Keystream tech puts TV ads in 'empty' spaces of moving images

Technology from a California company could insert interactive ads and other content into the clear blue sky, or right field, or any other area on your TV or movie screens where the action isn't.

The technology, in the works since 2003 at privately held Keystream, analyzes video on the fly, detects where moving objects are going, and places its overlays somewhere unobtrusive -- for instance, upfield as a running back heads downfield. An overlay might be a simple logo, or it could be an interactive element, such as an offer to buy that running back's team jersey.

Early media reports that Britain's ITV commercial service is testing Keystream's "automatically placed overlay advertising" met with consternation from online commenters, some claiming they'd never watch television again if the rollout went more broadly than current tests on the ITV Local Web site. In the US, USswitch.com and Freesat are both experimenting with using the technology to place company logos in the background of ads on the site.

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Like the "seam carving" functionality unveiledin Adobe's CS4 last week, Keystream's object-tracking technology focuses on spaces where the action is not. But Schuyler Cullen, the CEO of Keystream, says that behind the scenes the two products are operating rather differently -- Adobe doing statistical analysis to determine flat areas and sharp edges, Keystream calculating change and motion. Having just emerged from stealth mode in August, Keystream holds a number of patents on the algorithms involved.

Cullen says that some type of video are more likely candidates for overlay than others; news and sports, for instance, might find uses for the tech before high-production-value works such as feature films. Still, says the Stanford Ph.D, "we're not going to put ourselves in the position of saying what this goes with," leaving those decisions up to publishers and advertisers.

As for the viewer experience, one of Keystream's board members is also CEO of DiMAS Group and director of its AdLab program. Cullen says that in his company's own testing, as long as the content was injected in such a way that it didn't interfere with the main action, focus groups were fine with it.

The firm is talking to a number of American companies, Cullen told BetaNews, and that future developments should make the insertions more seamless and more interactive. Future developments should also increase the competition; both Microsoft and Google are leading the rush for new video-monetization technologies, of which this is most certainly one.

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