Tech Firm Integrates Ads Into OTT Programming

Why This Matters: Making product integration programmatic, automated and addressable could create a bigger revenue opportunity in streaming video.

There’s been a lot of talk in the television business about cutting back on commercials, but so far, there’s been little progress. In fact, by some measures, the number of commercials on most networks continue to rise.

More and more traditional TV companies are starting their own over-the-top and direct-to-consumer products to compete with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon’s Prime Video.

They need to keep commercial loads low, and one ad tech company says it has a way to accomplish that while still generating revenue from marketers with a buzzy combination of programmatic, dynamic, targeted and addressable targeted advertising.

In the broadcast world, one alternative to interrupting programming with commercial breaks is by integrating products and brand messages into the content.

Making It Easier to Integrate

Integrations are on the upswing, but it’s not efficient to be flying products to a show’s set, along with client executives who make sure everything is shot just so, said Ari Lewine, chief strategy officer at TripleLift, which was founded in 2012.

“We have developed technology that only in the last few years has been available to create these brand integration experiences during run time and available on a per-user, addressable basis,” Lewine said.

The TripleLift system uses machine vision technology developed for self-driving cars to identify lulls in programming and appropriate surfaces for integrations and product placements that are done using digital effects.

The privately owned company, which has raised $16.5 million in venture capital, offers four main integration experiences.

The in-action six is a shortened spot similar to ads Fox has aired during the World Series and Super Bowl. Instead of a producer waiting for the right moment for the spot to appear, the technology makes the call. And rather than showing the same message to all viewers, different ads can be addressed to different target consumer audiences.

The overlay unit is also similar to the program promos that many networks air on the bottom third of the screen during shows. With TripleLift, the messages are selected to be relevant to the content and directed to targeted audiences. These messages could be clickable or shoppable, if that works for the content owner.

Brand integrations are placed in flat spots in the programming where a logo can be superimposed, such as on a tennis court or a billboard in the background of a scene.

Product insertions can be managed by the system, putting bottles on tables and boxes on shelves.

The notion of inserting products into shows after they were produced has certainly been done before, such as electronically changing the brand of cereal in Jerry’s cupboards in reruns of Seinfeld. The tactic never gained popularity.

“The value wasn’t really there,” Lewine said. “It was limited by the number of different versions one wanted to run and it wasn’t informed by data. What’s compelling about this is that it has been made addressable on a per-user basis using data and programmatic technologies.”

TripleLift’s technology is generating more than $100 million in revenue by integrating brands into online content. For TV, TripleLift’s system will work in very specific conditions. It needs to work over the internet protocol architecture employed by over-the-top services. And to employ it, media companies must both control the rights to their own content and the distribution systems that deliver it.

Good Fit for Giants

That has limited the number of companies TripleLift can work with to a handful of giants.

The bad news is that huge companies have the negotiating leverage. The good news is that many of them are already have teams working to address the issues TripleLift solves.

Lewine said TripleLift is currently conducting a closed beta test of its technology with a very large company he declined to identify. He expects that a full-scale campaign using the technology will be mounted later this year to demonstrate that the technology works in a live environment with real users.

“It’s early days for this, but we’re thrilled because when we developed this technology, not in our wildest dreams did we expect it to be in the real world as soon as it looks like it will be,” he said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.