Monthly Archives: January 2007
The Dynamics of Dynamic VOD Ads
by Leslie Ellis // January 29 2007
A nomenclature debate worthy of translation is burbling up from the advanced advertising side of the house, and it goes like this: What’s “dynamic” about “dynamic ad insertion?”
The conversation begins at the splicing of digital advertisements into the stored fare that is on-demand video — as opposed to linear broadcasts, or shows stored on a digital video recorder. It’s entering the lingo because ad-supported on-demand is ascending, both in revenues and in strategic priority.
What makes it tricky is the momentum built into the word “dynamic.” Because “dynamic” means “continually changing,” it’s one of those words that tends to stay in motion. What’s dynamic today, in other words, will likely seem rigid in hindsight.
Right now, “dynamic ad insertion” (which also sometimes goes by “dynamic VOD”), is what happens when you, as a service provider, can splice a digital ad into a VOD title, precisely at the moment the stream is being assembled to send to the requesting customer.
Translation: At this moment in time, what’s “dynamic” about dynamic ad insertion is the ability to swap out an ad. It’s not the ability to swap out that ad with an addressable substitute, targeted specifically for Customer Jane and her demographics. (The vendor community submits that the technology is ready to do addressability, as soon as the business-side mechanisms catch up.)
Nomenclature confusion like this usually links to unrealistic expectations. The descriptor-in-question sounds like it does more (or less) than it really does — like when a potential advertiser or agency grimaces and says, “but I thought you said it was dynamic.”
If the “dynamic” in dynamic VOD could be expressed in a crawl/walk/run sequence, where each improvement is a little better than the last, it’d go like this: First was ad-supported VOD, where the ads are immovably pre-packaged into the show.
With one notable exception, the crawl-stage is pretty much how things work in today’s cable-delivered VOD systems. If you want to swap out one ad for another within that on-demand episode of Project Runway, for instance, it can take as long as two weeks. It involves re-encoding the show with the new ad, then “re-pitching” the show, with the new ad, into the storage array.
The “walk” phase began with Charter’s news, late last year, that it would conduct a test of “dynamic VOD” technology, provided by C-COR Electronics (and specifically, the work of the former nCUBE group). What makes it dynamic is the ungluing of advertisements from shows.
Specifically, a sort of “industrial playlist” is created, each time a customer requests an on-demand show. Behind the scenes, while the session for that stream is being instantiated, the VOD system figures out which files are ad spots, and which are the show itself. The big bonus: Swapping out the Sears ad takes a day, maybe two — not two weeks. The bigger bonus: For the first time, viewership data is collectable, about which ads were viewed, rewound and re-played, or fast-forwarded.
The “run” stage of dynamic ad insertion — and where all MSOs and their respective technology suppliers are ultimately heading — is the ability to replace an ad with one that’s specifically targeted at a household. In other words, if a VOD session is already streaming, and you want to switch out the snowblower ad for the hot chocolate ad, you can do that.
It’s probably worth pointing out that two in the roster of VOD suppliers (C-COR’s nCUBE and SeaChange International) started out in life as ad insertion vendors. Ad swapping for VOD isn’t all that different than ad splicing for linear broadcasts, from that point of view.
From a technology perspective, the big trend for 2007 will be the continued addition of ad-swapping mechanisms for on-demand fare. It’s the addressable part that doesn’t warrant inclusion in “dynamic VOD” just yet.
This column originally ran in the Technology section of Multichannel News.
CES Tech Gibberish Roundup
by Leslie Ellis // January 15 2007
By now, the sizzle of headlines from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show is a mental clump of cross-platform, high-def, downloadable, interconnectable you-name-it — but the gibberish and tech-nomenclature fueling the annual gadget carnival lingers on.
Let’s start with the buzz around high-definition screens. A reliable visual backdrop, every year, is the passionate competition amongst TV set manufacturers to be the guy with the biggest …. screen. This year it was Sharp’s 108-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) doozy.
This year’s chapter, though, offered a new twist: An emphasis on 1080p technology, in addition to the more widely known 1080i. Piling on top of the “p” was a number: 1080p/60. Signage all over the floors called it “Full HD” and “True HD.”
The secret decoder ring on 1080p/60 says this: The “p” stands for “progressive,” as in “progressive scan.” The 60 stands for the number of frames per second it can display.
This “i vs. p” thing (not to be confused with this “IP” thing) has everything to do with picture quality, and which produces better resolution.
Quick refresher: The “I” in “1080i” stands for “interlace.” It describes how an HD set paints the picture onto the screen: First, 540 odd-numbered, horizontal lines, then 540 even-numbered, horizontal lines, which are then vertically “interlaced” — integrated, by your eyes — into an image.
By contrast, “progressive” displays draw each line one-by-one, beginning to end. It’s generally acknowledged as superior for things like advanced computer graphics and its offspring, games.
The rub: The original HDTV specifications, maintained by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, don’t include a “profile” for a 60-frame-per-second 1080p picture. They only went as high as 30 frames. Reason: The bit load of a 1080p/60 profile wouldn’t fit into broadcast bandwidth, using the modulation method they picked to send HD signals over the air.
From a signal distribution point of view, it means you probably need to go one question deeper when asking your set-top suppliers whether their HD boxes can do 1080p. The short, happy answer is yes — they go as far as the ATSC spec. The fuller and blurrier answer is “it depends” — on whether 60p is part of the ask.
And another thing: Outside of PC multimedia and game titles, there isn’t really any video you can play on a 1080p display. That’ll change as high-definition DVD players scuffle through their own, separate debate format (HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray) into the consumer mainstream.
MoCA with that HomePlug?
During CES last week, local newscasters put the average number of connectable devices per household at 26.
If the suppliers peppering the Las Vegas Convention Center have their way, those 26 items, plus all other gadgets in your house with a chip, are on a hookup path. Inside the wired path to hook things up, and prominent in Vegas, were two techniques. Neither is new, but both are progressing as expected.
One is “MoCA,” which stands for the Multimedia over Coax Alliance. As its name indicates, MoCA hooks things up over the coaxial wires that already line the insides of your walls. Comcast is a big MoCA supporter, as is Cox, and suppliers Motorola and Scientific-Atlanta — among dozens of others.
The other is HomePlug, which lets you connect your connectable stuff over the power lines that already string through your house. The HomePlug news out of CES: Watch for usable data rates of around 40 Megabits per second — enough for a decent handful of HD channels, in other words — out of products tagged “HomePlug AV” (where the “AV” stands for “Audio Video.”)
Both MoCA and HomePlug move bits using IP, which positions them well for today’s ceaseless momentum around anything Internet Protocol — which brings us full-circle to the “downloadable” and “cross-platform” world that will likely characterize 2007.
This column originally appeared in the Technology section of Multichannel News.
What Techies Want
by Leslie Ellis // January 01 2007
Surprise: Cable’s technical community is awash in techno-wishes for the New Year — and, of course, for their own personal geek-o-spheres.
As 2006 wound down, we checked in with a medley of tech-side contributors, to learn what they’d been hoping to find under the tree — and what gadgets will gizmo them into 2007.
Apropos to next week’s Consumer Electronics Show, John Treece, director of cable business development for Juniper Networks, wants a universal DRM (digital rights management) scheme “that really does, in fact, let me move my songs and movies across devices — I really like the buy once, use it like you own it model.”
(Also on Treece’s gizmo list: A Boss BR900CD 8-Track Recorder with digital outputs to the computer “for when I get inspired,” and an upgrade to a 30 Gigabyte video iPOD.)
Mark Francisco, director of engineering/home services for Comcast New Media Development, wants a magical GPS — magical because it navigates both traffic jams on the New Jersey turnpike, and his quest for life/work balance.
“GPS is the hot device this year, so I want one that gives me directions to go home and spend time with family, and to get out of bed despite darkness and chill and get a run in before work,” Francisco said. Also in his spec for the gadget: “Directions to reach out to friends that time and geography have made distant, and to stop and think rather than react.”
Bob Zitter, chief technical officer for HBO, wants more consumer education about what they can do with an HDTV set. “I’d like our industry to educate all those people who purchased high def TVs about how easy and inexpensive it is to connect them to HD services. We should be ashamed at the magnitude of sets without HD service,” Zitter said.
Rick Mandler, recently named vice president of digital media advertising for Disney/ABC, wants “a simple method for discovering video on a PC but playing it out over my TV, and the ability to dynamically serve VOD advertising across a network of diverse system operators.”
By the looks of the gadget wish list submitted by Paul Bosco, vice president of cable and video initiatives for Cisco, he might want to schedule a personal day to wander around CES. Bosco wants not just an HD camcorder, but a “Sony HDR-SR1 HD camcorder, to capture family in my limited time at home,” plus an IBM Z61P widescreen laptop, with HD edit tools, and a “personal video locker to load and stream on-demand to my HD set-top box and LCD screen.”
Jim Chiddix, outgoing CEO of OpenTV, seeks “a Soundtraxx Tsunami Digital Command Control sound synthesizer/throttle chip for the big steam locomotive on my Oahu Railway layout in the basement.” (He added: “Is that too geeky?”)
Other holiday wishes were as curious. “I recently watched my rocket scientist sister give a talk on the solar wind,” said Rebecca Lim, senior director of advanced services for Starz Entertainment. “When I got in the elevator, this guy had a very cool magnetosphere spectrum analyzer. I’m not sure I really want one, but…”
And there’s the inevitable industry wishes. Dick Green, CEO of CableLabs, wants a banner year for the OpenCable Applications Platform: “I want OCAP to become as big a success as DOCSIS and PacketCable.”
Michael Misheff, VP of tier one service providers for Audio Codes, wants “peace, happiness, and continued subscriber growth.”
Likewise for Andy Paff, CEO of Cedar Point Communications: “My wish is for continued fair weather in the capital markets.”
But it was Bob McIntyre, chief technical officer for Scientific-Atlanta, who summed it all up with a succinct wish, mentioned by almost everyone: “Definitely fewer Sky miles.”
This column originally ran in the Technology section of Multichannel News.