Watchwith Set to Place Contextual Ads in Shows

Tech company to work with Fox during fall season

At a time when viewers are skipping commercials, ad tech firm Watchwith is gearing up to put ads on screens during shows.

Watchwith says it is working with Fox Broadcasting as it uses metadata about the shows to automatically find less-intrusive scenes to use as ad inventory and insert messages that are contextually relevant.

The overlay technology is being tested by Fox and other large media companies this fall, the company says.

On-screen in-show messaging has often been used to promote the rest of a network’s lineup, but Watchwith is enabling them to be used as advertising inventory. The inventory is sold by the network’s ad sales team. Watchwith charges a license fee for its technology and expects to earn a commission as usage increases.

“We are giving TV network advertising executives the ability to sell what was once elusive and near impossible to define inventory -- ad exposures that are contextually relevant to the scenes of a program,” said company CEO and founder Zane Vella. “This is a net new revenue opportunity that better serves both the advertiser and audience.”

The inserted ads can be seen on all platforms, from traditional linear programming to desktops to mobile phones and tablets. The ads can also include interactive click-through elements and be sold on an automated, programmatic basis, reducing the effort the programmer needs to make to generate incremental revenue. Watchwith provides the programmers tools to approve avails and how they’re filled—for example to avoid a conflict with another sponsor in the show.

Vella says Watchwith gives TV programmers a weapon to fight back against digital competitors that’s better than data. “They know they’re not going to combat Facebook’s 2 billion people on audience data,” he says. “What they have is more valuable. They have program content, they’ve got viewers and they know their emotion state and what they’re watching. And they sell it the way they’ve sold advertising for the past 30-40 years.”

Sales will be based on ratings and cost per thousand viewers (CPMs), like traditional advertising.

It’s not clear how many of these ads can be inserted into a show before causing a viewer to revolt. “Our recommendation is that they do one per segment,” Vella says. “This is not just jamming ads or banners into people’s faces.” Frank N. Magid Associates has done research on in-program ad effectiveness with Watchwith, which expects to release findings in October. "The results are very positive in terms of unaided recall and very positive in terms of recognizing that these things are interactive,” Vella says.

The interactivity could allow an advertiser to enable a viewer who sees a commercial to download music from the program.

Watchwith has been backed with $10.3 million in funding led by Arris Group, Gracenote, Rogers Venture Partners and Samsung Electronics. Watchwith had been working with Fox and NBCUniversal to synch companion content with shows viewed via mobile and connected devices.