NAB: Local TV Stations to Test Interactive Services

Pearl group plans to test interactive services on LG smart TVs in Atlanta, Cleveland and Orlando markets

The broadcast groups involved in the Pearl group have announced that they will be testing interactive content and advertising services delivered to LG Smart TVs in three markets during live newscasts and that they will be demoing the idea at this year’s 2014 NAB Show in Las Vegas.

The move is an effort to capitalize on the growing availability of smart TVs that are connected to the internet and to use that connectivity to bring the interactivity of the online world to the TV set.

In their Global Digital Living Forecast Workbook from March 2014, Parks Associates estimates that the number of "smart TV" households in the U.S. will reach 42 million this year, representing 36% of all TV households.

The tests will occur in Atlanta, Cleveland and Orlando.

Stations participating in Atlanta are WSB (Cox), WGCL (Meredith) and WXIA (Gannett). In Cleveland, WOIO (Raycom), WEWS (Scripps), and WKYC (Gannett) will test the idea and in Orlando, participating stations are WKMG (Post-Newsweek), WFTV (Cox), and WESH (Hearst).

The effort represents a major push by local broadcasters to test the idea because Pearl members include Cox Media Group, the E.W. Scripps Company, Gannett Co. Inc., Hearst Television Inc., Media General Inc., Meredith Local Media Group, Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Raycom Media.  Schurz Communications is also investing in the Interactive TV trial.

Overall broadcasters belonging to Pearl reach 111 million households representing 63% of the U.S. population. Their 170 network-affiliated and top-ranked TV stations collectively book nearly $4 billion in annual advertising revenue, the group reports.

The tests will use services from the Watchwith sync-to-broadcast content management platform and the Cognitive Networks’ automatic content recognition (ACR) capability in LG Smart TV sets.

Automatic content recognition has become an increasingly popular feature in smart TVs. Second screen and other applications rely on these content recognition capabilities to sync up second screen experiences with the live or recorded broadcasts.

Parks estimates that about one-third of smart TVs will be automatic content recognition (ACR) capable by the end of 2014 and that by 2018, a majority, 56%, of smart TV sets will be ACR-enabled.

During the tests, broadcasters will offer additional photo and map overlays to viewers wanting more information about particular news events and weather reports, as well as personalized traffic information and content from the station’s own websites.

The interactive material will be shown in the lower third of the screen so it doesn’t interfere with the program or broadcast TV ad.

The technology also makes it possible for viewers to interact with advertising by requesting more information such as store locations or receiving coupons.

The tests are expected to run through the spring and examples of the technology will be shown at NAB at the ATSC booth.

In addition to offering interactive content, the technology would allow broadcasters to deploy addressable ads targeted to specific areas or demographics without having to work through the set-top boxes of multichannel operators, explains Peter Diaz, executive VP of Gannett Co.

"We can do this straight to smart TVs in the consumer’s home without cable and satellite services being the gatekeepers," he explained.

Diaz also stressed that trials were not just on behalf of the Pearl companies but were designed to help the whole industry take advantage of the technology.

A number of hurdles exist, however, before the technology could be widely deployed. The current smart TV landscape is very fragmented, forcing developers to develop different apps for different manufacturers and sets. While broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers are working to standardize that process, the creation of a large standardized footprint could be some years away.

Broadcasters and advertisers would also have to invest in the additional interactive content and ads.