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14 November 2019

Sky adapts AdSmart, accidentally builds personalization software for BBC

Even the BBC, which doesn’t run advertisements on any of its domestic properties with the exception of promoting its own content, has been seduced by Sky AdSmart, the Comcast-owned operator’s addressable advertising platform.

The BBC is in the early stages of playing with PromoSmart, a brand-new iteration of the AdSmart ecosystem; so new in fact that even punching the term PromoSmart into Sky AdSmart’s dedicated website search engine draws a blank.

Faultline therefore got Sky on the phone to confirm that PromoSmart is named as such to reflect the nature of content being delivered. Rather than delivering traditional ads, the BBC will use AdSmart technology to deliver promotional content – hence PromoSmart.

In bare bones terms, PromoSmart is being brought in by the BBC to deliver more personalized promotional content to BBC viewers. The addressable technology means different households will see different trailers for BBC content, based on relevance to specific households, when viewing BBC channels live.

“The BBC won’t be using nearly as much data as most AdSmart customers as there is a less diverse set of promotional content being delivered than traditional ads,” explained Sky’s Corporate Communications Manager Jack Bates. This basically answered our next question about the move being potentially contentious given that the BBC is publicly funded while AdSmart is on the expensive side.

“The partnership hasn’t reached the commercial stage yet and so it isn’t costing the BBC much. This is about delivering a better service to TV license payers. PromoSmart knows if a household has children or not and so can deliver promotional BBC CBeebies kids content to relevant homes, for example”, added Bates.

Effectively then, PromoSmart is using addressable ad tech capabilities to behave like personalization software. “That’s basically right. The technology has been used in-house at Sky to deliver personalized promotional content, but this is the first instance of PromoSmart outside,” continued Bates.

So, what does the use of AdSmart to deliver content recommendations to linear TV viewers mean for ThinkAnalytics, the recommendation engine supplier used by both the BBC and Sky? Bates could not comment directly on this matter, but we doubt the UK vendor’s contracts are in jeopardy for delivery of online content recommendations across BBC iPlayer and Sky’s online video portals.

A BBC representative told Faultline, “From our side, we wouldn’t be using PromoSmart to run adverts because of the way that we’re funded, but as for how it sits within the ecosystem that’s a question for Sky.”

We also learned that the simplified PromoSmart platform does not use Affectiva AI technology in the same way AdSmart does. Sky has worked with the MIT-spin out company to measure emotional reactions of AdSmart users, detecting human emotions and complex cognitive states such as drowsiness and distraction. In the future, Affectiva claims it will be able to understand human activities, interactions and objects people use.

To solve tasks such as face detection and tracking, speaker diarization (partitioning audio streams into segments), voice-activity detection, and emotion classification from face to voice, Affectiva uses two specific deep learning architectures – Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) and Recurrent Neural Networks (RCN) – across a combination of customer layers and off the shelf network architectures.

Each a trailblazer in their respective realms, the move is interesting given AdSmart’s association with bringing significant addressable benefits to legacy pay TV environments, not OTT video. Of course, the BBC and Sky are heavily invested in both pay TV and OTT video – so the benefits are clear. We should therefore refresh our memory of those scintillating results from the partnership between Sky and Virgin Media released over the summer. AdSmart achieved a 48% reduction in channel switching, a 35% increase in ad engagement, a 20% increase on purchase metrics for brands new to TV, 13% higher emotional response to TV ads, and a 49% increase in ad recall.

So, the BBC is the latest UK outfit to take note of the platform’s success, following in the footsteps of pay TV operator Virgin Media and broadcaster Channel 4.

However, the larger ITV has resisted the move in the belief it can capitalize on addressability more by developing its own platform and then gain market share from the others. So, ITV has instead partnered with ad tech firm Amobee to deliver automated programmatic buying in association with addressability via its ITV Hub. Programmatic buying, involving automation of trading inventory, involves separate issues and can be deployed with or without addressability, or not at all.

The two companies are also exploring the availability of BBC Sounds on Sky and Now TV platforms, as well as committing to BBC content being available on Sky’s future TV platform.