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Media synching and the rise of new global water cooler

Sit down on the couch to watch TV, and there’s a very good chance you’ll be online while you do it. A recent Harris Poll report found that 56% of TV viewers surf the Internet via computer while watching TV. A further 25% do it with a phone or tablet.

Shazam, the popular music recognition service, recently raised $32 million in order to expand into TV recognition. This capital raising is not in order to enable viewers to identify the  TV show they’re watching — unlike the music recognition service that made Shazam famous — but to allow people to extend and enhance their TV viewing experience via  an app.

This “media-synching” process allows mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to detect and synchronize with audio-visual content via a microphone or camera.  This gives producers and networks the opportunity to provide an enhanced viewing experience, and also means advertisers can integrate communications across media.

Acknowledging this growing trend towards simultaneous media consumption, ABC’s short-lived My Generation TV series released an iPad app that enabled viewers to interact with polls, trivia and other exclusive content while watching the show. Using the same audio-recognition technology, the app recognized when the show was playing so viewers could interact at appropriate times.

Honda Jazz created an app that can recognize the audio soundtrack in their TV advertisement This Unpredictable Life. Upon recognition of the TV advertisement, the app allows users to virtually catch characters from the TV advertisement by swiping their phone in the direction of the television. As it relies upon the audio from the TV advertisement rather than from any network audio watermarks or transmissions, the app also works when watching the ad on YouTube or when the program has been recorded for later viewing.

But the producers of TV series and advertisers are not the only ones creating these apps; platforms such as Nielsen’s Media Sync, Notion’s Meta Mirror, Yahoo!’s Into-Now, Syzygy’s GOAB and Shazam are all moving beyond extending the traditional communication limitations of a broadcast program or 30-second advertisement and are offering engaging, entertaining and informative content that audiences can interact with during programming. These interactions can directly or indirectly result in sales conversions, customer service, or simply greater engagement with brands, products or services. For example, Old Navy has tagged ads and sponsored music videos with “Shazam Now” in order to facilitate this engagement and drive direct purchase.

Media synching offers businesses the opportunity to create truly interactive communications. As it becomes clear that TV is no longer engaging enough to occupy the attention of the US public; media-synching goes from a welcome addition to a necessary extension.

This type of integration of mass media with digital media will change the way in which advertisers work with TV networks and producers. Programs don’t have to change themselves – all of the branded content can come alive via an app. For example, an Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations app may be a platform for food ads, branded recipes and other inventory extensions and revenue opportunities. A fashion retail app may synchronize with Project Runway in order to allow people to purchase the clothing they’re seeing on screen at that very moment, even if they’re watching it later than the original broadcast or on YouTube or Hulu.

Media-synching also allows advertisers and content owners to collaborate on back-catalogue programming. For example, a potential Cosby Show app may incorporate behind-the-scenes footage brought to you by an auto manufacturer, sponsored conversations from breakfast cereal brands, and in-app merchandise sales.

Much of the attraction of TV has always been in the water cooler and schoolyard conversations that its programming spawns.  As people are increasingly time-shifting their viewing habits, this social element has diminished, making TV conversations a lesser part of popular culture.  The greater value for viewers and the TV industry as a whole lies in time-shifting the conversations along with the content, allowing the social element to return; not the “check-in” services of Miso and GetGlue, but conversation-shifting as exemplified by the likes of SoundCloud – ensuring that its content l continues to forge communities and remain a primary driver of popular culture.

Media-synching isn’t, therefore, just about extending advertising inventory – it may turn our iPads into the new global water coolers. TV content is still driving conversations, even if nobody else is on the couch with you.

Con Frantzeskos is Tribal DDB’s Digital Strategy Director at DDB Group Melbourne


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