Cadent Technology, the company that combines the technology teams of BlackArrow and Cadent Network, has unveiled a solution for household-level addressable advertising for linear broadcast TV. The company already provides solutions for dynamic advertising insertion (DAI) and addressability in classic VOD (unicast over broadcast networks, served via set-top boxes), or streaming video to multiscreen devices, covering both live/linear and on-demand. It lists a number of major Pay TV operators as customers including Time Warner Cable and Virgin Media. Now Cadent Technology can help operators enable and then manage addressable advertising inventory across every screen.
Cross MediaWorks, owner of Cadent Network, acquired BlackArrow last August. Since then the combined company has been working on the linear addressable solution. Cadent Technology has been demonstrating the technology privately since October and went public a few weeks ago with a demo during an RDK user conference. Les Carter, VP and Chief Architect at Cadent Technology, says the company is working with platform operators to deliver a solution in the field, but cannot name them at this stage.
The addressable advertising solution for linear broadcast is designed for two-way networks, harnessing an IP return path to pre-position ad files into a DVR, then make ad calls to the campaign manager and receive decisions on which ads to show. These advertisements are then spliced into linear channels in order to replace the ads that already exist in the linear TV feeds.
As with all addressable advertising solutions, viewers of the set-top box are profiled using demographic and other lifestyle data so that the most suitable ad campaigns can be targeted at them. Cable operators are an obvious initial target market but the solution can be used by satellite operators for their footprint of homes with DVRs featuring IP connections.
Carter claims that the Cadent Technology solution will provide a cost-effective route to STB-based addressable advertising and will make it realistic for platform operators in small as well as large markets. And he points out that the company is not coming into the addressable linear STB market from a standing start. Cadent Network aggregates traditional local advertising inventory that belongs to Pay TV operators in the U.S., creating a national footprint for advertisers looking to reach individual local markets, so has a strong heritage in broadcast linear TV advertising technology. Meanwhile, much of the know-how for this solution, including campaign management, ad decisioning, frame accurate and artifact-free ad splicing, and third-party integrations, is born from the classic VOD or multiscreen products developed by BlackArrow (now Cadent Technology).
â€œWe have already perfected ad splicing in adaptive bit rate streaming – now we are applying it to multicast television. We already know how to make ad calls; we are extending that to make ad calls from a set-top box,â€ Carter offers as examples. â€œWhile addressable linear is relatively new to us, we are actually leveraging about 85-90% of our existing technology stack.â€
The Cadent Technology addressable STB solution has been developed initially using RDK and demonstrated with RDK firmware on real set-top boxes. However, the solution will be available for integration with any middleware and can be downloaded into the field via STB firmware updates. As well as managing the ad calls and ad splicing, the new software also provides measurement feedback for when ads have been inserted and seen.
As with other solutions for linear broadcast addressable advertising, the Cadent Technology solution has been designed for use with DVRs today, so that ads can be pre-positioned locally ahead of insertion. But Carter thinks the use of IP to support the ad calls, ad decisioning and ad downloads means decisions can be made nearer to live about what ads to store in the DVR and what ads to actually show consumers.
In simple terms, the information about which targeted ads have been shown to a household can be returned to the campaign manager, in the network, almost instantly. If a campaign objective is to limit frequency to three set-top box views per day (for a given advertising campaign) the campaign manager will know immediately if this threshold has been reached. It will tell the DVR not to deliver this ad any more times until tomorrow. In contrast, if the measurement information reaches the campaign manager hours later rather than seconds after ad delivery, it could direct the DVR to show the ads too many times.
Sometimes a platform operator will be required to deliver a total number of ad impressions for a campaign over the whole population of set-top boxes and again, if the â€˜ads already shownâ€™ log lags behind the reality, the DVRs will keep showing the campaign to homes when the target has been reached â€“ so wasting inventory on ad delivery that will not be paid for. Carter says the Cadent Technology solution provides near real-time communications, so decisions can be made about advertising just seconds before they are inserted. â€˜Oversellâ€™ and â€˜undersellâ€™ on campaigns is eliminated. Thus you get near real-time campaign optimization.
Depending on how robust the IP network is, it will become possible to download the advertising assets to the DVR fairly close to the moment at which they need to be inserted, too. You can read more about this below.
Cadent Technology believes it has another ace up its sleeve, in the form of unified inventory and campaign management covering all screens, both multiscreen and STB. According to Carter, the new linear STB solution is a direct response to requests from customers who already use BlackArrow/Cadent Technology for multiscreen advertising including campaign management, and who do not want to introduce addressable STB solutions with separate campaign management systems and workflows.
â€œThey do not want siloes; they do not want to have to â€˜swivel-chairâ€™ between two different systems,â€ he states. He adds that the Cadent addressable STB solution is open, meaning it will integrate with third-party campaign management systems.
After the RDK user conference debut, Cadent Technology gave Videonet the same demonstration via a Skype video link. A laptop hosts the campaign management software and uses an IP link into two set-top boxes powered by RDK firmware. The laptop also outputs pseudo linear feeds, replicating a real linear broadcast feed complete with ad signaling to show where the ad spots are. These feeds go through a QAM modulator so that the signals to the set-top are RF over coax.
Both set-top boxes receive the same one-minute linear feed on a continuous loop, showing an MTV awards ceremony. Seven seconds into the video the set-top boxes make an ad call via the IP connection to the campaign manager and are told what ads to splice into the linear feed. At first, STB 1 shows the baked-in advertisement and STB 2 shows an addressable ad. Next time around, each set-top box shows a different addressable advertisement.
This launch puts Cadent Technology into competition with vendors like Invidi, Visible World and to some extent Cisco (which had a big hand in the development of Sky AdSmart). Carter reckons the network-centric approach and the use of IP help to differentiate this solution. He also thinks the benefits of IP delivery will become clearer over time as platform operators boost the capacity of their IP links. In particular, operators using DOCSIS 3.1 will be able to establish a roadmap for near real-time download of the advertising files that have to be inserted by the customer premise equipment.
Operators with a DOCSIS 3.1 sized IP pipe may not need a DVR hard drive for household-level addressable linear TV advertising, according to Carter. With this kind of high capacity IP link you could use a set-top box with some solid-state memory that provides limited caching capabilities. The STB makes an ad call and, rather than being referred to an advertisement that is stored locally, it is pointed to an ad server in the network. The ad is downloaded via a CDN, with the download completed perhaps 20-30 seconds before the ad is needed, with a short-term cache in the solid-state memory. It is then inserted into the linear broadcast feed in the usual way.
Carter says Cadent Technology has been investigating this capability in its labs, even to the point of beginning the ad splicing from an advertising file that is still partially downloading. But this is risky in the real world, he points out! To guarantee a great QoE you would want the ad fully downloaded in advance. Downloading an advertisement 20-30 seconds before it is needed for dynamic insertion is not science-fiction, if Carter is to be believed. He reckons we could be 18 months to three years away from seeing this in the field â€“ depending on how aggressive the DOCSIS 3.1 roll-outs are.