Millions Of People, Millions Of Customized Ads

What if the movie trailer you watched at Yahoo remixed the video according to your particular tastes in film? It might emphasize the action adventure elements for one audience, and the romantic angle for another. For all of the demographic, contextual and behavioral targeting that Web technology makes possible, customizing creative for these many targets continues to lag. This week a spinoff of British Telecom, Real Time Content, (RTC) unveils a media delivery system that can assemble video and other media on the fly and to match a range of user profiles. We asked CTO Ian Cameron and CEO Naj Kidwai to walk us through the experience and the technology involved in what they call "adaptive media."

Behavioral Insider: What does adaptive media do?

Ian Cameron: Rather than playing media, our platform intelligently customizes the video, audio, graphics within a piece of media content to fit the needs of the consumer, publisher and content owner at the time that it is delivered. The media content is created in real time for that viewer at that time. The site sends a request to the RTC platform for content but also for that consumer's profile. We take pieces of source video and audio and create a piece of customized, optimized content in real time for that viewer. The whole of that cycle is less than two seconds. These aren't pre-canned versions. We can actually create new creative for every single viewer. We can identify which things worked well in the videos, and which music, scenes or voiceovers don't work so well. Then we can emphasize the ones that work well for that particular profile and viewer.



Behavioral Insider: What is the relationship between the user profile and the content?

NajKidwai: In our demos it is user-initiated, but we can take cookies and link into a BT network or ad server to pull out the relevant profile data. In a Honda demo we have four profiles. If you click on the Soccer Mom profile, it then asks how much time you want for viewing this piece of content, so you could say 15 seconds and an ad is created for Honda vehicles that accentuates the features of safety and security for a soccer mom. We can link into any type of profile data. We take any type of digital content - video, audio, graphics -- and adapt them in real time based on any type of profiling data using context or end user profiling.

Behavioral Insider: I imagine that on the back end you could tell an advertiser a great deal about consumer response to a product or pitch just by how the consumer responds to the video assemblage. But on the front end, how would this tie into BT?

Cameron: We are having extensive discussions with BlueLithium in particular on taking BT data to adapt the content based on the viewer's implied age, gender, tastes, and so on. Now we can pitch this movie in a way that will appeal to someone who is interested in more action adventure than drama. Perhaps elements of the soundtrack appeal to a younger audience and we know they prefer 10-second pre-rolls rather than a two minute full trailer. We adapt the duration to suit the audience.

Behavioral Insider: Technically, how are you segmenting and assembling these assets on the fly?

Cameron: The initial step is capturing the campaign objectives, to agree what profiles or target audiences the advertiser wants to target the messages towards, and to agree on a rough outline of the storyboards that will be used for that audience. A common approach is to record new voiceovers but not actually shoot new video material. We now have clients that shoot content specifically for adaptive media. We segment the video and audio into components and mark each fragment with metadata: types of shot used, how important they are to the overall storyline, the actors in it, locations, and so on. We then design the storyboards that will be used to put all of that content together for a particular audience. And then, on an ongoing basis, we measure and optimize the performance of the video and improve those things that work best.

Behavioral Insider: What problem is this solving?

Cameron: Advertisers look at this massively fragmented marketplace and say they want interactive relationships the consumer can participate in. Now the consumer can say what they do and don't like in the ad.

To date, BT has targeted based on behavioral history, but at the end of the day the creative tends to be the same. The classic example is, you have seen a viewer on a motoring section for The Times and then see them on MySpace, you know from BT that the viewer is also interested in motoring, so you pitch [the same] motoring commercial. We're saying that adaptive media can change the creative, so given the behavioral information I know about this user, I can now make it more relevant for that viewer by cutting out the things they aren't interested in. I respect their time. I won't have a 30-second spot for everyone. I may have a 10-second spot for some and two minutes on others, depending on the environment and the customers' own profile information. With fragmentation and higher levels of viewer control, not only can you cost effectively micro-market to these individual viewers, but you can actually establish a relationship.

Behavioral Insider: But it is hard enough for marketers to invest in discrete creative banners, let alone assembles enough video assets for this. Is there scale to make the additional spend worthwhile?

Kidwai: A large financial services organization views this as next-generation customer experience. They are starting to see that even though the creative is slightly more expensive, they now have some analysis and models that show increased click-through rates based on certain parameters. The future is going to be millions of creatives for millions of people. That is going to be a challenge. What gives me comfort is having built businesses in the dotcom era. I remember the days when ad agencies never got Flash, too.

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