Vendors Connect to Splice Ads into Live IP Video Streams

With dynamic ad insertion for VOD starting to get its groove on, BlackArrow is now turning its attention to live streaming as it teams up with four vendors on a pre-integrated platform designed to splice ads into linear TV feeds shipped to PCs, tablets, smartphones and other IP-connected devices.

The proposed platform centers on BlackArrow Linear, a campaign manager/platform that does for live TV what the company is already doing for VOD – dynamically inserting ads into authenticated streams of linear video feeds from cable networks and broadcasters.

“The core components [of BlackArrow’s product line] can work over any platform,” Chris Hock, senior vice president of product management and marketing for BlackArrow, said.

To help streamline and simplify that process early on, BlackArrow is pitching a pre-integrated “ecosystem’ that wraps in  encoders, transcoders, packagers, and encryption components from Elemental Technologies, Envivio, RGB Networks and SeaWell Networks.

The aim, of course, is to help MSOs bring dynamic ad insertion (DAI) to live, adaptive bit rate streams and TV Everywhere offerings that will become more commonplace as MSOs continue to secure the rights to offer more TV channels on IP-connected devices both in and out of the subscriber’s home.

Such capabilities are becoming increasingly important as IP becomes “the basis of [cable’s] converged video play,” Hock said.

DAI will help MSOs enhance a current model that essentially replicates the traditional live TV feed. DAI, for example, will give operators the ability to customize ads, serve up more targeted, addressable ads, or deliver “alternative content” if, for example, a specific local market is subject to a blackout rule tied to a particular sporting event.

While DAI for VOD is rolling out now, Hock acknowledges that “it’s still relatively early” for the live TV component. He said BlackArrow conducted some lab and live market trials last year, and expects that tier 1 operators to do more of that  this year ahead of “full scale” deployments in 2014.

BlackArrow isn’t saying who’s kicking the tires on it now, but Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Rogers Communications are among its announced customers. Its VOD DAI platform currently covers 30 million homes, and the vendor said last week that it expects that number to reach more than 40 million by sometime next year. 

Hock said the initial vendor combination gives MSOs an opportunity to use a standards-based “pay TV grade solution” for DAI on IP video streams. He said initial vendor arrangement does not preclude the use of other vendors, so long as they are also following standards. Among other vendors trying to get in on the action include SeaChange, which markets a multiscreen advanced advertising system called Infusion.

Examples of specs employed by the platform proposed by the vendors includes the CableLabs Event Signaling and Management (ESAM) spec (for processing real-time signals, including ad insertion), and the Event Scheduling and Notification Interface (ESNI), a system that alerts  MSOs to regional sports blackouts and other “upcoming alternative content.”

BlackArrow will show off its Linear ad platform at The Cable Show, set to run June 10-12 in Washington, D.C.