Startup Eyes Deeper Connection to TV Advertising

Looking to breathe new life into an old concept, a startup called Connekt emerged from secrecy this month to introduce a platform that enables consumers to buy goods, obtain discounts and otherwise interact with ads via the TV.

It’s not a new idea, as it’s been almost two decades since the notion of “t-commerce” envisioned a way for consumers to buy the sweater actress Jennifer Aniston was wearing on an episode of Friends with a click of the remote. But thanks to a legion of internet-connected TVs and streaming players, the technology appears to have finally caught up to the idea.

“Fundamentally, we believe that TV advertising … is at a point now where there are opportunities for disruption and a solution to help future-proof how content is monetized with advertising,” Mike Fitzsimmons, cofounder and CEO of Connekt, said, pointing out that skinny bundles and over-the-top services continue to put pressure on the TV ecosystem.

Connekt’s baseline idea is to integrate/embed t-commerce capabilities into IP-enabled devices, such as smart TVs, Roku players and TiVo boxes, drive true scale into that business and deliver more engaging, interactive ad experiences.

The core of Connekt is a proprietary, data-driven artificial intelligence system called CARL that “connects the dots” between what a viewer is watching with metadata attributes to deliver a contextual, relevant ad in real time. Other pieces of the company’s platform include FLX (ad delivery tools), Transakt (t-commerce technology) and Datascope (reporting and analytics).

Connekt’s platform uses automatic content recognition (ACR) technology for audio and video fingerprints to help mine the info it requires. Based on that data, the system can, for example, try to pitch the viewer, via an interactive ad overlay, on buying a New York Yankees cap, receiving a discount for Tide detergent, or purchasing merchandise featured in a show itself.

While click-to-buy is part of the plan, making those ads more interactive and immersive can also help with brand recall, Fitzsimmons said.

The system is also designed to drill down to the local level. A national ad for a Toyota Camry could serve up info on a local dealer. Connekt is also touting the concept of retargeting, whereby advertisers can relay digital ads to consumers who have already seen the traditional TV spot.

Fitzsimmons said Connekt is agnostic in the sense that it can work with any IP-connected platform, whether that’s for a retail device or even a set-top supplied by a multichannel video programming distributor.

Connekt hasn’t said much yet about the progress it’s made, but Fitzsimmons said revenues are already coming in the door (more than $10 million and less than $30 million is the range he’s willing to provide).

Announced partners include LG, Sony, Roku and Hisense, with “commerce” deals with CBS, HBO and Showtime, and tech agreements with Nielsen-owned metadata specialist Gracenote.

Founded in 2017, Connekt has about 50 employees, with offices in San Francisco, Denver and New York. Hillair Capital is an investor, but Connekt expects to be in the market for a Series A round early next year, Fitzsimmons said.