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Movie, TV ads annoying? You ain't seen nothin' yet

'Don't want to watch ads? Then we'll slip 'em into the show, just for you!'

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GTC 2013 Digital-content producers, distributors, broadcasters, and advertising firms are developing new strategies about how to monetize movies and TV shows in a world in which consumers want their content for free, skip past ads on their DVRs, and despite high-profile efforts to stop them, still find piracy an attractive option.

"There's a real tension out there today – almost a crisis, not quite – between the big content producers, and I mean broadcasters and Hollywood, about how they continue to fund these multi-billion-dollar global content initiatives at the same time as satisfying the needs of people who aren't prepared to really pay for them," said MirriAd CEO Mark Popkiewicz during a session on the monetization of visual content at this week's GPU Technology Conference in San José, California.

MirriAd, as its name implies, focuses on the advertising side of monetization. "The whole industry has rallied to find ways in which to make advertising more compelling and deliver more value to the audience," Popkiewicz said, "because at the end of the day we will tolerate advertising when it gives us something back. When it doesn't, it's called spam – it gets in the way and it's intrusive."

We'll leave it to you, dear Reg reader, to determine for yourself whether Popkiewicz's solution should be deemed spam or whether it "gives something back" to you in exchange for your content-watching time and effort – and your money, should you be one of those honest folks who pays for content either by purchase or subscription.

What MirriAd does is vault the time-honored practice of product placement – well, "honored" may not be the proper term among many observers – into the 21st century by digitally placing products, logos, billboards, and the like into video content.

A few years back, Popkiewicz spotted what he identified as "a very fast-growing environment for branded entertainment" – that is, video or film content in which brands themselves play a role in storytelling, either in a supporting role or as background.

Traditional product placement is straightforward: an advertiser or brand manager pays a content producer a chunk o' change to have their product included in a movie or TV sequence. MirriAd, on the other hand, adds a product, logo, billboard, or whatever into already-completed content through digital means. It appears as if the product were there for the shot, but it wasn't.

"Using technology like ours is likely to deliver a better result than a hurried placement of brands on a studio floor where they're running out of time and budget, and they're just going to shove them in and God knows what the results will be," Popkiewicz said.

That may be an arguable point, but one unarguable advantage of MirriAd's method is that paid placements can not only be added and subtracted at will, but can also be targeted at specific markets, such as the 20 different worldwide markets in which their technology is already in use.

"It's being used on TV content and increasingly online," Popkiewicz said, "and we've scaled the platform to deliver circa 15,000 seconds of digital placement on a monthly basis. So if you consider there's about 30 seconds of placement in, say, a 30-minute show, you can do the math and see there's actually quite a lot of content being processed."

Not that traditional product placement hasn't had its success. Popkiewicz cited the recent James Bond vehicle, Skyfall, as one example. "Heineken replaced in Skyfall the vodka martini, I believe, rather well – although you didn't actually see him order one from the bar," he said. "... And it's boosted the brand enormously. If Heineken wasn't already a well-known brand, it certainly is now."

But once that can of watery Dutch lager made it into Skyfall, it would be a collosal pain to either remove it or replace it with a pint of Theakston's Old Peculier. Not so with MirriAd's digital product placement.

Nor could that Heinie perform another trick that Popkiewicz sees coming down the advertising pike: product placement personalized just for you. MirriAd is already working with marketing communications company WPP to match the products digitally placed in a video segment to the products in the pre-roll ads that, for example, Google targets to you on YouTube. "The impact from a marketing point of view of those two is much higher," he said, when one reinforces the other.

But that's just the beginning. Imagine that you search for, say, a blender on Google one afternoon, then that evening when you sit down on your couch to indulge in a little mindless Big Bang Theory video-streaming entertainment, you're treated to Sheldon and Leonard* in a bit of madcap smoothie-making madness with a seven-speed Oster BVCB07-Z. Your next-door neighbor, however, whom the all-seeing intertubes know to be of more modest means, sees the same hijinks – but they're taking place with a low-rent Oster 6706.

That won't happen tomorrow. As Popkiewicz admits, "Targeting the right thing to the right person in the right way at the right time, whether it be the content or the ad that goes with it, is still quite a big challenge."

But trust us, that day will arrive.

"I think we're on the brink of a massive change in the industry," Popkiewicz said, "which I think is going to be driven by the immense power and processing capabilities that are out there, and the solutions that can actually bring to bear some enormous firepower on solving some of these [challenges] that sound simple, but are very difficult to deliver."

Not that there aren't people who are trying. Popkiewicz related how a "major advertising executive at a major corporation" recently said that all he's currently focused on is "understanding how the noodle works," and investing heavily in neuroscience to determine what and how we humans either enjoy or don't enjoy. Once advertisers crack the codes to our pleasure centers, Katy bar the door.

Or as Popkiewicz put it, "I think understanding human behavior is going to drive what technology is going to deliver in the coming years, particularly in this equation between the consumer – the audience – and how content is monetized." ®

* Bootnote

Sheldon? Leonard? You can't put that one past us seniors...

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