Last week I spoke over the phone with Hiro Media‘s Ronny Golan, who shares the title of founder and CEO with partner Ariel Napchi. The Israeli company has been around since 2004, but only recently began to trumpet its product worldwide. Namely, a means by which video files can travel freely from official servers, across P2P networks and between friends, but upon playback display dynamically inserted advertising which generate reports on the inventory.
Needless to say, an intriguing prospect for both major national broadcasters and independent creators alike. The technology is already live in Israel where it is distributing content for Jetix Israel, and the team is still awaiting the word to launch a US release with a major content partner.
In the meantime, Golan answered some of my questions about the technology and gave me access to a demo of the product.
Users download a codec and client for Windows Media Player to play back content encoded by Hiro. The actually content itself is a regular AVI file, which can be saved, backed up, copied and posted to your heart’s content. The immediate benefit for content providers is that besides seeding the initial copies and acting as a default source, users take on most of the bandwidth load.
The file itself doesn’t contain all of the media, or any of the ads, and the gaps in the data are meant to be unpredictable. What’s left is downloaded upon viewing from a central server, with nothing to discriminate advertising data from content data. The stitched together file then plays back normally, with ads running at regular breaks just like a normal television program.
Golan clarified that unlike YuMe, which embeds the ads as regular video content on download, the Hiro system periodically checks and updates the ads. Once a set of ads are downloaded, the user can view offline for a few days before prompted to check in again.
Part of the installation for the client is a required registration which collects pretty general demographic information about the user, including user interests. This allows for very specific targetting, and for highly granular reporting data to be collected. Golan suggested users benefit by being served timelier, more relevant advertising.
For instance, an advertiser could choose to have a specific number of ads only served to men 18-35 with incomes over $50,000 and an interest in cooking, and for that ad to play only a set number of times between specific dates.
For this reason, Golan claimed that $100 CPMs, “three times that of television,” are realistic. Pre-roll ads are actually the cheapest, because in Golan’s words, “they’re not as effective.” It also means fewer ads generally — only four to six minutes an hour. Creators choose the points at which ads are inserted into the content.
The client download is a little over 12MB, and the install goes quickly enough. An hour long program was approximately 300MB (a pretty typical bitrate for shows encoded on torrent trackers). I had to open up the Hiro client, select the show and open in Windows Media Player to view, as VLC is my default media player and isn’t currently supported (it did play back, but with a banner warning).
Golan was realistic about the potential for abuse — one could record a screencast on playback and edit out the commercials, just like users are already recording their TV signal and doing the same. But the fact that the downloads are free and that most viewers are pretty conditioned to some ads means that the incentive to bother is minimized.
If it all works as planned, it could present an entirely new, and entirely lucrative technological approach to enabling ad-supported long form content online. They could certainly draw immediate interest from providers doing non-exclusive distribution, as Mochila has done.
It’s a competitive space, and the key will be to foster wide adoption of the codec. Adobe Media Player will also support dynamic advertising, though with more restrictive DRM. But if Hiro’s technology is deployed by a particularly popular show or network, then the installed user base could get a jump start.