Xaxis says its automated technology can sync advertisers' TV ads with mobile devices within seconds, bringing back "lost" viewers.
TV advertisers have good reason to be worried. Last year, adults in the U.S. spent more time with digital media than their TVs, according to eMarketer. Even worse, many TV viewers are looking at a second screen during the commercial breaks. Now, media buyer Xaxis is promising to bring those "lost" users back with an automated technology that allows advertisers to sync their TV ads with a related ad on mobile within seconds.
There are already screen-syncing technologies out there that involve holding up a mobile device to the television and downloading a related app, much like mobile app Shazam can identify a song it hears. But Xaxis Sync goes beyond that, according to Mike Finnegan, director of product development at Xaxis. "This is not a Shazam-like feature. It happens before the ad is even broadcast," he notes.
The video identification technology software, provided by technology firm Civolution, sits on a server and is able to read the digital signals coming from the TV satellite feed (used for both satellite and cable TV), telling it when a TV spot from a specific brand has begun. It then triggers the launch of a mobile ad within three seconds of its detection of the TV spot.
On the other end, Xaxis targets users using data from TV audience measurement firm Kantar, which taps into about 1 million U.S. TV households. This could tell Xaxis, for example, which viewers index high for consuming television dramas or live vocal competitions.
The campaigns are only designed to reach connected devices on a home Wi-Fi, rather than those who are on mobile devices, Finnegan says. "We want to reach people who are stationary and if they are on Wi-Fi we can assume they are hanging out at home," he notes.
Xaxis has used the technology in the Netherlands and has begun beta testing it on the West Coast of the U.S. It is also in talks with brands that want to launch combined second-screen campaigns around the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards held in August.
"This is a cool idea," says Jesse Redniss, chief strategy officer at social experience platform Mass Relevance (and until late last year, a digital executive with USA Network, which tested second-screen tie-ins as early as 2011). "The technology and sync aspects are much more advanced now. It's truly here," he says.
A competitor of Xaxis, never.no, also offers a syncing product called Story a. It has implemented second-screen campaigns for P&G on Telemundo as well as campaigns on Bravo TV and USA Network. According to Kelly Moulton, chief commerical officer of never.no, the USA Network experienced a 20 percent lift in its C3 ratings from Nielsen as a result of a social spot tied into the Psych season finale.
Additionally, last year USA Network launched a tie-in between TV drama Necessary Roughness and brand advertiser Lincoln, where fans got behind-the-scenes content they couldn't see unless they participated in the app, for example.
"For a unified-screen strategy to really shine, all touch points need to be properly synchronized. The ad execution on the second screen shouldn't just be a repeat of the 30-second spot airing on broadcast; it should be complementary and draw a consumer in," says Redniss.
However, not all vendors believe that the syncing approach is necessary or even important. Drew Breunig, vice president of strategy at PlaceIQ, which describes itself as a location-intelligence firm, says the quality of the data used to target viewers is more valuable than the ability to catch them right as they are watching the ad.
"If advertisers want to reach Amazing Race viewers, they don't care about reaching them only as they are watching the show," he says. The water cooler effect that happens around shows such as Mad Men continues on well into the next morning, he notes, making it a short-sighted strategy to just focus on the show.
"It's all about having intelligence about the audience and reaching them where ever they are," he says. PlaceIQ uses Rentrak for its TV viewing data, which has access to 13 million households.
Even Internet giant Yahoo is getting into the game. At its NewFronts event on Monday, Ned Brody, Yahoo head of ad sales for the Americas, spoke of the provider's ability to tie in TV programming to audience groups that have watched specific shows, using Yahoo's vast trove of data. Matching some 2 million TV sets equipped with software that recognizes what users are watching with Yahoo's cookie pool enables advertisers to connect with TV audiences online.
Yahoo claims that doing so has resulted in conversion rates for advertisers that are four times higher than just showing them a TV ad alone. "We can bridge the gap between TV and the Web. This is a game changer," Brody said.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
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