Watchwith aims to help TV advertising evolve for the digital era

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Say what you will about commercials, but TV video ads managed to generate upwards of $173 billion last year. The problem is, there are fewer pairs of eyeballs to watch traditional linear television these days thanks to a multitude of options to view instead on tablets, smartphones, and set-top box apps. Combine that with the rising preference for OTT (over the top) content, and TV programmers now have a growing conundrum on their hands — how do you keep generating advertising dollars as viewing habits become more fragmented and TV commercials lose effectiveness?

That’s an issue media startup Watchwith wants to do something about. The company came on the scene in 2013 with the launch of a platform allowing TV programmers to insert engaging, second-screen content while the show is playing, (sort of like a Pop Up Video). It uses meta data, information about the audience itself, and a few other sources to do this — either baking the integration directly into mobile app platforms or utilizing the ACR (automatic content recognition) capabilities of smart TVs to trigger perfectly timed engaging content regardless of where a program is being watched (cable, broadcast, on-demand via an app). Today Watchwith announced that it’s translating its technology for advertising, and has already forged many partnerships including CBSi, FOX Broadcasting, NBCUniversal, and Viacom.

More specifically, Watchwith is now giving TV programmers the ability to insert interactive ad spots while a show is playing. The ads themselves will take up a portion of the screen (I’m guessing either bottom corners or a banner across the bottom), and likely be similar to those animated promos TV networks use when watching linear broadcast/cable TV.

This is significant because it creates an opportunity for new forms of ads to be sold that are specific and unique to each moment of a program. And when you introduce audience data, you can get a much more relevant ad targeted at the right people. That’s the idea, anyway.

“What we’ve built is the perfect intersection between data and creativity [in TV advertising] that people have been talking about,” said Watchwith CEO Zane Vella in an interview with Gigaom, adding that the capability to insert contextually relevant in-program ads (perhaps not at scale, though) has been possible for years with the available technology. But, he explained, it took the TV industry a while to catch up.

Watchwith ads can prompt viewers with a question, poll, or factoid related to a specific moment during a program, while featuring an advertiser’s logo. In this sense, the company (as well as many TV networks) are betting that people are far more accepting of these types of ad spots than the typical commercial break that lasts several minutes. I’m inclined to agree, especially with Hulu — the premiere ad-supported premium TV service — recently deciding to give its customers the option of paying more to eliminate commercials.

Vella explained that the TV industry landscape is much different now compared to even five years ago — in that programmers now have more sophisticated digital ad strategies as well as ad technologies at their disposal. That means they aren’t tied to the traditional practice of matching advertising based solely on the content of the show or the audience demographics — and hoping it has the desired affect of giving advertisers a ROI.

Watchwith essentially gives programmers the ability manage their advertising efforts directly, handling both sales and the delivery of those ads without involving a middle man. Of course when that doesn’t make sense, Watchwith ads can also be automated to run programmatic network ads. However, the main benefit remains that programmers have more control.

“We’re at a very interesting time in television, especially with Tim Cook’s recent proclamation that the future of television is apps,” Vella said. The Apple TV CEO’s statement was made in reference to the company’s new tvOS, a brand new operating system that will finally allow third-party developers to build apps for the company’s Apple TV set-top box.

If Cook’s prediction does hold true, then it puts Watchwith at the forefront. With more TV-specific apps being created for people to consume content, TV programmers and advertisers alike will be faced with an even more fragmented ecosystem — meaning, it’ll be harder to target the same audience across multiple platforms.

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