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Targeted Ads in Live TV (channel4.com)
62 points by bookofjoe 20 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

In the old days, there was broad demographic targeting such as "daytime TV viewers are likely of demographic X, hence, marketing to them is offered at this fee and for these time slots".

This is different. This is about showing your household different personalized ads than my household, based on data that they don't tell us how they've collected somehow.

Essentially, TV has been watching you (albeit probably via third-party collaborating companies), and you're now being personally identified and marketed to.

Have fun explaining to your spouse why your household's TV is showing more dating site ads than that of their friends.

> Have fun explaining to your spouse why your household's TV is showing more dating site ads than that of their friends.

The targeting is sometimes only _so_ good. While it works in aggregate well, sometimes there are laughable targetings, and it also depends on what audiences the advertiser wants to hit.

I get some pretty strange targeted ads through Facebook that don't seem at all relevant, and the "Why Am I Seeing This Ad" dropdown has very nebulous explanations ("Targeting Men between 25-35 in San Francisco"). I would imagine this problem to be similar with targeted ads on Live TV unless they keep the ads pretty generic or have vastly better targeting than FB or Google.

For some reason recently I've been seeing a lot of datings ads on YouTube. Not that I've been searching for anything like that. First it was Christian dating services (I'm not Christian), but clearly that didn't spark my interest so now they've starting showing me ads for Muslim dating services (I'm also not Muslim). I'm excited to see what's next :-)

Are you at least religious? Seems like a very specific subset of dating services.

Hopefully not Shaker dating services.

Remember targeting doesn't apply to the viewer, it applies to the advertiser.

In other words, they are targeting advertiser dollars not viewer interests.

Well, it's officially time to just use tpb with elinks from a sandbox if you ever want to watch TV.

I'm not completely tied anymore in but I've done work in this in a past life, circa 2009 there was ad targeting capabilities in modern US cable systems. One interesting thing to note is that the FCC does regulate data collection policies - unlike the web. In particular sharing PII ( Personally identifiable information) is verboten which limits the ability start tying your facebook searches into targeted TV ads.

For the most part you can get a pretty good ad profile based on geographic data (median household income) and viewing habits (kids, sports, soaps). Its very broad based targeting however.

> based on data that they don't tell us how they've collected somehow

For the time being, GDPR solves this.

Is this news to people?

A decade ago, as an intern at Google I was chatting with another intern about this. She described exactly this sort of system. Google had bought up the ad rights to an entire cable network across a few states in return for the data on what channel each TV was on, and if it was on or off.

Based on that, they built profiles of how many people lived in each house, what their likely age/demographics were, what times they watched TV, etc, and targeted ads so that you and your neighbor watching the same channel got different ads.

She wasn't speaking hypothetically. This was the team she worked on.

This was my reaction, too. People have been talking about doing this for a while. The first time I heard someone talking about it seriously was in like 2012, and at that point it didn't seem experimental in any way.

For the US, the new ATSC 3.0 standard talks about a "return path" where it sounds like your non-cable, non-Internet broadcast TV will be somehow sending data back to TV stations.

For some reason, this reminds me of a skit in Kentucky Fried Movie called "Eyewitness News".

The skit was of a couple watching television while the news was on. The couple starts making out, and it's clear that the news anchor can see out of the television. The news crew gathers around viewing out of the television into the couple's living room...

a google search will probably find the skit.


> A return path via the internet enables a variety of interactive applications

Sounds like they’re using the internet based on this page and others I searched, but yes still troubling.

I set my router to drop traffic coming and going to my smart tv recently. Seems like that’s the new future.


The piece that talks to the broadcast towers is called the "Dedicated Return Channel" or DRC. It doesn't seem to have anything do with an existing consumer broadband connection.

> Dedicated Return Channel (DRC) supports interactive services in ATSC 3.0 without dependence on other non-ATSC 3.0 network infrastructure. In ATSC 3.0, downlink broadcast channel and Dedicated Return Channel for interactive services use different RF frequencies (i.e. Frequency Division Duplexing). The PHY layer and Media Access Control (MAC) layer for DRC are defined in this specification.

It uses a modified OFDMA which I think is similar to 4G LTE

> The DRC uplink transmitter uses Single Carrier Frequency Division Multiple Access (SCFDMA) as the multiple access scheme. SC-FDMA is similar to Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) except for a Discrete Fourier Transform (DFT) operation performed before the Inverse Fast Fourier Transform (IFFT).

Interesting, thanks for the link

https://www.adsmartfromsky.co.uk is the technology.

I had a quick look around the site, but can't see where it says where the data that they use comes from - other than the FAQs which say you can supply your own data if you want.

I would assume they are using the open electrol role, postcode data etc to target specific premises for their "Location Based Targeting" and for the "Attribute Based Targeting" I guess data from various market research forms that Sky send out or buy?

Data aggregators and warehouses that will sell you practically anything the entire marketing industry knows about you, for pennies each ad bid.

Seriously, ever added a credit card to your Google account for android apps? Google knows all your MasterCard transactions. Probably the same for Visa, just unleaked.


Does anyone know if there's an easy way to buy such information? I'd like to buy my information just to see what this cancerous industry has on me and where I need to improve my privacy efforts.

Just go to those companies and ask for your data. GDPR is your friend.

Slightly off-topic, but what the fuck have the font designers been smoking? That looks absolutely terrible!

I think that's their corporate font. Works fine for big text on a telly I guess.

Maybe to you but I think it works great for Channel 4.

> Early this year, Sky and NBCUniversal announced that AdSmart would expand to the US with both broadcasters taking the first step toward creating global premium video offering.

It looks like this garbage is coming to the US as well.

It certainly is. Broadcast companies have been working toward it for years; I'm no longer in that business and haven't acquainted myself with recent developments, but you'd be kidding yourself to imagine it won't be here soon.

The "value" of a "bundle" service like Sky has been under scrutiny for some time - from the mandatory bundling of 300 crapware channels just so you pay for the one channel that shows anything worth seeing that people grew tired of, to the Netflix model, and now to the further Balkanisation of content that's ongoing with Prime, Disney, NowTV, etc.

It seems Sky has decided to invest in monetising those who remained above incentivising a return for those who cut the cable.

> both Sky and Virgin Media households

Glad I left those monkeys even if it means paying 6x more to a different (business-grade) ISP but at least none of my money is used to finance cancer like this.

> match their own custom audience segments across Channel 4 platforms in a cookie-less, GDPR compliant way.

I don't understand how this can be GDPR compliant. It seems they are using the Facebook approach of "both sides have PII and only exchange hashes of such PII" but as far as I know whether it's the actual PII or the hash, as long as it can be used to uniquely identify the user it still falls under personal data as per the GDPR, and I don't think "targeting cancer on live TV" would fall under legitimate interest.

The recent Emmy awards are evidence that old school broadcast/cable tv with commercials is dying quickly. Most of the popular categories were dominated by streaming, commercial free shows. Hopefully this nonsense is part of the final death throes.

I do remember, though, that US cable was originally mostly commercial free, and the streaming services are already starting down that path in a few areas. Sigh.

Streaming shows may be commercial free, but they're absolutely packed with product placement and other subtle shite that's akin to paid articles pretending to be content in newspapers. I actually prefer my ads nicely marked so I'm not having to second guess whether they're drinking pepsi for a reason or because $$$.

As long as I'm confident I won't be fooled by product placement (I don't buy consumer goods I see on celebrities or in shows), I'm happy to have whoever does fall for this continue to subsidize my uninterrupted viewing as long as the placement isn't too ridiculous.

> I don't buy consumer goods I see on celebrities or in shows

Does this mean that you go out of your way to avoid them? Or that you don't believe you're influenced by them?

I go out of my way to avoid them generally. If they're spending their budget on advertising, I can usually find a similar but less advertised product priced cheaper

You underestimate how poisonous this is. Humans (and especially children) learn through imitation. This includes imitating characters on TV/shows, which form a big part of the 'society' they live in (that its fictional makes little difference). Letting advertisers shape (to an even greater degree) the fictional societies we imitate cannot possibly be a good idea. They will use it to present the illusion of a perfect consumerist society, until that illusion becomes the truth.

> The recent Emmy awards are evidence that old school broadcast/cable tv with commercials is dying quickly.

Not especially. And in the UK Sky, who are the biggest pay TV company, are not showing any significant subscriber churn in their pay TV operations. Not much growth either to be fair, but dying quickly seems a huge overstatement.

"In the Nielsen ratings for 2018-19, the broadcast networks averaged 28.5 million viewers in primetime, a decline of 7.3 million viewers (20 percent) since 2014-15."


This has been in place on other channels for some years in the UK (and other countries, though Sky is definitely a market leader in actual widespread implementation).

It is worth noting that the US and UK aren't really equivalent here, as the UK broadly broadcasts the same channels nationwide all day with already existing slight differences for geographically relevant advertising, not just during primetime. In some cases this is handled on a satellite platform like Sky by broadcasting 20+ regional variations of a channel, and that is literally nuts. A solution like this saves an awful lot of bandwidth.

Multicast via satellite is comparatively cheap really. Especially for lower bitrate channels. Add into the mix regional opt outs (e.g. local news, local tv programs) and it's not _that_ bad an option.

Lots of other channels on Sky already use AdSmart. It's a bit weird to have obviously targeted advertising on UK wide channels (e.g. local car dealerships).

As a disclaimer - I used to work for the company who created the software Sky are using for AdSmart.

I think I'll just go back to piracy...

While this isn't great, any form of broadcast/cable that can be controlled with a DVR makes this a non-issue, as I'm skipping commercials anyway.

When ads on TV become unskippable, or continue to get more firmly embedded in content as with Stranger Things, that's when it gets unacceptable for me.

The problem isn't the ads, it's the tracking.

The tracking is happening anyway, everywhere. Maybe it sucks, but it's reality. Netflix and Amazon, not to mention the entire rest of the internet, are doing it. So if it comes to cable it doesn't differentiate streaming vs. regular TV. The ability to skip ads with a traditional DVR does differentiate them.

> The tracking is happening anyway, everywhere.

Absolutely true, but that not a reason to start accepting it. For me, the ability to skip ads isn't compelling.

If you're a Sky customer and want to opt out of AdSmart, toggle off the two preferences about 'tailored advertising' at the bottom of this page:


TV has been doing this for ages, although with the capabilities that it has. So far, you could guess who was watching based on the time of the day, the time of the year, and some survey data here and there.

TVs are no different from computers nowadays, it seemed like untapped potential for targeted advertising.

> TVs are no different from computers nowadays, it seemed like untapped potential for targeted advertising.

So are those of us who maybe don't want to be advertised to on every surface of every room at all times just supposed to go live in the woods, or what?

They cut down a few trees near where I live to put up billboards. Your woodland escape won't last.

We had an assignment related to this in my marketing class that changed my life.

Go to BET watch commercials, go to country music channel and watch commercials.

Then go to comedy Central, watch the commercials.

It was the scariest thing. And my life was never the same. Highly recommend.

Could you summarize the results for those of us not in the US?

I really don't want to spoil it... But... Ready... Ok....

BET, will have commercials with almost exclusively African Americans. The food commercials are stereotypical.

Country music channel, will have country looking people and Truck commercials.

Comedy Central, that appeals to everyone including You. You will see your stereotype played out in commercial. Things everyone gets, food, insurance, etc...

Text doesn't describe how stereotypical these commercials are. The subtle family structure, the restaurants/activities, the type of girl they use for a model.

>TV has been doing this for ages

The main change is that now ads will be targeted to the individual, or at least the household, level based on personal information they've collected about you from other sources.

> TVs are no different from computers nowadays, it seemed like untapped potential for targeted advertising.

You say that as it is were a good thing. I think it's bad. The last thing we need is more targeted advertising.

Disclaimer 1 : throwaway account Disclaimer 2 : Most of this is from memory, as I've worked on the subject of Smart TVs a couple of years ago.

Now, this comment is about TVs, not computer/streaming/whatever. It should give some pointers for people who want to understand how we got there.

First a bit of context (feel free to skip this step) :

First of all, there are several competing standards for digital television. Major ones are DVB (Europe, Africa, part of Asia), ATSC (North America) and ISDB (Japan, South America), China has its own thing (DTMB). Then, there are several ways to distribute it : by Cable (DVB-C, ATSC-C, ISDB-C), by air (ground antennas, named Terrestrial) (DVB-T, ATSC-T, ISDB-T), by Satellite (DVB-S, ATSC-S, ISDB-S) and lastly by IP. Not everything is supported, of course. Your US Smart TV won't be able to pick up EU channels, because the tuner is not the same. Now, historically TV was a one-way communication : broadcasters sent content, which was picked up one way or another by your TV. Then broadcasters tried to make the TV experience more interactive. I won't speculate about the reasons, but fact is that : early 2000-2010, lots of standards popped up to add interactive capabilities to a television. Things like DVB-MHP (also called DVB-J), ATSC packages, MHEG 5, DAE, ... Now (2019) things are more or less settled in the Western world: DVB regions use HbbTV, ATSC 3.0 regions use ATSC 3.0 apps (they have no names).

Interactive TV : But what is "interactive TV" anyway ? You can already interact with your TV, that's called a remote control. Well, with those interactive TV applications, you can interact with the channel. If you a little rectangle prompting you to press one of the color button (typically, the red button) of your remote to get more information on the current channel, or access to additional content, that's an interactive application being executed on the TV. In HbbTV and in ATSC 3.0 apps, those are Web apps (bunch of HTML/CSS/JS files + some resources) executing on your TV when you watch a channel. Now, as a broadcaster, how do you broadcast those application to the TV ? 1. You pack everything into the stream and the television executes it ; there are ways to do that. It's like a pure client-side application. 2. You tell the television to fetch it remotely. This way, the television asks to something else for the content. The TV no longer is a dumb receiver, it must also be able to contact to the world.

The back channel : This communication interface with the world is referenced as the "back channel" (or "return channel") in specifications. In DVB world, the back channel is an Internet connection : whether Ethernet or Wi-Fi. In ATSC 3.0 world, I can only speculate (I've only skimmed through the specs). From my understanding, you still can do it the IP way (Ethernet/Wi-Fi), but there is a specification for another way of communication (may be over cable/radio), credits to tenebrisalietum for pointing that out in the comments.

And what about advertising ? Again, I won't make any hypothesis about why broadcasters want targeted ads. Fact : In recent years the DVB group and HbbTV association has thought about targeted advertisement. The working group was named DVB-TA [1]. If you have a TV which is able to execute arbitrary applications from broadcasters for one, to fetch remote content over the Internet for two and if you happen to have a profile for the users of a specific TV set, then it is a not too hard for a broadcaster to create an interactive application that will replace every "generic advert" broadcasted by a more targeted one.

As stated, all Smart TVs today fulfill point one, they may fulfill point 2 if they're connected to the Internet or have an alternative back channel. For point 3, I only _suppose_ that broadcasters have ways to build profiles on their viewers.

Other interactions : There are other types of interactions which are part of the specifications. Things like Companion Screen, where the TV communicates with a smartphone/tablet. Usually it involves downloading the application from the TV manufacturer. There are also some specifications which detail some interactions between smartphone and TVs (though some of it is also vendor-specific). On the technical side, the two devices must share the same local network and everything is done in UPnP.

Generic applications : Smart TVs also have app stores, where you can download and execute applications for the TV's underlying operating system. Android TVs have Android apps, Samsung TVs have Tizen apps, LG TVs have webOS apps, ... Those are not the same as "interactive applications" mentioned above (interactive applications are transmitted/signaled over the digital television stream, you don't get them from an app store).

Security and Privacy state of the art by memory : Research on the subject focused on DVB and more specifically HbbTV. wrt security, the two founding presentations were by Herfurt in 2013 at 30C3, then by Oren et al. at Usenix Security 2014. On the privacy side, Ghiglieri et al. published multiple studies regarding the use of tracking technologies inside HbbTV applications. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no independant presentations that looked into ATSC 3.0 interactive applications security or privacy implications. (You can find related talks from the people who wrote the standards)

[1]: https://www.hbbtv.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/11_Angelo-P...

> AdSmart allows brands to show different ads to different households watching the same programme, enabling advertisers to target campaigns based on thousands of combinations of demographic, location, interest and lifestyle attributes.

This essentially pushes GDPR to the edge in terms of taking your personal user data and selling it to advertisers. Yes, Channel 4 is kept alive on life support due to ads, but I can only imagine the tons of data I will hand over if I connected all my social media accounts to my smart tv, channel 4, sky, etc.

If that's what they think the future of TV is, then I'd have to call the library across the road my second home then.

* Also joins Apple TV+ waiting list.

Sweet! I have waited so long for this. My friends may never truly understand me but at least my brands will.

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