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Follow the content (and the money) with digital watermarking

Apr 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In the TV advertising and syndication businesses, being able to tally uses and misuses is an important key to success.
San Diego-based Verance will be at the National Association of Broadcasters conference this week pitching a new digital watermarking solution, ElectronicDNA, and its new airplay monitoring system, ConfirMedia. Together these technologies provide a solution to the problems of making sure commercials run when and for as long as they’re supposed to; long-form programming runs only when it’s paid for; and writers and composers are compensated when their creations are used.
Monitoring this kind of information is becoming an increasingly competitive field as the technology to do it grows cheaper and more widely available. Broadcast Verification Services, a division of Competitive Media Reporting, is the oldest and largest service in this space. Recent entries have included Worldtrax, which has licensed Lucent Technologies’ Media TraX technology to insert tracking data into content.
Verance’s solution is still in the “startup” mode. The company expects to begin deploying the technology in June, but it is already attracting enthusiastic customers because the system can easily track even fragmented use of content. For instance, the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers, a performing rights organization, monitors music and collects royalties for its clients, who include a host of writers and composers who create jingles, background music and theme songs.
Keeping track of these kinds of uses can be a nightmare, said SESAC President and Chief Operating Officer Bill Velez. It has been particularly hard to track when the music plays on syndicated television programming in small markets because the stations don’t always keep to a set schedule.
When Verance introduced ConfirMedia, SESAC was one of the first clients to sign on. What Mr. Velez likes about the Verance system is its ability to detect as little as three seconds of usage of a piece of material. That means SESAC can automatically keep track of even snippets of songs and sound effects. “We now will have an unparalleled ability to distribute royalties based on the frequency, duration and source of the performances of our affiliates’ musical compositions, a capability which has particularly been lacking in the areas of advertising and production library music as well as syndicated television programming,” Mr. Velez said.
Verance’s watermarking technology is an inaudible, indelible code that is easily embedded into the audio track of any content. Bob Cerasoli, president of Verance’s Media Information Group, says the code is designed to survive various forms of digital compression and audio manipulation, including the conversion from digital to analog and vice versa. “On the airplay verification side, what we’re doing with the verification service won’t be a target for hackers,” he said.
The ConfirMedia system is about the size of a phone booth, and Verance is deploying it in the top 100 U.S. broadcast markets first. Later the company will roll out the technology in smaller and international markets. The monitoring systems require rooftop space for an antenna, a high-speed Internet link and cable connections, but little else. Once in place, the system will monitor the feeds of all major television and radio stations as well as national feeds of major broadcast and cable television networks. Within minutes of detection, airplay information and reports will be delivered to subscribers via e-mail file attachments and electronic file downloads.
Cost is based on the number of markets monitored multiplied by the length of time. Unlike some competitors’ systems, Verance’s encoding software is provided at no additional charge and can be loaded on either a PC- or Mac-based system, with plug-ins available for ProTools, Avid, Sound Designer and other editing tools.
Verance has been operating since November 1999. The company was formed by the merger of Aris Technologies and Solana Technology Development Corp. and holds a patent portfolio of audio watermarking technologies and applications.
In February, the company settled a patent infringement lawsuit filed against it by Digimarc Corp. The settlement came after the patent office granted re-examinations of the Digimarc patents in question. The company just closed on more than $23 million in financing from investors that include Constellation Ventures, an affiliate of Bear Stearns Asset Management; MMC Capital, a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos.; and Qualcomm.
Said Mr. Cerasoli, “This gives us plenty of capital to do what we need to do until we go cash-flow positive.”