Trigger happy

Automatic content recognition technology (ACR) is getting baked into ever-more devices and platforms these days, enabling a growing number of connected devices to recognize, sync with and respond to what’s going on on another device.

Most of those systems, however, still require some measure of user input to deliver value, such as opening a dedicated app, clicking a link to fetch more information or respond to a poll, or,  as a threshold matter, tuning in the program to be synced with.

Two-year old start-up Lisnr, however, has figured out a way to take the unpredictable human element out of the ACR equation. Founded by former P&G brand manager Rodney Williams, Lisnr embeds an ultrasonic signal in a music track or sound track that is inaudible to the human ear but can be detected by a mobile phone’s built-in microphone. ¬†Rather than simply sync the phone with the source, however, or send a link for the user to click on, the Lisnr signal acts as a “smart trigger” on any device equipped with the Lisnr app that can automatically launch a relevant mobile experience that gets pushed to the device from Lisnr’s back-end content delivery platform. The user receives a notification that additional content is available but doesn’t need to leave the app to experience it.

At a Swedish House Mafia concert last year, for instance, Lisnr was able to turn concert-goers’ phones into a light show synced with the music by muxing the sub-audible signal in with the music through the sound board.

The company has worked mostly with music acts since going live in March 2013, but Williams told me the long-term goal is to deliver contextually relevant content and experiences in a wide range of venues, since the trigger can be embedded in virtually any sound source.

“We recently delivered an experience for AT&T at a Dallas Cowboys football game over the stadium’s sound system,” he said. “AT&T promoted the app, and anyone in the stadium who downloaded it could unlock the content on their phones while watching the game.”

The key to the system, according to Williams, is the content-delivery platform that allows marketers to upload their own content and presentations once without having to worry about formatting it for different devices, screen sizes or operating systems, all of which is done automatically by the Lisnr platform. The richness of the experience that can be delivered is limited only by the devices being targeted. The system also knows if you’re a repeat listener and can deliver different experiences each time the user listens to a piece of music.

“We’re targeting phones right now, so you only have a certain screen size and a certain amount of processing available,” Williams said. But in principle, the triggers can be used with any device capable of detecting sub-sonic sound waves. That could make Lisnr a candidate for the “killer app” for wearable devices that Kevin Tofel is searching for over at GigaOM: contextually relevant experiences, based on location, delivered in the background to smart watches, Google Glass, or any other wearable device.

Lisnr raised $850,000 in seed capital last year and is currently in discussions for Series A financing.