How Gracenote is taking control of your TV

The channel created a companion app for its Face-Off visual effects reality show that syncs with the viewer as they watch and unlocks additional behind-the-scenes content as the show progresses. NBC Universal also used Entourage to serve viewers of Sci-fi holkum Haven an alternative episode ending on their companion device.

However the most contentious development of the technology is yet to come. Gracenote is on the verge of trialling video fingerprinting. For the first time, it will be the TV itself actively monitoring what you're watching, not a companion app. And you'll probably not realise it's doing it.

The video fingerprinting tech is embedded in the TV itself, reveals White. "It takes live video out of the video buffer, compares it against our database and then fingerprints it. This effectively allows the TV to recognise what shows you're watching."

The system is extraordinarily powerful. Most significantly, it allows Gracenote to profile TV usage, allowing the company to learn specific things about your household.

"If there are cartoons on in the morning, then we'll know you'll have a kid; soaps in the afternoon probably means a stay-at-home mom."


Face-Off is a reality show for Hollywood make-up artists

This, along with demographic information requested when users register their Smart TV ("it's an opt-in model, the consumer has to say they want this") combined with traditional ad decision engines that utilise public sources of data, will help build an in-depth profile of every participating household.

The ultimate aim is to deliver personalised advertising. The application is so slick the viewer won't even know that it's happening. Using frame accurate insertion, tailored adverts are actually overlaid within an original broadcast ad slot, delivered via broadband.

Demonstrations of the system to TechRadar prove astonishing. It's impossible to see the advertising sleight of hand.

So when will this Orwellian innovation come to market? According to White, live trials in the US are imminent, with an as yet unnamed TV partner. Commercial applications could be in the market within the year.

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Steve May
Home entertainment AV specialist

Steve has been writing about AV and home cinema since the dawn of time, or more accurately, since the glory days of VHS and Betamax. He has strong opinions on the latest TV technology, Hi-Fi and Blu-ray/media players, and likes nothing better than to crank up his ludicrously powerful home theatre system to binge-watch TV shows.