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Civolution: Second Screen Done Right

Aug 19, 2014 5:14:00 PM. By: High Tech Campus
When you mention the Campus, few people immediately make a connection with the multi-billion dollar movie or TV industries. Yet, in just six years, High Tech Campus resident Civolution has become the undisputed world leader in being able to identify, manage and monetize valuable content from both traditional and emerging creatives.

Civolution’s CEO Alex Terpstra spoke with broadcast technology writer Jonathan Marks at the 2014 International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam. More than 55,000 visitors came to the Dutch capital to understand more about where the media industry is heading. It turns out that Civolution has key technology that many people have been waiting for.

Understanding Audiences: Second screen becomes first screen

A few years ago, some major broadcasters were trying experiments with “second screens”, having noticed that TV viewers were often using social apps like Facebook and Twitter while their TV show was running. Since commercial television is often about delivering attentive audiences to advertisers, people have been looking at ways to turn a distraction into an integrated viewer experience. What if the audience were able to use their mobile devices to interact with the lean-back big screen experience in front of them?

Early experiments with second screens were conducted in the Netherlands with quiz programs like the “National IQ Quiz” from broadcaster BNN. Basically, viewers could play along by answering the same questions being posed to the studio panelists. A piece of software in the set-top box checked your answers. But although popular, the logistics of managing a TV studio production as well as a second screen experience required a lot of extra planning – and budget. And there was a problem that the broadcaster never really knew how many viewers were really taking part or what their answers were.

In 2008, as Facebook and Twitter were being rolled out globally, a high-tech spin-out from Philips Electronics called Civolution was busy solving what seemed to be an unrelated challenge, what can be done to track the growing problem of Internet piracy, especially the large scale illegal distribution of first-run Hollywood movies. Civolution’s CEO Alex Terpstra takes up the story.

“Organizations like the Academy Awards have always sent digital copies of new and unreleased movies for screening at festivals and for judging purposes. It’s a huge network prone to leaks. The problem was that there was no way to watermark each copy. But the damage to the film industry was mounting up. We’ve developed a very robust watermarking technology which modifies a few pixels in the picture in such a way that we can hide a unique code that “rubber stamps” that particular performance.”

Depending on the source, the cost of piracy to the movie industry is estimated at between US$1-6 billion annually in the United States alone. According to a recent report from the Motion Picture Association, when including losses from both theft over the Internet and from DVDs, the industry’s global losses may exceed US$18.2 billion annually. Of those, the MPA said some 80% occurred overseas. Video piracy has become extremely well organized.

“There are cases where pirates have simply videotaped a new film as it is shown in a theatre and then uploaded to a social networking site or shared it through peer-to-peer services like Bit Torrent. Civolution quickly cornered the digital cinema market because their watermarking can’t be removed, even when the pirates make a crude analogue copy by videotaping in a cinema.”

“We’ve built a system which is now the standard used by all the Hollywood studios. We’ve had to pass some very vigorous tests to achieve this very strong market leadership position”.

Hollywood studios have done extensive side-by-side comparisons of the original master and the watermarked versions sent out to digital cinemas. No-one has been able to spot the difference; which is exactly the way it should be. The watermark needs to be invisible to the eye.

“That’s a tremendous credit to our engineering teams in Eindhoven, especially as the quality of the picture in a digital cinema is 4K and higher these days. The software resides on the playout server, so every film performance is date-stamped. When illegal material appears on the Internet we can advise clients, the content owners, exactly when and where the copy was made.”

 “And what we’ve done with video has also been done with audio”.

The watermarking works for both linear and compressed audio (like MP3 or AAC), which is further proof that the technology is very robust.

Synchronized audio opens a new world for content producers

“But we’ve realized that being able to identify audio and video opens a whole new world of production possibilities, well beyond piracy detection. For audio can be used to automatically trigger all kinds of other events on other devices within earshot of the soundtrack.”

At IBC2014, colleagues from Civolution partner, ExMachina, demonstrated how the software can be used to sync second screen devices like a tablet or smartphone to a TV quiz show. You launch their app made to accompany the TV show. The tablet or smartphone listens to the audio coming from the TV set and, within a few seconds, starts to display the additional content.

In this case it’s a general knowledge game shown on German commercial TV a few days before. The app on the tablet gives me the same questions as asked in the TV studio. And you have four seconds to answer. During the live transmission, the app feeds the viewer’s answers back to the studio, so they are able to offer prizes to those viewers who are cleverer than the studio contestants, as well as map where the right answers are coming from. Recruiting new contestants for the show has never been easier. Clearly, broadcasters are only just starting to explore what’s possible to make more engaging programmes.

The Civolution SyncNow technology isn’t limited to just live broadcasts. The second screen activities on the user’s device run perfectly in sync when the source is a Blu-Ray disc, a personal video recorder, or a catch-up TV service. Alex Terpstra continues;

“We have been working with Brand Networks, a provider of data-driven social marketing, and Resolution Media, Omnicom Media Group’s Global social media research agency.”

“We have built an extensive global monitoring network which monitors over 2300 cable and over the air broadcast channels. That explains the forest of satellite dishes on top of our building at the HTCE. Our system is able to recognize which ads are being aired on that channel at that moment. That triggers Brand Networks Open Signals™ technology to automatically buy relevant ads on Twitter within seconds of a spot for the summer blockbuster movie being aired on TV.”

“Because a relevant Twitter ad showed up on the viewer’s tablet screen at the right time in the right context, there were 2.5 times more clicks when compared to a control group. Clearly, if the message is relevant to what’s showing on the TV screen at that moment, more of the audience engages. Similar findings were found with a campaign on Facebook. And because the Facebook ad is more effective, it works out significantly cheaper to attract the same number of responses.”

Keeping score with Wagner from Vienna

“Our technology is also empowering emerging services from organizations who are not traditional broadcasters. Take the Vienna State Opera, for instance. They’ve introduced a very high quality live streaming service for subscribers to their “Live at Home” service. Viewers can choose to watch the performance on a Smart TV, computer monitor or tablet. In South Korea, where they have some of the fastest broadband on the planet, some viewers are already watching opera from Vienna in Ultra High Definition (4K). The clarity of the live audio and video is astounding.”

“Their second screen app provides multilingual subtitles for all transmissions. And on certain performances, you can follow the opera using historical musical scores, with the pages turning at just the right moment thanks to SyncNow. This seamless implementation of the Civolution technology was given a special prize at the IBC 2014 Awards. The Vienna State Opera is now presenting an art form which enjoys 500 years of tradition in new cutting-edge ways that have never been seen before.”

Alex Terpstra is confident about the growth of this sector of the media business.

“The technology to get SyncNow to work so simply is actually incredibly complex. Its international success is due to the incredible team of engineers at our centre on the High Tech Campus. I believe that being located in a very productive and unique ecosystem like the Campus has been a great advantage for our company. It’s vital that we’re able to find, recruit and retain the brightest minds in this business. But now, the results are clear for everyone to see.”

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