As multi-screen TV watching rises, Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) is an important technology for TV mobile apps that lets users engage with their surroundings. 

ACR technology is an effective way for operators and broadcasters to address the demand for experiences that are Personalized, Social, and Interactive. As advertisers evolve toward the demands of today’s TV viewing habits, OTT marketing, CTV advertising, and ACR tech are becoming a significant part of a business marketing plan. 

Whether you’re new to connected TV advertising (CTV) and ACR data, or just want to learn more, here’s what every marketer needs to know about ACR in local TV advertising.

What is ACR tech?

If you own a TV, there’s a good chance ACR is already tracking everything you watch. ACR, or automated content recognition, is changing the way we capture and identify content. Deployed on various Internet-connected devices and apps, the capturing of live audio, video, or watermarks gives operators valuable consumer insights. These insights are then used to target a niche audience and create a better user experience.

ACR isn’t new.

While ACR may seem new to modern-day advertising, the technology is more than 15 years old. It was introduced first as a way to track viewership in high-end smart TV’s. Today, it has risen in popularity almost as quickly as CTV itself.

An early-adopter of the technology is the app Shazam. The free application, which was released in 2002, helps users identify the name and artist of songs on the radio. To use the app, users hold their mobile phone up to the speaker and record. Shazam then identifies the song’s title and artist based on its audio fingerprint.

It’s also viewed as the app that bridged the gap between ACR and television. In 2012, Shazam announced a push that had a significant impact on TV. Instead of a song, you could record a short segment of a TV program. The app would then offer more information, including cast, trivia, featured music, and related Twitter feeds.

How does ACR technology work?

ACR tech uses audio, video, or watermark cues to recognize TV content. It is then matched to a source database for reference. ACR data may include various OTT networks, TV programs, commercials, and genres. However, its content will vary based on how it’s collected.

ACR data also captures key behaviors associated with TV viewership, like content streaming, time-shifting, and ad-skipping. It can also identify things like cord-cutting and binge-watching. This data is used to help brands understand the viewing habits of their target audiences.

Audio fingerprinting

Audio fingerprinting collects data from connected devices through audio. However, you can’t obtain ACR data from anyone at any time. The app must be running, and users must opt-in to data collection. The result can be limited in scale, with gaps in data metrics.

Video fingerprinting

On the other hand, video methods collect data directly from the viewer’s connected TV through visual or video capture information. This method is scalable because it captures all content that passes through the TV. Unlike audio, video capturing only requires that the TV be on, and for users to opt-in to data collection.

Watermark fingerprinting 

Contrary to audio and visual methods, watermark fingerprints use digital tags. Content owners use these tags to track copyright infringement. Before distribution, brands place these tags in their content to track how it is used.

How do advertisers use ACR data?

ACR data empowers marketers through insight. These insights can tell them the behaviors of a household, area, or demographic. The collected information is then used to customize brand messaging.

ACR technology also gives TV and Internet advertising a cohesive way to work together. Their strengths allow brands to take advantage of second-screen ad potential. The result is an expansion of OTT marketing efforts. When ads are served to specific users in real-time, it creates a better user experience. 

Advertisers generally use ACR tech in 4 ways:

  1. Content identification identifies music, television, movies, and commercials while streaming.
  2. Content enhancement triggers complementary content based on what the user is watching. This interactive experience may appear on a second screen and could include more info, trivia, polls, interactive forums, or coupons.
  3. Broadcast monitoring looks at where and when viewers play their content. Monitoring is more accessible and much more specific than other data capturing methods. Additionally, it allows advertisers to track the journey of their content. 
  4. Audience measurement allows industry leaders to assess who watches their content in real-time. Some measures include what’s on, where is it on, and for how long. This data is essential for ad pricing. 

What does this mean for advertisers?

As ACR tech becomes more complex, ad-buying can be a daunting process. But before data tracking was possible, advertisers delivered TV ads blindly. More accurate data means publishers can sell at a premium. But it also means that advertisers gain access to high-quality ad space. When ad space is high-quality, paid TV ads get a better ROI.

Vendors who deploy ACR tech operate on a screen-by-screen level. A granular approach allows them to collect data on how viewers consume content. Advertisers can then make important decisions on how to deliver marketing efforts. These decisions may include whether to target audio, video, display, or native ads on various OTT channels.

Sure, the way viewers consume TV has changed, but their love of programming hasn’t. The data-driven approach gives advertisers valued insights. Plus, it targets all forms of content consumption, from CTV to mobile devices. 

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    Many companies specialize in data collection. Advertisers use that information to make wiser ad space investments. Depending on brand needs, agencies choose from different vendors. These companies handle data management, ad-tracking, or ad-retargeting. 

    Here are the major ACR data players and their roles: 

    • Ad Tracking – iSpot
    • Ad Re-Targeting – Samba, Alphonso
    • Data Management – TruOptik, Lotame, Adobe
    • Data Collection – Inscape, Gracenote, Enswers
    • Device Manufacturers – Roku, Apple TV, AmazonFire

    The potential of ACR

    This year should see plenty of innovative use of ACR tech. Already, apps like Shazam are blending their capabilities with TV. 

    Take Super Bowl XLVI, for example. Shazam used interactive icons during TV commercials. Users were then able to “tag” these icons, which gave them access to info on products, and even freebies like recipes and coupons. Another example is NBC’s 2013 Million Second Quiz. The app allowed at-home viewers to engage with the game show during live-streaming.

    Potential also exists for ACR and eCommerce to work together, offering a supplement to addressable TV advertising.

    Consider this. You are watching a show, and you love a character’s outfit. An app doesn’t just give you more info on the show. It also sends you a link to where you can purchase the same outfit. Or maybe an ad came on during the commercial break for a new pizza place. You then receive a link to the menu and a coupon for the restaurant. When it comes to second-screen reach, there are no limits.

    The future is still being written.

    By 2021, eMarketer estimates that the U.S. will be home to 115 million smart TV’s. There were just 80 million in 2017- so that’s a lot of growth! 

    Connected TV’s are also climbing. The total number of CTV devices in the U.S. reached 210 million in 2017, with forecasts expected to exceed 275 million CTV’s by 2021. That means if connected TV advertising and ACR tech aren’t on your radar, they should be!

    Of course, nothing is perfect. There are kinks to smooth out. The ability to “opt-in” to ACR has recently come under attack. In the interest of transparency, The Federal Trade Commission has established regulations. As of 2017, vendors must obtain express consent via “opt-in” agreements. Vendors must provide details on how they will monitor user behavior and display the agreement in an easy-to-access area. Unfortunately, not all vendors are meeting data sharing thresholds.

    Businesses should be selective with who they work with. Keep in mind that ACR is an emerging space. As it becomes more competitive, vendors may pad data to influence potential customers. But advertisers shouldn’t turn away from the opportunity altogether. Instead, it highlights the need to partner with credible, well-trusted data agencies.

    ACR in local TV advertising

    The landscape surrounding ACR is still forming, but the expectations for the industry are high. New tech will likely immerse OTT television viewers with interactivity in the coming years. Already, ACR has transformed the viewing experience and effectiveness of CTV advertising

    At LiftIntent, we offer our clients cutting-edge techniques that work best for their campaigns. If you’d like to learn more about ACR tech, call us. We’ll give you a free media kit and a copy of our case studies. We’d love to learn more about your business and talk with you about your goals.