There has been much anticipation in the television industry regarding the rollout of smart TV sets and set-top boxes. These new devices promise to merge the benefits of web connectivity with the traditional broadcast television format to create a new hybrid experience, and consumer demand has shown quite the appetite for such hardware. According to a report released by market research firm IHS iSuppli at the start of this year by, smart TV shipments climbed 27% in 2012 to reach 66 million units. By 2015, smart TVs will make up 55% of the market as global shipments climb to 141 million units.
What really makes this new generation of smart TVs so smart, however? Using Internet connectivity simply to provide over-the-top and on-demand content does not sound like much of a leap forward for television intelligence. Instead, the true “smarts” of smart TV will be the televisions’ and set-top boxes’ ability to automatically recognize the content being consumed—regardless of whether that content originates from linear TV, playback from a DVR, or a video-on-demand session—and instantaneously and proactively react to that content. When done correctly, gone will be the traditional reactive nature of the television-remote relationship; instead, intelligent television will usher in an age of proactive television hardware.
At the crux of this automated, intelligent television experience is a technology called “Automatic Content Recognition,” or ACR. In its simplest definition, ACR technology gives a smart device such as a tablet, smartphone, or smart TV, the ability to become content-aware and know what content is being watched, with zero input on the part of the viewer. The aware device can then deliver complementary, fully synchronized content and features associated with the viewed program, film or advertisement without the need for manual user interaction.
Television has always been a lean back experience, and with the new potential for creation and interaction that new internet-connected smart TVs offer, we need to be sure this potential does not turn into unneeded complexity for viewers. Instead, the “smartest” smart TVs will preserve as much of the traditional automated experience that viewers have come to appreciate from their entertainment while seamlessly integrating richer viewing experiences and more powerful viewing utilities. A truly smart generation of televisions and set-top boxes will not interrupt the viewing experience with endless options, but will instead leverage technologies afforded by internet connectivity— such as ACR—to proactively take action based on the specific viewer’s preferences, viewing history and the content being watched. Today’s TVs can only react to the inputs viewers provide. But a truly smart TV will be able to anticipate those viewer inputs before he or she even needs to make them.
The scope of potential need not be limited to flashy superficial experiences, but should also include highly utilitarian tools. For example, ACR technology integrated into smart TVs could also power frame-accurate subtitle services, and integrate with the TV’s parental control settings to automatically cut out violent scenes from movies. In the business-to-business world, ACR offers granular audience measurement information, allowing for detailed viewing behavior analyses with down-to-the-second accuracy.
The new generation of content-aware smart TVs will have access to a wide variety of applications, much like smartphones and tablets today. And much like GPS location services and 4G data transmission power the functionality and experience of today’s most impressive smartphone apps, many of the smart TV apps of tomorrow will integrate ACR. The new ecosystem will improve the experience for the viewer, will drive up viewership numbers for content owners, and will sweep potential customers into branded virtual spaces for advertisers. It’s a true leap forward for the traditionally “dumb,” one-way primary screen, but as our industry pioneers this new smart TV world, we must be smart ourselves in maintaining simplicity for TV experience as a whole.
(Alex Terpstra is the CEO of Civolution, a digital watermarking and media management company.)
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