Reality Check: Marketers Can Hear Your TV -- But Not How You Might Think
by Kate Kaye, Advertising Age
There's been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about electronic appliances capturing data for surveillance purposes. But can marketers access this type of data?
In an interview published March 12, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, suggested that his campaign may have been spied on via televisions or microwaves. Her comments alluded to baseless accusations by President Trump himself that the Obama administration "wiretapped" his campaign. Also this month, documents about CIA hacking practices exposed through Wikileaks have raised questions about the spy agency using Samsung televisions to gather room audio through a TV-remote microphone.
While the concept of microwave oven-as-snooping-device has been debunked, the swirling rumors do prompt questions about what types of audio data-capturing capabilities televisions have and whether marketers have access to such TV audio data. It turns out a massive amount of TV audio data is made available to marketers, but not necessarily the kind we'd read about in a modern day Ian Fleming novel.
According to Andy Brown, CEO of Kantar Media, marketers are not tapping ambient sound data such as conversations gathered through television remote microphones. However, for years now, automated content recognition technology, which recognizes when specific audio appeared during a particular program that ran in a particular time slot and channel, has generated data used by TV advertisers to measure campaigns.
What Your TV Doesn't Hear
TV ad measurement firms can track the acoustic path of a TV, said Mr. Brown. "You can kind of listen to the content that is being consumed through the TV set," he said. "All we're trying to do is content identification," he explained. "If you said, 'I'm going to go out to get a Big Mac, it wouldn't hear that.'"
At least at this stage, widely used TV technologies are not capturing our conversations or the sounds around us as we watch. If any rogue tech were doing that, there's no grand repository of the data accessible to marketers.
Kantar licenses data from TV data firms which capture content associated with television programs. The company, which can tie TV viewership to specific households, might want to know when a client brand has been mentioned during a show, and can query TV content data based on keywords such as brand names. Ultimately, this type of data is used as a reference point to prove that a household was exposed to an ad that ran during a specific show on a specific channel.
"I can identify that that's either a particular commercial or a particular program," said Mr. Brown.
That information can be combined with data reflecting brand references made in print or social media, for example. Such data typically is not stored for too long -- only around 60-90 days, said Mr. Brown.
TV measurement firms also use watermarking, which can match sound content in a program or commercial to a database matching those marks to snippets of content. That technology is not pervasive yet, said Mr. Brown. "That's a part of the measurement ecosystem going forward."
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