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Monday, June 12, 2006

Google Knows What You Are Watching on TV … Soon Maybe

Posted by @ 2:11 am

Imagine this scenario: You are working on your laptop in your living room, you’ve been doing some searches on Google and the TV is on in the background. As the theme music of your favorite show “Lost” begins, your Google search results page starts displaying ads for “Lost” DVDs, links to “Lost” fan club sites and ads for designer clothing so that you can wear the “Lost” jungle survivor look yourself. Impossible, you think?

Maybe it is impossible right now, but this is exactly what the Google research labs are currently working on: sound recognition software that is linked to the Internet.

On the official Google Research Blog, Google Research Scientists Michel Covell and Shumeet Baluja have blogged about a paper they presented at the recent Euro Interactive Television conference in Athens, which won the Best Paper award there. The paper dealt with how to present information in a Web browser depending on what content is being viewed via a broadcast medium like television. At the core is an audio recognition system that “listens” to your television and sends that sound information back to the Internet.

In the words of Covell and Baluja, “The system could keep up with users while they channel surf, presenting them with a real-time forum about a live political debate one minute and an ad-hoc chat room for a sporting event in the next. And, all of this would be done without users ever having to type or to even know the name of the program or channel being viewed. Taking this further, we could collect snippets from the web describing the actors appearing in a movie or present maps of locales within the movie as it takes place (no matter if users are watching it as a live broadcast or as a recoded broadcast).”

Covell and Baluja call the framework that they have developed “mass personalization” (as in the combination of mass media with an ultra-personalized Internet experience). The four main areas that they identify include personalized content; real-time, spontaneous social community applications; real-time popularity measurement and media bookmarking and library applications. So the possible uses are vast and varied. Not only could the monetization of broadcast content be taken to a whole new level, mass personalization could also determine whether a TV show is a hit or a flop while the first episode is still on air.

Is it a case of “big brother is watching you”? Very much so – I must admit the thought of Google (or Web browsers in general) with integrated sound recognition technology slightly scares me, even if the paper specifically refers to maintaining user privacy. Who says that they won’t be listening in on people’s conversations next, and displaying ads for wine stores when you and your friends are discussing the best wineries in Napa Valley? I must say, that is a bit too much electronic intimacy for my liking.

On the other hand, how exciting is it as a piece of technology? One of the biggest challenges for marketers is to display relevant information and advertising to the right person at the right time. Marketers know full well that there’s little point in interruptive marketing that people do not want to see or hear (just remember how popular the “do not call” anti-telemarketing registry has become).

Finding a better way of serving relevant ads and other information and services to people in real time has so much potential. You would be able to target messages more effectively, people would respond better to them, and your return on your marketing spend would be higher. Ultimately, you would hopefully have happier customers, who actually see ads and other targeted information as relevant and appreciated offers and extensions of media consumption, not as a nuisance.

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