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14 January 2021

Norigin Media waits for European operators to seize ad replacement

Streaming suite supplier Norigin Media is adding ad-replacement to its wide roster of services, with the hope that European operators will soon embrace the monetization opportunities this presents. The company recently completed integration trials for its young AdScan offering, an ad detection tool to help operators insert ads into a broadcast feed that has been converted into an OTT feed.

AdScan aims to solve the game of hide and seek that many operators must play with SCTE-35 markers – the industry standard to display where ad breaks should start and stop. Often these markers can go missing when broadcast feeds are converted into regional formats, and therefore operators can struggle with replacing and inserting ads on both live and catch-up content.

Faultline caught up with Norigin Media’s CEO, Ajey Anand, who explained that AdScan does not create SCTE-35 markers, but rather uses a proprietary system to place Norigin Media’s own markers on unidentified ad breaks.

On the details of how this operates, Anand described a relatively manual process, identifying broadcaster logos and then feeding it into AI and ML algorithms to scale up to the hundreds of channels that an operator typically works with. “Most European channels don’t have a logo during the ad break, so we scan for that disappearing,” he explained.

AdScan also scans for minute gaps in content, which regularly mark an ad break, and compares these with the average volumes of content across a program.

Anand noted that in the field of ad replacement, there was a difference in levels of competency between broadcasters and operators. Broadcasters like iTV, TB4, RTBF, have been doing ad replacement for a long time, but pay TV operators are not replacing ads because they do not have the rights to do so.

“We aren’t lobbying for these rights to change, but are making the technology to be ready for when these rights are granted,” Anand explained, although he pointed out that there is already business to be had in the US, which is leaps ahead of Europe in terms of operators replacing OTT ads.

European operators best get their skates on, because with ad replacement capabilities come more monetization opportunities. This is especially true of replacing broadcast ads with interactive ads, which generate far more revenue for publishers on a per second basis.

Norigin Media does not offer ad replacement, but simply indicates where the ads are. Operators then use a separate vendor to replace ads. Anand told us that SpotX is the popular choice in the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK, while Google Ad Replacement is leading in Scandinavia due to low cost and quick integration time.

It is all well and good solving a bugbear for operators, but this is futile work unless operators can integrate. Although AdScan came out of the shadows in early 2020, the process of integration with ad servers has been very gradual and Norigin Media is still amid its first handful of integrations.

The recently completed trial with German R&D firm Fraunhofer Fokus was to test the integration process and, so far, there are a couple of pay TV operators on the books, one German and one Norwegian. As we are accustomed to, Anand is sworn to secrecy, largely because operators often end up flouting the rules in this immature market.

“Ad tech is such a teething topic,” he explained. “There are content rights that operators may be breaking while they are trying things out, which means vendors such as us are unable to show off our partners.”

AdScan is installed on-premise within an operator’s video head-end servers, which Anand said is an efficient set up as oppose to having ads constantly going back and forth between Norigin Media and the operator. “This way, only metadata has to leave the end user’s premises, not the video itself,” he explained. This metadata is transferred from the home via JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) files, which are sent to an operator’s servers. From here, operators can stream to the end user.

Norigin Media is still testing out pricing models for AdScan, but Anand said that charging per hour of content analyzed is proving popular.

With a wide range of offerings catering to broadcasters and operators, Norigin Media’s products and services can best be split into two camps. The first Anand described as just ‘video’, but after some probing it seems this means anything involving processing or delivering video – creating catch up feeds from live feeds, converting broadcasts to streamable content, digital rights management, the list goes on.

Interestingly, Anand told us that live sports is not a major part of Norigin’s DRM operations. “Live sports doesn’t need heavy DRM, there’s no need as they can’t steal it once the sport is over,” he told us. “Live rights are with one person, and catch-up rights are with another.”

The other wing of services is ‘user experience’ – enhancing any aspect of an operator’s UI that allows users to interact with video. On this side of things, most of Norigin Media’s 2020 business came from smart TV deployments, a trend that has clearly carried over into the new year as the company announced this week that it has launched a smart TV app for Norwegian DTT provider RiksTV.

“Even a company with no cable infrastructure is now doing streaming, which is great,” Anand exclaimed.

Other recent smart TV projects include a deployment with hospitality OTT service Nenda, which converts legacy hotel video architectures into streaming services and smart TVs. This job required deployment across several operating systems, including LG and Samsung.