One of the least exploited revenue generating opportunities enabled by DTV technology is the capability to deliver multiple programs in a single MPEG-2 transport stream. Conventional wisdom has led to use of this multicast capability to deliver 24/7 weather, special interest programming and rebroadcast of programs. Multicasting, however, reaches a limited audience. I would hazard a guess that a majority of Nielsen households, as well as the general DTV veiwership, don’t even know that it exists.
The over-the-air television revenue model consists of conventional 15-, 30- or 60-second commercial spot advertising supplemented by static visuals, such as billboards or sponsored features such as scrolling text. Advertisers strive to hit target demographics with their ad content based on audience demographics. Groups dependent on age, gender and geographic location are pitched to during programs they are likely to be watching.
ATSCA/65 (the Programming and System Information Protocol — or PSIP) includes a feature that signals a DTV receiver to change channels. Directed Channel Change, or DCC, can be either mandatory or voluntary, can offer the user additional information choices and can return the viewer to the programming where the commercial originated. If intelligently combined with Direct Channel Change PSIP features, broadcasters can offer targeted advertising over their available multicast channels.
How DCC works
A table in the PSIP called the Directed Channel Change Table (DCCT) enables DCC. It is carried in the private sections of the MPEG-2 transport stream with a table id of 0xD3. Fields included in the table are references such as: to and from major and minor channel numbers, start and end times and a selection type. The selection type controls DCC switching based on information such as postal code, demographic, content genre and rating. Multiple selection criteria can be logically combined.
If viewer profiles and demographics were stored in the DTV receiver, the DCC application could query the user profile, determine selection type(s) and execute a channel change to relevant targeted content based on these particular criteria.
An interesting feature is the Viewer Direct Select (VDS) feature. The viewer is offered up to four buttons to choose from on screen. Each may be linked to a DCC action.
Synchronous multicast spots
In current multicast implementations, a broadcaster will have great difficulty in using DCC for commercial spot target advertising — spots are run non-synchronously. Broadcasters offer commercial spots on some of their multicast channels, some do not offer commercial spots to advertisers and others do not use their full multicast bandwidth capacity.
A methodology of time synchronous presentation of commercials across multicast channels is necessary for the potential implementation of targeted DCC. Commercial time slots are aligned for start and end times — all spots begin and end at the same time.
This is necessary to insure that viewers are pushed to a relevant ad without having to wait more than a few seconds for it to begin. But more importantly, at the conclusion of the targets spot, the viewer is returned to the program they were watching. It doesn’t do any good if the viewers are lost in the targeting process.
Long form commercials on demand can be offered at the conclusion of the current program. For example, a show concludes, the final sponsored spot runs and the viewer is directed to a relevant ad. At the conclusion of this closing spot, a choice can be offered to watch a longer infomercial. Using the viewer direct selection feature, an on-screen button, can allow the viewer to opt-in for more information. Running this commercial on demand on an unused multicast channel can generate revenue and actually drive viewers to infomercials.
A broadcaster can sell this targeted advertising service across all or part of it’s multicast on the DCC. Coordinating scheduling will be challenging, but the potential for additional revenue will fuel the effort.
A difficulty with DCC is the 19.39Mb/s data rate limitation of the MPEG-2 transport stream. This is a particular problem when HD content and commercials are simultaneously multicast. A solution may be to develop production guidelines that produce video scenes that are easily compressed. Static screens, rolling text and quarter screen windowed video may do the trick.
New applications have to be developed in order to enable DTV receivers to implement DCC. Viewer profiles have to be stored, and in OTA delivery, the viewers are assured that their information will remain confidential.
The challenge would be in persuading viewers to enter this information. Sufficient motivation may be the possibility of a recommender system that links a profile to the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). The application searches the programming schedule and then alerts a viewer about a program he may like to watch but may have missed.
Similarly, viewer consumption habits could be tracked, saved and analyzed. Using this information, a DCC receiver could make an intelligent guess of who exactly (parent, child, 14- 35 year old) is watching a program and invoke a DCC based on this derived selection type information.
Perhaps a larger issue is encouraging the inclusion of DCC capabilities in DTV receivers. Do set manufacturers have any interest in incurring the time and expense necessary to include DCC features in their DTVs?
An incentive may be the development of a national emergency alert channel. DCC could be FCC mandated for inclusion in DTV receivers. The benefits are obvious. Consider a mandatory evacuation because of an approaching hurricane. A DCC can be initiated based on viewer profiles that include ZIP codes.
Cable operators have been offering targeted, also referred to as addressable, advertising for years. OTA broadcasters must find a way to compete.
In an ideal targeted advertising scenario, a viewer could click on an icon and conduct a T-commerce transaction. It remains to be seen how OTA will get around the lack of an inherent back channel. An Internet-enabled DTV would solve this enigma.
DTV offers many new capabilities that await development. Perhaps not all of them will wait for a viable commercial opportunity to be created and deployed. A few decades ago, not many broadcasters wanted HDTV or DTV. A primary argument was that there was no profitable business model, just the expense of digital conversion. Yet today, DTV flourishes and has enabled many unforeseen opportunities. So, too, may it be for DCC, targeted advertising, multicast and other emerging digital technologies.
ATSC A/65: Program and System Information Protocol for Terrestrial Broadcast and Cable, Revision C, with Amendment No. 1
Google-like technologies could revolutionize TV, other media, Stefanie Olsen, CNET News.com, 2004 4:00AM PT
Google tests targeted TV ads, Raju Shanbhag, TMCnet, 2007