Bleeding edge to next big thing

Digimarc technology has taken 5 years to take off, but I think it could be the next big thing for 2015 and 2016 video content providers.


Bleeding edge is part pun and part ranking of the readiness of the technology for market. Bleeding edge technology is on its way to becoming cutting edge technology, after which it becomes leading edge as more companies release competing products. Finally, the technology becomes standard and everyone is on the look for the next big thing. [Techopedia Dictionary]

There are many companies who live on the bleeding edge, many of which are startups, and when the market does not come around to the technology they are forced to give up their dream. Hopefully many of them can pivot and continue as businesses, but as so many people know — lots of them fail.

I first saw a product in 2011 that blew my simple mind — watching the TV show Peter Lik on Travel Channel if I had the iPad (1!) app I could see the photos on my device as Peter took the photos on the screen.

The very next day I went to my Manager, to anyone willing to listen and probably a lot more weren’t, and showed them the technology and my ideas for how we could use the feature in our business.

The technology was a collaboration between Digimarc and Nielsen (Product was called Media-Sync) and was implemented for a few apps at the time including Peter Lik’s Travel Channel app and ABC’s My Generation App. Essentially the broadcast stream includes an audio-watermark, which is inaudible to the human ear, but detectable by the user’s device microphone. In the watermark ‘payload’ is a time sequence which can be used to synchronise the user’s second screen experience with the show.

The apps gained quite good media attention at the time but didn’t really take off in the way I imagined. Almost 4 years on and there are still few apps which create any real kind of synchronised experience, which is surprising given how much TV and mobile content is consumed simultaneously.

Second screen apps such as Miso app and Zeebox app have shut down their services and have not been the success investors had hoped. But why would it be different now?

  • Me too; Most broadcasters have spent the last 3 years battling it out creating video on demand and catch up services around their content. In the UK the technology is ubiquitous; SkyGo, BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Player, Demand 5, BT Sport, and many more. Now they all have technology teams, and ‘me-too’ products, the battle will move on to who can innovate.
  • How we watch television has changed; In 2015 I do not watch one programme on TV at the time it first airs, and even my Grandmother watches most of her content via Digital Video Recorders (DVR). But I do watch sports events ‘live’. But all the while no matter if it is sports or shows, I am usually also doing something else; on my phone, or iPad, or laptop. The TV is probably actually the ‘second’ screen.
In 2014, 60 percent of households owned DVRs, up from 46 percent in 2011.
  • The popularity of the iPad: Since 2011 when Media-Sync launched on the iPad 1, the iPad market has grown over 900%. The popularity of the devices has of course driven demand for better apps and better experiences.
iPad Sales data reported from www.statista.com/statistics/269915/global-apple-ipad-sales-since-q3-2010/

In December 2014 Digimarc signed another partnership after the Nielsen deal had faded from most people’s memories and browser histories. The new Shazam partnership has great potential for the software to further the Shazam experience to movies, sports and more.

And just this week (March 2015) UEFA have announced that their marquee competition Champions League will come with second screen experience through the UEFA app.

This renewed interest in watermarking technology driving second screen experience is great, and validates that all these business that came before were not wrong; the ideas were good but perhaps not a suitable market fit. Audio watermarking has been bleeding edge, it has had its doubters but hopefully now it will hit the mainstream, and perhaps 2016 will be the year of the second screen app after all!

There are any number of use cases for this technology but here are a few I hope we will get to experience some day soon:

  • Shazam a movie and be given IMDB cast info and Rotten Tomatoes reviews.
  • Share a scene — capture a scene via the audio marks and share it as a video on Social Media officially. Services like Grabyo have the technology to allow users to clip content and share it with permission, and without the shakey camera work or the reflection of you in your underpants highlighted on the screen.
  • Watch ‘as Live’ — experience the whole event exactly as it was live with recorded tweets synchronised to play back at the same time they were sent. Great for someone who wants to watch their favourite team play but doesn’t want social media to give away the final result.
  • Cue Replays — as you watch a scene on your favourite show you are given synchronised cues to previous content; if you wondered in Season 5 how Glenn knew to tell Abraham where they keep the spare RV batteries on Walking Dead, the app shows you a scene of him and Dale in Season 2 working on Dale’s RV.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you did please recommend. You can follow me on Twitter @ben_kammy