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The iTV Doctor Is In!: Can Music Recognition Enable Interactive TV?

by Rick Howe
09.17.10, 12:06 AM ET

Rick HoweDear Readers:

As John Lennon wrote, "I'm not the only one" who doesn't watch Fox's hit show "Glee" on a regular basis. But if my Facebook friends are any indication, I'm in the minority. So I managed to catch a replay of Episode 11, Season 1 ("Hairography") the other night, and it started me thinking.

There are about a million ways to purchase music from "Glee" online, but is there any way to do it conveniently while watching the show? Particularly if you're watching the show on-demand or from your DVR.

Now that last bit gets into one of the wormier problems we have with interactive television: we know we can provide a great user experience (as well as terrific advertising enhancements) to LINEAR television. But storing and delivering that same experience ON DEMAND is tough.

So I reached out to a couple of guys whom I met at the TV of Tomorrow Show earlier this year--Tony Hilton and Russell Nomer from ICE Innovative Technologies (http://www.theiceedge.com). It turns out they've got this trick, and it's pretty cool.

ICE LogoAnybody who's watched any television program with the lettersC, Sand I(inanyorder) has seen "facial recognition technology" at work. Well, imagine that the same thing exists (and it does) for music. A software program that "listens" to a few bars of a song can identify the song, the performer and (with a quick database check) the publisher and a method of purchase.

Tony Hilton (ICE founder and president) explained it to me this way (and I'll use the "Glee" example): You're watching that same episode of "Glee"--linear, on-demand or off-DVR--and you hear a terrific version of John Lennon's "Imagine" sung by the kids (with a little help from a deaf school glee club). The ICE application "listens" to the song and presents you with an opportunity (either on-screen or on your mobile device) to buy that song, the album that contains that song, the original John Lennon song or the original John Lennon album. All while you're still watching the show and listening to that song.

Tony HiltonAnd here's the trick: the software recognizes the song. There's no bug, no tag--nothing required in the video stream or the video file. The producer doesn't have to do anything different. The network doesn't have to do anything different. The ICE guys handle all the rights acquisition and the commerce application.

The technology is being used in cell phones quite successfully these days. Apps like Shazam from the company with the same name and SoundHound from Melodis are two of the primary examples. The biggest group out there is Gracenote. So it works, it's tried and proven.

Basically, a sound sample is taken and the technology at the backend implements an algorithm to match the sample to a fingerprint sample held in a database. Of course, the operator has to have an agreement with ICE and load the application to the set-top box. But the operator gets a share of the revenue. That's about as transparent as it gets, and it's pretty slick. Here's a last word from Tony Hilton:

Russell Nomer"What could make more sense than to offer a service already widely enjoyed theworld over? Users trust digital downloading and are willing to use it. People buy music and video through so many platforms, why not through the cable box, too? It just makes sense, and it's far easier to implement than selling 'Jennifer Aniston's sweater.' We all want that sweater, but you need to walk before you run--and before you walk, you need to learn to crawl.

"We have a great roadmap to Jen, but it has to begin with this first step. And ICE's first step is a big one. We want to make sure that the many platforms used and enjoyed are available to the subscriber, supporting our service. So our model connects the cable box with mobile and Internet through our ICE cloud--essentially merging the many screens into a single virtual one. If you can't touch the user through the whole of their common tech universe, then you aren't going to be very relevant to them. And nothing is more relevant than a person's daily entertainment made available through Internet, mobile and now cable."


The iTV Doctor is *Rick Howe*, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at itvdoctor@itvt.com

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