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This article by our CEO Ashish Chordia originally appeared in Adweek.

We’re heading toward a golden age of television.

Media history is repeating itself, and paying attention will pay off. In the 1990s when the internet hit computer screens, content came first. Ads and the data to optimize those ads soon followed, quickly blossoming into a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Today, nearly 30 years later, it’s happening again—this time with the digitization of TV.

Again, content came first, with HBO, Netflix, Hulu, AMC and others ushering viewers into a second golden age of TV as they competed for leadership in a now unlimited (thanks to digital) media landscape. Now, the media industry is on the launchpad for the second half of the equation, the evolution of the advertising—specifically, in this case, the much-awaited optimization of TV advertising from data. With this advancement will come immeasurable new opportunity for marketers. Unlike the internet, which started as a zero-dollar business, TV has a billion-dollar advertising business, and it’s about to enjoy its own tech infusion.

The ultimate smart TV experience

Let’s start by considering what a fully developed smart TV experience will be.

The longstanding handicap of using the remote control as a keyboard will be eliminated. Universal voice search for content across OTT and the set-top box will extend to internet search. Voice commands and recognition, now more closely associated with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, will be applied as well—this time to the giant screen in the center of the house. TV will become the home’s central content and information hub.

Brands will be empowered to create personalized, vibrant experiences in the heart of homes, integrated into the most high-quality, long-lasting media consumption experiences.
Think about what mission control-type scenes look like in sci-fi movies. This is what we’re talking about. A screen, maybe even the size of a wall, that people are interacting with for a full range of tasks and entertainment.

Ready, set, go

How far are we from this sci-fi opportunity? On the threshold. It sounds incredible to say, but it’s quite realistic. All the pieces are there. The technologies exist, and the consumer behaviors are becoming standard. It just all needs to come together.

At the end of 2017, 45 percent of TV households in the United States had at least one smart TV IHS Markit data showed. OTT adoption is expanding rapidly, at 59.5 million U.S. households in April 2018, up nearly 10 million since April 2017, according to comScore.

Voice search is also becoming mainstream. ComScore predicts 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. Already voice is being applied to screens sans a voice-enabled remote through devices like the Amazon Echo Show, smartwatches and smartphones.

Meanwhile, consumers are able to ask their smart devices to do more and more: shopping, making phone calls, turning on and off lights. There’s now an Amazon Basics microwave that works with Alexa. Imagine asking your TV to cook your frozen burrito. These speakers are just transitional technologies, like pagers before cell phones. It’s all moving to the TV.

Here comes a data windfall

Let’s consider the business experience of this mission control TV. With various audio and data tags tracked through its operating systems, brands will have access to consumer experiences at a depth they’ve never had before. While the industry has been able to offer automated content recognition and closed-loop attribution within certain parameters, no more proxies will be needed. It will be real-time data back and forth.

Brands will be empowered to create personalized, vibrant experiences in the heart of homes, integrated into the most high-quality, long-lasting media consumption experiences. The time is now for marketers to prepare. How will they harness and process the data? What new kinds of insights will they want to look for? What will the commercial and the commercial pod of the future look like? What interactivity and new data flows could be created?

To start answering these questions, brands need to dig into the massive amount of TV data that already exists, learning how to source the data, how to hold sources accountable for the data and also how to become “owners” of as much data as possible.

In addition, they should research what it means for them that ambient computing and voice search will become the primary way consumers interact with their screen media. Does voice search and voice controls change the way consumers discover new products and brands? With personalized recommendations, what do competitor brands need to do to compete? The later brands start these explorations, the further they’ll be from the action when it comes time.

Finally, the giant screen that’s always been sitting in the living room will get its time in the spotlight as a crowning achievement in the digital revolution—and while content may still reign as king, data will get to wear a crown as well. The media and marketing industry needs to get ready, get set and go explore all of the new possibilities.

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