Startup Cognitive Networks has announced that its Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) technology has been integrated by LG, making it the first big Smart TV manufacturer to deliver "enhanced TV" experiences.
As Michael Collette, CEO of Cognitive explained to me in a recent briefing, the company makes Smart TVs aware of what content is being displayed on screen instead of being "blind" as they currently are. Cognitive's ACR works by packaging pixel map information from the screen and sending it to the cloud where it is compared to an index of known fingerprints. The resulting data is fed in real time via Cognitive's "ENGAGE" API back to the Smart TV so that app providers can provide interactive experiences to viewers.
Michael said that Cognitive's ACR has been purposely created for video, and is differentiated from ACR systems that specialize in audio (e.g. Shazam). Over 170 channels' programming is currently in Cognitive's index with 2 million transactions being processed per second. Cognitive is initially pursuing a business model of licensing its data to Smart TV manufacturers and content providers, making it, in Michael's view a "synchronization layer."
Interactive experiences could take the form of HTML5 overlays for simple polls, e-commerce, etc. that are synchronized with the on-screen content. A more sophisticated example is Showtime's "SHO SYNC" app, announced 2 weeks ago. Cognitive is powering LG Smart TVs "LivePlus" feature.
Cognitive's ACR offers an interesting value proposition to content providers looking to deliver differentiated, interactive experiences. For Smart TV manufacturers this gives consumers one more reason to consider an upgrade to a Smart TV. Conversely, Smart TVs are still a relatively limited universe (and LG sets are just one brand in a fragmented landscape) and so content providers will have to decide whether to allocate resources for a smallish target group. Then there's the larger question of how rapid Smart TV adoption will be in the next 2-3 years. As I asserted recently, inexpensive, yet robust devices like Google's Chromecast could significantly dampen demand for expensive Smart TVs.
Cognitive is mindful of these issues, but as Michael explained, for now at least, it is hitching its wagon to Smart TVs' rollout. Still, Cognitive will stay flexible if the landscape shifts and other devices take off. Regardless of which device its data runs on, Cognitive offers content providers yet another way to engage their audiences, a persistent goal for everyone these days.