The Super Bowl, Shazam and the Future of ACR

For those of us who watch the Super Bowl for the advertisements, one force outweighed everything else in last week’s folly. Not the doggies (says a dog person); not even Betty.

Shazam, the smart-phone app that your friends showed you five years ago as a way to push a button, hold up your phone and identify whatever song was playing, wherever you are, showed up with gusto at the 46th football extravaganza.

By now you’ve seen or heard about ads from Toyota (win two Camrys!), Best Buy ($50 gift certificate!), Pepsi (free video!), Teleflora (secret offer!) and Bud Light (halftime show with remix of Madonna’s new single!).

Talk about reach and frequency.

Shazam is based on audio content recognition, or ACR. (The “A” in “ACR” goes by “automatic” in the lingo, too.) Its whomp-like force at the game, just as the ACR category is getting going, raises one undeniable question: What now for the ACR technology races? Game over?

To answer that, this week’s Translation looks at some of the dis-or-dat fractures that were fragmenting the ACR scene, even while Shazam was readying its first interactive ad (for Pillsbury, in December).

Let’s list them: TV or tablet; ad or program; watermarking or fingerprinting.

Because the size of the tablet/phone market, so far, is substantially bigger than that of Internet-connected, app-loaded televisions, most of what happened in this year’s game occurred on the latter.

ACR enthusiasts point out that most, if not all, connected TVs sold this year will include some form of ACR - in many cases, on-chip.

or TV makers, because there is no standard for ACR technology, it means due diligence on intellectual property before selecting which technique to license. By my count, there are some 10 ACR contenders from which to choose: Audible Magic, Civolution, IntoNow and Zeitera, to name a few.

The “ad or program” fragmentation is a tough one, because of the pesky matter of monetization. Why make a show interactive if it can’t pay for itself? Yet, if consumers learn that the clickable thing uncovers an ad, will they click when it blinks up on a show?

On the tech side, there’s the dis-or-dat of watermarking vs. fingerprinting. Short version: Watermarking inserts code into the signal. The app on the other end extracts the watermark to sync the interactivity with the show. Fingerprinting extracts info from the stream, compares it to a big external lookup table, then syncs the interactivity.

This is not to say that Shazam is without challenges. As Live Digitally’s Jeremy Toeman pointed out: “The viewer must grab their phone, turn it on, unlock it, switch to the Shazam app, and then - this is important - get everyone in the room to be quiet for 7-10 seconds.”

Nonetheless, as Super Bowl champions go, Shazam is pretty much it, this year. What does this mean for the large contingent of ACR contenders? Better up the A-game (pun intended).

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis