Adweek defines automated content recognition (ACR) as a technology used to automatically detect and index content that is playing on television in real time to determine when and where a given consumer sees an ad. This technology happens to be front and center lately due to the rapid increase of smart TV ownership. But what is ACR, and how does it work?
ACR refers to the ability of an application to identify content based on sampling a portion of audio, video or still images. Smart TVs and other devices capture a few pixels from whatever the viewer is watching and share that data with the TV manufacturer’s ACR tracking software. The software takes those pixels and matches them to a database that keeps track of broadcasts.
This technology allows advertisers and content providers to know the type of viewing platform, time spent viewing (including what channels, shows and commercials they are watching on a second-by-second basis) and viewer location. ACR helps advertisers know whether the ad itself was on-screen for specific viewers and is used both to compile reliable data about viewers’ habits, and to provide insight into the performance of campaigns.
Introduced in the last decade, ACR and its power for the advertising industry is only now being fully realized. Although it’s frequently discussed in the same breath as smart TV, the technology can exist on any internet-connected device, including tablets and smartphones. According to eMarketer, by 2021 there will be about 114 million smart TVs in the U.S., with ACR-capable devices like Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV continuing to make steady gains as well.
There are kinks still being worked out, particularly with consumers’ ability to opt in to ACR. That process has come under fire for lack of transparency. All smart TVs can collect and share significant amounts of personal data about their viewers. The FTC has made it clear that companies need your permission before collecting viewing data, but consumers may not understand the details. It’s also important to be selective about what vendors you choose to work with. Because ACR is emerging and increasingly competitive, vendors may feel pressure to pad their numbers in order to sway potential customers.