Social TV ad battle heats up

The New York Times’ Bits blog had an interesting compare-and-contrast item today between Twitter’s direct second screen social TV ad system and a new targeting  system being rolled out by social ad network Optimal for embedding ads in individual Facebook news feeds that are synced with TV content the Facebook user may be watching at the same time. The Optimal system uses automatic content recognition (ACR) technology from Civolution to identify TV commercials as they’re airing. The ACR signal can then trigger a companion Facebook  ad served by Optimal  a few seconds after the TV spot begins.

Here’s the Times‘ description of how it works:

Brands will be able to buy ads that will reach people who are on the social network at the same time that their ads are running on local TV stations. BMW, for instance, could decide to show an ad to Facebook users online in Atlanta at the same time that the local ABC station was running a BMW ad on “Scandal.”

“An advertiser just decides which TV ads they want to use as triggers,” said Rob Leathern, founder and chief executive of Optimal, the San Francisco social advertising company that will announce the new targeting program on Wednesday. “We’re basically betting, and our advertisers are betting, that some portion of the audience is on Facebook.”

It then contrasts the Optimal’s Facebook-based approach to buying in-feed social TV ads on Twitter, which has its own ACR system and can precisely target viewers who it knows are actively tweeting about a show, enhancing the odds that they have also seen the TV commercial.

Note that [the Optimal system]  is a shotgun approach compared with Twitter’s sniper-like targeting.

And Optimal, not Facebook, is offering this new product, and the smaller company doesn’t have access to Facebook’s data on who is actually talking about a show.

Twitter, in contrast, tracks ads on TV shows itself and can then show ads from the same brand to people posting on Twitter about the show in other words, people who almost certainly saw the original TV ads.

Fair enough as far as it goes. But you can also view the Optimal system as an example of how a non-proprietary, stand-alone ACR technology such as Civolution’s can enable third-party applications and business models to be built around TV content without any direct involvement by TV programmers or distributors. In this case, the ACR signal is being used to trigger programmatic ad serving on Facebook. But in principle at least, it could be used to trigger any type of application — ad-related or otherwise — creating new, monetizable forms of audience engagement around TV content.

It’s why some people think ACR could become as important to the future of the digital living room as GPS has been to mobile applications and services.