Microsoft Partners with Activated Content on Audio Watermarking Technology

Someday soon when a well known jingle for a fast food chain comes over your car radio, you’ll be able to tell your phone to listen to it and automatically find the nearest location. Or if you’re in a mall, when you hear an ad broadcast over the PA system, your phone will be able to automatically link to that company’s Web site.

Those are just two examples of a world envisioned by audio watermarking technology company Activated Content, and with a new partnership with Microsoft to gain access to its mobile device technology it could be coming soon.

Microsoft is now licensing its audio watermarking technology developed by its Research Labs to Activated Content. The partnership is intended to assist in enabling handheld devices to extract information hidden within audio files, such as ads or songs, and use that information to link directly to the ad’s Web site or similar information.

“Agreements like this allow the company to access our R&D portfolio and help them accelerate their time to market. By licensing this watermarking technology, we are allowing them to address new business models,” said Louis Carbonneau, general manager for Microsoft’s Intellectual Property Licensing Group. “We’re also making our resources available to transfer our know-how and code. A lot of those technologies become business accelerators once they can be made available to our partners.”

While Activated Content has been working on audio watermarking technology for several years, the company had previously developed a proprietary system that was ill-suited for download to mobile devices, according to Eric Silberstein, CEO of Activated Content.

“Because of their depth on Windows Mobile CE, a lot of their technology was written to be cross-platform and ours was not, so being able to access that depth is what makes this possible,” said Silberstein. “We were very strong on the laptops desktops, but we needed help when it came to reducing the software footprint build on small and mobile devices.”

With Microsoft’s help, Activated Content intends to make it possible for users to download a software decoder to their smartphone or similarly enabled handheld device, which can then access the audio information. The challenge, he admits, is to entice both advertisers and publishers to encode their audio content, while then encouraging users to download the application.

“Primarily, advertisers are going to drive that. If you start a promotion, these device owners are going to download the software to participate in the promotion,” he said. “Later on you’re going to find that companies that are owners of the player technology, that they will obviously want to start participating in that.”

“But what we’ve designed this for is to watermark at the instant that it’s going out on the air, so that advertisers can change their message within minutes or seconds, and direct it to different audio groups at will,” he said. “The goal is to be able to have consumers select content, whether the content is an ad or entertainment, that appeals to them and contains the watermark link inside that content that directs them to complete that experience.”

At present, Activated Content can’t claim any announced customers, but Silberstein said the company has agreements with several radio broadcasting firms, cable television companies and entertainment content producers. With the inclusion of Microsoft’s interest in the audio watermarking technology, however, he expects interest to gather momentum.

“The fact that their is such a world-class significant company that has done research in this area, and what they’ve produced has practical applications, is going to catch everyone’s attention,” he said.

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