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Automated Content Recognition (ACR) Part 1: What Is It?

May 9th, 2018   ||    by John R. Osborn

This is the first of a two-part series on automated content recognition (ACR).

Adweek defines automated content recognition (ACR) as “a technology used to automatically detect and index content that is playing on television in real-time…to determine when [and where] a given consumer sees an ad.” This technology happens to be in the limelight lately due to the explosion of smart TV ownership: TV[R]EV predicts that by 2022, about 75 percent of all televisions in use in the U.S. will be smart TVs. But what is ACR?

How Does ACR Work?

A recent Forbes article, written by TV[R]EV cofounder Alan Wolk, describes it best: “Smart TVs [and other devices] (with permission) capture a few pixels from whatever the viewer is watching and share that data with the TV manufacturer’s ACR tracking software. The software takes those pixels and matches them to a database that keeps track of local broadcasts.” This allows advertisers and content providers to know (in real-time):

  • The type of viewing platform—linear, OTT, DVR, or VOD
  • Time spent viewing—including “what [channels,] shows, and commercials they are watching on a second-by-second basis”
  • Viewer location—the viewer’s IP address

In the past, ad value was determined by the “opportunity to expose” a viewer to an ad, with the program rating serving as a surrogate for the commercial rating. ACR will help advertisers know whether the ad itself was on-screen for specific viewers. This increases the measurable value to advertisers, and the value and pricing potential for the station.

Data Privacy

“This data is all anonymized, e.g., there are no actual names attached,” Wolk explained in the Forbes piece. The smart TV permission is obtained “when the owner runs the software for setting up the device, subscription or app.” It can be modified later. Given changing standards due to GDPR and Facebook’s data scandal (among other things), expect privacy requirements to evolve over time.

“Glass-Level Measurement”

As Wolk also pointed out, “ACR data from smart TVs is the only way to get glass-level measurement on what people are watching.” How, when, and where the viewer is seeing the ad—and who the viewer is—become the key data sources, rather than simply the programming or channel context.

Tracking Time

On April 5, 2018, Nielsen announced its Grabix analytics platform will now use Gracenote’s video ACR technology. But Nielsen’s minute-by-minute or average commercial data within a program does not yet employ the full value of ACR, which is measuring TV content on a second-by-second basis. Online publishers are already exploring selling video ads based on time spent rather than minimum ad-view impressions, Digiday reported.

Direct Verification at Last

One of the historical advantages of third-party measurement from Nielsen or ComScore is that it provides an industry-accepted verification of audience delivery. According to Adweek, “ACR data provides the first independent verifiable source [of addressable audience data] through direct verification.”

ATSC 3.0 + ACR = Benefits to Local TV

Vitally important for local TV buyers and sellers is that in 2018, with the release of ATSC 3.0, they can now use ACR to target and receive data interactively through all internet-connected TVs and other devices. Two-way data exchange with devices—rather than set-top boxes—is a game changer for stations as well.

In part two of this series, we’ll explore how ACR measurement combined with ATSC 3.0 opens up breakthrough opportunities for addressable targeting in local TV.

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