Posts Tagged ‘media monitoring’

Setting up an automated ad monitoring service for TV

Friday, October 26th, 2012

So you want to set up your own automated advertisement monitoring for some TV channels?  And you probably have an idea how to sell the reports from the whole system?  Let me try to explain one of the possible ways of doing it.

Overview

Advertisement monitoring system isn’t so complicated, but it isn’t simple either.  You’ll need computers, people, and some kind of service to automatically track advertisements that are spotted once.

Recording

For starters, you have to be able to record all your needed TV channels.  Depending on the TV system used in your country, you’ll have several options for it.  From our shop, we can solve recording for analog tv, DVB-T, DVB-S, IPTV.  In any case, if you can get composite video signal from your set-top box, you will be able to record it with VideoPhill Recorder.

Storing and archiving

Recorded broadcast should go to some storage, depending on the number of days that you want your broadcast archive to be available.  To calculate how much storage space you will need for it, you can use this on-line calculator.

Clipping and tagging

So now we have recordings of the TV broadcast.  Next step is to form a team of people who will find and tag the first occurrence of an advertisement.  Number of people and workstations required for the job depends on many factors:

  • number of channels monitored
  • channel ‘difficulty’ (how easy is to find commercials on the channel)
  • number of shifts that people will do

In short, you’ll need some way of accessing the archive and clipping the portions of it in order to have clips of advertisements extracted and prepared for automated archive search.

One possible way of doing the job is by using VideoPhill Player application.  To see it in action, please see video below…

Automated search

Almost there…  Now, you have your archived broadcast, and you have your clip library.  To find all of the occurrences of all clips on all your channels, you’ll simply pass whole archive and clip library to a PlayKontrol Service and get your results.  Results can be in any format that you require, such as text, excel, PDF, XML, and so on.

Producing reports for your customers

Really final component of the system (apart from selling the reports) is a team of people who will use raw data that PlayKontrol will provide and produce nice reports for your customers.  People on this job should be able to understand the needs of the media buyers and planners, and generate the reports that would be useful for them.

How to create a fair and adequate service proposal?

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Since I’m about to create a media monitoring offer for my first end-user client of such kind, and as this caught me totally unprepared,  I’m on a journey of discovery for prices that would be fair to them but adequate to the company.

Media monitoring here is in a very limited context – they only need advertisement verification service, and that is the only service I can provide at the moment anyway.

For this estimation, I’ll try to use their side of view, and try to provide some added value.  At the end of this post, I’ll summarize the thoughts presented within.

The case

The prospect is a retail store company that has stores all through the country, and they are advertising on all media globally, and of course they use radio.

For every radio advertisement they have to pay some amount, defined by the stations’ price list, subject to various discounts, and so on.  For the payment they always get the invoice, and for most radio stations they also get ‘proof-of-playback’ document.

Proof-of-playback is usually generated from the automation software playout logs and processed with system such as SpotKontrol.  They are accurate most of the time, but sometimes, there are some discrepancies due to operator error or some other intricacy that’s going on.

Everything in the process is being done in a good will, but sometimes advertisements aren’t played and they are shown in the proof-of-playback document, and sometimes it’s the other way around.  Each playback is charged for some amount, and if the proof is incorrect, one party or the other is losing money.  It isn’t great situation for both of them.

So the idea would be to provide a service that could verify the document that is provided by the media by obtaining real and referent information on the playback of the advertisements.

Calculation

Some math and the abstract thinking would be required to read this section.  If you don’t mind reading it, just skip to the end where the results are shown.

In my estimation process I’ll always try to bound the numbers so they will show one extreme side of the possible cost range, and by doing so will come up with a cost that is always AT LEAST that amount.  For example, if there are 10 radio stations in question, and they have various cost of advertisement per second, I’ll use smallest number of them.

First estimation is that such a retail store will have AT LEAST 2 advertisements a day on AT LEAST 10 global radio channels.  We will also say that we will advertise only at workdays, so that gives us AT LEAST 20 days per month, giving us 2 * 10 * 20 = 400 advertisement playbacks.  That is the lowest bound, try to remember that, and we used only 10 global radio stations – most advertisers will go into local advertising as well.

Now, let’s try to estimate how much will each advertisement playback cost.  For that, we’ll use 5 prominnent radio stations and see their price lists.  We will also say that the advertisement in question will be AT LEAST 30″ in duration.  Radio stations:

The price for 30″ advertisement playback for those stations are: 360, 660, 110, 520, 400.  I would recommend Radio Istra to lift their prices of advertising up, and because of them I’ll go with next lowest price to be our estimate here: 360 kn.

From before, we had 400 advertisement playbacks per month, at a rate of 360 kn that amounts to 144.000 kn.  Since we promised we’ll use LOWEST bound, and some would be able to argue that there are various discounts that companies such as this can obtain, let’s say that the maximum amount of discount is 50%, and that will bring our cost down to half, and that is: 72.000 kn spent on advertising, each month.  In reality it is really a different number, but let’s go with this estimate here.

Now we know what are we insuring.  Let’s try to see what would be the cost of manually protecting that investment.

Let’s suppose that we have in place:

  • equipment to record and store 10 radio stations worth of broadcasting material (StreamSink for example)
  • means of reviewing (audibly) the archive of the broadcast material
  • a person that is trained to do all that.

I have the information that such person would cost about $12 in USA and about $4 to $6 in the cheap-labor countries.  Let’s say that our guy will cost $8 = about 50 kn per hour.

From my experience, and by using VideoPhill Player to access the archive, confirming 20 advertisements playback would last about one hour if we do have a proof-of-playback document, and at least 2 hours if we don’t, since whole block of advertisements would have to be under scrutiny.  Also, here we assume that our operator is HIGHLY familiar with scheduling practices of each radio station, and won’t stray too much while searching for the advertisement blocks.

So with all the equipment, and trained staff, it seems that cost of verification for that kind of volume is from 1000 kn to 2000 kn per month.  If we use average number here, and see what’s the ratio of the analyst cost per investment that he protects, we come up with 1:48 or 2%.


Result: we can say that cost of verification for advertisements is about 2% of the cost of the advertising.

It would be even higher (in percentage) if we were considering other media that has lower cost of advertising, since operator would have to scan (at same cost) the material that is paid less.

Conclusion

Since I’m not here to promote the service that isn’t needed by someone, I’ll only try to provide fair price for it for someone that recognizes the need for it.  To do that, I’ll go with 50% discount on my already low estimation, and will try to see if the company can sustain that service at that fee.

That being said, the conclusion is that

to provide a list of played commercials we’ll charge 1% of estimated monthly advertisement cost for that channel(s).

We’ll start from there, and see where it takes us. :)

Testing 3rd party stream capture application

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

This is a response to a question from one of my prospects, and it can be summarized as:

Why should I buy StreamSink at $10.000
when there is Replay A/V that can do same
thing for $100 (if I buy 2 licences for 
2 computers)?

I can make several objections to the idea of having a consumer product in use for business purpose, but instead of that, I’ll try to focus on functionality (at least for this posting).

Purchasing and installing

I quickly purchased Replay A/V for $50, and went on to installing it.  Upon installation, it offered to install WinPopcap (to provide stream discovery) and some other utility for conversion of the saved material.  I declined.

Entering stations

Once installed, I will try to copy my stream list into it and have it record it continuously.

After some investigation, I found out that there is no way to insert the list of the stations at once, so I’m going to enter them one by one.

OK, I entered Antena Zagreb with its stream URL, and went on to fiding the start button for it.  I found it under context menu for the item that was on the list (right click, start-recording, …).

I remembered that I went through the options for a channel and found that you have to explicitly have to enter the option for splitting the file into segments, so I went on and did that.

I’ll leave it run now and will move on to enter the rest of the stations.

I was about 1/4 way down the list, then I got to WMA stream, and was really curious whether it will be accepted, since there is nowhere a option to pick a stream type.  It was, and for now, it seems that it’s captured normally.

When I am entering the data into the software, and it does its file splitting at every 5 minute intervals, whole GUI freezes and becomes unresponsive for 2-3 seconds.  What I am interested in is whether there will be a gap in the recording of the station that is cut.  BTW, the computer I am doing the analysis at isn’t so weak…

Also, it seems that I entered a stream that doesn’t exists.  Application is persistent in trying to connect to it, but while doing so, it freezes again for few seconds.  However, it’s nothing to be alarmed about.

I also found out that in order for the app to be persistent about recurrent connecting, it has to be additionally configured, as it is not the default mode of the operation.

OK, so I finally entered all the stations.  It gets rather annoying after few minutes, because on the 5 minute chunk interval, app gets its freezing moments rather frequently, and despite the fact it doesn’t pose a problem AFTER everything is entered, it really is annoying.  Here is the filled up application:

Testing the recorded stuff

To do that, I will first share the folder with recordings so I would be able to see it from another (this) machine.

As expected, every channel is saved in its appropriate folder:

Now, let’s examine the contents of some folders that are recorded here…

First folder I have is Antena Zagreb, and here it is:

I won’t comment file naming now, but will tell you what happened when I double-clicked .m3u file that should have the list of mp3 files that are recorder. Winamp loaded it and CRASHED my machine completely. I don’t say it will crash yours, but my Winamp, when faced with certain media files that it can’t recognize, goes berserk. The problem here lies in the fact that Antena Zagreb has AACPLUS stream, and it was interpreted erroneously, creating mp3 files that crashed the Winamp. Here is one file for you to try, use it on your own risk.

Antena Zagreb Jan 02_05

Media Player crashed as well, but I could END it, with Winamp I had to restart the whole machine.

Last test I want to do in this post is to see if the subsequent files are saved so there is no gap between.  For that, I have to find a mp3 file that won’t actually break my player.

Found it, and had no luck.  Even with pure mp3 files, Winamp gives up and puts its legs in the air.  Tested the same with Media Player, and it seems that recordings overlap by few seconds, so that checks out.

Before conclusion, let’s just take a look at resource usage of the application:

Conclusion

You might be able to use Replay A/V for your media monitoring purposes, and save great deal of money.  However, please note that:

  • I didn’t find any option for error reporting (which will enable you to see that the stream is off-line for extended time)
  • if all the channels would cut the file at the same time, it would create unresponsive app for at least 2*number_of_channels seconds
  • CPU usage profile is minimal, however I just found out that memory usage rises LINEARLY over time, and that would lead to immanent application death after some time (you do the math)
  • I didn’t use scheduler to create persistent connections, if I would, and am having bad connection with lots of breaks, app would be nearly impossible to use due to freezing upon connection
  • there is no (or I wasn’t able to find it) option for renaming the files so they would use some time-stamped names
  • it doesn’t provide support for VideoPhill Player, which is a archive exploration tool created just for Media Monitors

Additional info…

After several hours (around 6) this is the memory usage that is taken using Procexp.

For those that can’t read memory usage graph, this means that the application has a memory leak, and by this rate, it would exhaust its memory in less then 24 hours, since it is x86 process.  Quick remedy for that would be to raise the interval for the file cutting, because I suspect that memory leak occurs at that time.

Why the LinkedIN is so great!

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Happy New Year to everyone.  I just want to share a joyous event with you, I won’t comment it at all, but just hang the pictures there for you…

 

LinkedIN post on PlayKontrol

Reaction to the post

Another posting, now on StreamSink

And again, interesting reaction...

OK, but WHO is Mr Anant actually?

Recording multiple FM radio stations (works for AM, too)

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

As it seems, we in media monitoring want to record everything.  Good part of everything is still in FM radio spectrum (or AM in some flat-land countries).  An usually, there are plenty of stations on the air that we have to record, at least a dozen at a given location…

Ancient history

Many many years ago, when I was working in FirePlay (great radio automation company and software) we had a task to produce a recorder that would record ONE channel of radio program 24/7.  At that time, encoding MP3 in real-time was some kind of science, and wasn’t available but on most advanced systems that were available (I won’t try to be exact here, but it was something on the lines of Pentium 133Mhz).

So we build FireSave, first version, that was able to handle 1 channel and record it to hard drive, encoded in mp3 format.  We even tried to use some obscure GSM codecs to save space even more…

Ancient history, but without dinosaurs

Setup above required live external tuner to be connected to the Sound Blaster (yeah, really).  We had some multi-channel cards but they were expensive, and using them to record a confidence and/or compliance recording would be waste of money.

Our need was expanded from one channel to several, say 4.  Since we had some expertise running multiple channels, we quickly added more external tuners, replaced Sound Blaster with some multi-channel monster (it was Wave4, then Gina24, then other stuff from EchoAudio, such as Layla 3G) and finally upgraded the software so it could handle multiple channels.

It worked, with 4 external tuners attached to one PC, sometimes more, it looked like an octopus.

Present days (year 2009)

OK, but what if you need and want to record 150 radio station that typical country like Croatia has?  You’ll be able to get some audio cards that will have up to 16 audio inputs (even mono sound will be OK), but to have that kind of external tuners, that is and could provide some kind of a problem.  And yet still, they can’t all be heard in one place, so you’ll have to have multiple recording sites in order to capture everything you need.

Or not?

The simple fact is that every good radio station will have its internet stream so it will be heard on the internet.  And there is a way to capture that stream of the internet and save it to hard drive as you would record it.  There are multiple tools on the internet that would allow you to capture internet audio streams, and you just have to choose one of them, and you’ll be able to record any radio that has its stream.  Before we created StreamSink, I was extensively using StationRipper for my own purposes, and that was the inspiration that was needed to create very similar tool.  It is similar in the respect that it records internet audio (and video) streams, but one thing is very different: all ‘rippers’ including StationRipper are designed to try to cut audio stream at song boundaries, creating a library of songs for the user.  On the other side, our task was to create system to record internet streams in multiple formats in the archive format usable by VideoPhill Player.

It isn’t anything special – just a bunch of files named in some fashion and cut at every five minutes, with special care not to lose single byte of a stream while cutting it.

So with that system, recording 100 radio stations on a single computer is as simple as having an good internet connection present.  Of course, every stream will be recorded as reliably as the server and the internet permits, and there is nothing you can do about it.  When using that method, you must allow yourself to lose some of the archive sometimes, for the unforeseen facts.  Again – better radio stations (the stations that you will need 100% of the archive) will have better sources, better distribution servers, and thus your archive will be better covered.

Expected Archive Coverage

But what to do when there are NO streams?

Lately (Summer 2011), there was a client that needed to record multiple radio stations as well.  However, after initial investigation we concluded that radio stations that needed recording were either badly presented on the internet or not presented at all.  So instead of capturing streams, we were aiming to capture radio signal from the FM directly.  All we had was the antenna that was dipped in the airwaves that contained our radio stations (8 of them).

Strategy was as follows: I have a tool that can capture streams in the format that my application (the Player) needs, but we haven’t the streams.  Let’s create them.

Shoutcast internet radio is on the market for decades.  And it has both free and tremendous support, and their software for creating and distributing internet radio streams are as robust as they can be, since they are field tested in possibly millions of usage scenarios.

As I knew how to encode the stream, how to distribute it (locally) for the StreamSink, I just needed to capture FM signal somehow.  Using 8 external tuners would be funny for the client, and I’ll probably lose them, so I did a little digging and found a beauty in form of a PCI card:

Professional PCI tuner adapter

This little monster (AudioScience ASI8921) is able to capture 8 FM radio channels and give them to the rest of the system in the form of the DirectShow or waveIn API, just what we needed.  Only thing left to do is to connect the antenna to the card and configure shoutcast encoder/server as needed, turn on the StreamSink, and we are recording!

Treatment of repeating content

Monday, November 28th, 2011

In media monitoring systems and environments, we often have to identity and COUNT the occurrences of some playback event.  Most common examples of such are when you have to monitor all the occurrences of the same commercial audio spot.

Multiple parties are interested in tracking audio spots:

  • broadcasters
  • advertisers (clients)
  • agencies (clients representative)
  • government regulators

Let me briefly cover what do they need to know about playback of the commercial audio spots.

Broadcasters

They need proof that they played something at a certain time, to show it to the client and be able to issue invoices for services provided.

Advertisers and agencies

They both need to have a proof that something was played – their own commercials, at certain times, and by correct amount.  However, they might also need to be able to look into other brands so they can track their competitors.

Government regulators

They usually want to know if the proposals or laws requirements on the broadcast media is met.  Such requirements are for example to have no more then 2 minutes of advertisements per hour, or to have commercial blocks clearly separated from the rest of the program by special markers called ‘jingles’ or ‘breaks’.

Let’s get back to..

The problem

Usual workflow for the above is to fill the matching technology with a samples that you want to track, and the technology will give you the locations in the timeline for the samples provided.  That is one thing that PlayKontrol can do for you.  But, what if you don’t have the samples, and still want to discover them?

The rescue

Traditional way would be to go through the known parts of the program, mark them, clip them out and have audio spotter search for all of the occurrences.  With that method, and with lot of clipping, you’ll have some accuracy, and some clips will miss you attention because they aren’t in their place, for example commercial is out of its commercial block.

Other way is to do it with PlayKontrol SelfMatching technology.  It works in a way that whole day of archive is given to the PK, and the result of the process is a list that contains ALL of the matches for the given day.

So every repeating audio clip, no mater how small, will be listed here.  From there, your analyst only task would be to:

  • browse through the clips,
  • listen to them,
  • maybe fine-clip them,
  • tag them and
  • put them into the repository.

I have created a picture containing the results of the process in ‘visual representation’.  Here it is:

Please note the following:

  • both X and Y axes represent time
  • grid divides time in one-hour interval
  • grayed areas are time intervals 00-06 and 18-24 (say night time)
  • size of the points represent length of the clip that is matched

Try to figure out the rest for yourself.  Hint: large blobs are possibly repeating songs.

Capturing and archiving of DVB-T signal

Monday, November 28th, 2011

No matter if it’s for compliance recording so you will capture and save your own broadcast, or you are doing media monitoring and you would like to capture multiple signals of the air, you have some interesting choices here.

Let’s explore in detail your options on the subject, whether it’s one channel or multiple channel recording.

One channel DVB-T recorder

Recording of one channel is simple no matter how you choose to record it.  Let me present two main options here for you, so you could see what is most applicable in your situation.

Simplest way of recording would be to have one set top box for DVB-T, and use it to send composite signal into the computer via the Osprey 210 card.  It is the most robust solution, but it has some (serious) drawbacks:

  • cheap DVB-T tuners can ‘lock’ and freeze the picture
  • low quality tuners can also de-sync audio and video with time – and you need 24/7 operation here
  • you’ll need extra power connector for the set top box
  • STB-s are producing extra heat

Alternative way of recording is to use DVB-T card such as Asus MyCinema-ES3-110, use software such as TubeSink to tune on a frequency and extract the channel required from it (this is called DEMUX-ing) and forward the extracted channel to the VideoPhill Recorder for further processing (recording, streaming, …).

BTW, TubeSink mentioned above can be used even without VideoPhill Recorder, as it DEMUXes the channels and can forward them to any computer on your network as an UDP Transport Stream that can be playable with VLC.  It you want to use it for non-commercial purposes, download it from here.

So in the case on 1 channel DVB-T recording, I would say that it remains uncertain whether to use external set top box with Osprey capture card, or go with pure software solution and some simple of-the-shelf DVB-T tuner.

But in case of…

Multiple channels DVB-T recording facility

Same options are available at multiple channel recording facilities – but here is the catch.  As you might probably know, multiple DVB-T channels are packed and are transmitted at one frequency and that is called multiplexing.  The carrier for the channels that are transmitted is called MULTIPLEX (MUX for short).  In several occasions it has 4 channels, and sometimes it can have as much as 16 or more channels.

Current recommended recorder density (channels per machine) is 4. One machine packed with Osprey 460e will do 4 channels just fine.

So, let’s say that we need 16 channels and they are scattered across 3 MUX-es (we have such situation here in Zagreb).  Using a conventional method (I would say that having 16 STBs is conventional, as bizarre as it seems) you’ll need the:

  • 4 recording servers
  • 4 Osprey 460e cards
  • 16 DVB-T set top boxes
  • PLENTY of mains outlets
  • some kind of distribution to have the signal distributed to all 16STBs

Since you see where I’m coming to, let me suggest the following; let’s use TubeSink to control 3 tuners in TWO MACHINEs, and save on 4 Ospreys and 2 PCs, and the rest of the unnecessary equipment.

We’ll put 2 tuners into one machine, and one tuner in the second machine.  If the channel per MUX distribution is such that each machine has it’s 8 channels, fine.  If not, we’ll instruct TubeSink to forward the Transport Stream to ANOTHER machine and that machine will perform recording.  In that way, load will be completely balanced between two machines, and you’ll have your 16 channels recorder in a nice and compact fashion.

Even more compact?

Yes, it can go even further.  There are dual DVB-T tuners such as WinTV-HVR-2200 that can provide tuning to two frequencies at once, and with it, you could record as much channels there are in two MUXes at one machine.  Today, even desktop processors such as i7 can encode 8 channels of video in real time.  So, with proper CPU (or multiple CPUs on server computers) – even 16 channels could be encoded in one compact 2U rack mounted unit.

However… (serious problem)

Using PC based DVB-T cards will only work with free to air channels.  If any of your channels are encrypted, solution described above will NOT work.