVRs is the “bigger picture.”  In fact, its technology is already being implemented into a cloud DVR. And Arisarchos noted that it has held conversations with Aereo’s legal team. Just trying to connect some dots here, folks.

We’ve asked Aereo, which already has the attention of the broadcasters and their lawyers, to comment on its relationship with Aristarchos, so we’ll keep you posted.

Update: Aereo tells me the people contacted there about this startup are not familiar with it.

As timing would have it, BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield posted a blog (registration required) this week noting that consumers, thanks in part to the DVR and the rise of over-the-top subscription services such as Netflix, are becoming conditioned to avoid ads.

“While multi-room connectivity, increased storage and loads of tuners are obvious enhancements to a cloud-based DVR service, the question becomes how soon until MVPDs begin to enable functionality that reduce the number of ads consumers are forced to endure,” Greenfield wrote, highlighting recently enhancements made to Cablevisions’ rebranded cloud DVR, Multi-Room DVR from Optimum, can record up to 10 programs at one time.

Because Cablevision’s cloud DVR is designed to mimic the functions of a traditional, local DVR, it does not disable the fast-forward function on programs recorded to the cloud.

Greenfield also believes that the cable industry would be unlikely to deploy features like Dish’s AutoHop on their own unless Dish wins its case, which in one way would seem to make an Aereo-Aristarchos connection more likely (though it apparently is not if Aereo has not even heard of these guys).

And even a Dish victory might not be enough. “The solution for media companies is to put far more content on-demand with a lighter ad-load so consumers do not even think about using ad-skipping technology.  However, given that this would most likely be negative for near-term revenues and profits, we doubt programmers will make this move willingly in the next couple of years,” Greenfield concluded.

He also gave a thumbs up to a Cablevision’s 30-second spot on Multi-Room DVR, which follows the theme that the DVR has retrained consumer viewing behavior: