Nielsen, Digimarc in Web venture

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NEW YORK -- The Nielsen Co. and digital rights management company Digimarc Corp. are launching a new service that will monitor and manage media content across the Web.

The service, called Nielsen Digital Media Manager, will enable media companies to track their content throughout the Internet using digital watermarking and fingerprinting technology. In addition, it will allow content companies, peer-to-peer services, social networks and user generated content sites to manage and monetize online media streams.

Nielsen already employs watermarking and fingerprinting technology for 95% of TV programming, using it for its ratings service. The new initiative will see the company collaborate with Digimarc, which will provide patents and back-end support, to make this available on the Web.

The service is expected to begin monitoring the distribution of TV content on the Internet by the end of 2008's second quarter, expanding to the distribution of film and other media toward the end of next year.

In October, YouTube announced a similar project that would see the video sharing site and content companies work together to fingerprint and then remove unlicensed material. The difference in the Nielsen product is that, instead of just using this technology to block content from being uploaded, it will allow for the tracking and monetizing of the content, as well.

The service will also be able to track how the content is mashed up, shared and viewed.

"This will help content owners manage and understand the distribution of their content," said Dave Harkness senior vp of product development strategy for Nielsen. "From a content site's owner perspective, we're trying to make it easeir for them to get access to content. We're trying to provide a system that is win-win for the content onwers and the Web sites."

In addition to YouTube, there are several companies that also employ similar technology, some of which have established the Digital Watermarking Alliance, which is devoted to furthering the service. Members include Digimarc, Phillips Electronic, French electronics manufacturer Thomson SA and Teletrax, which provides watermarking technology for NBC Universal and the Associated Press, among other companies.

Once a piece of content has been identified using this type of technology, certain limitations and conditions can be set on it. Sites looking to carry the program will be told if they can or cannot carry the content and, if they can, the content companies can tell the sites what kind of revenue share the content brings or any promotions and advertisements that go along with it; "any kind of rule that's imaginable," said Harkness.

Said Reed Stager, executive vp of Digimarc: "Once you have the ability to identify the watermarks, you can apply any business rule or business model."

Harkness said Nielsen, the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter, has been in touch with most of the major studios and networks and he said they're "incredibly interested" in the technology.

Rick Cotton, executive vp and general counsel at NBC Universal said he's encouraged that Nielsen, a company with an "enormous amount of muscle and experience" in media, has committed to helping tame a corner of the Internet that has historically been like the "Wild West."

"It's enormously positive from a content company point of view that companies like Nielsen have recognized that content recognition technology is technologically feasible and commercially attractive," said Cotton. "We're excited about major sophisticated companies like Nielsen and Digimarc because it symbolizes an increasing coming of age of digital content recognition."

Internet companies had not been formally briefed on the service before the announcement was made.

Digimarc, based in Oregon, also provides identification technology for two-thirds of U.S. drivers licenses and other IDs for more than 25 countries. Its experience with this type of technology, combined with the fact that Nielsen has already been watermarking and fingerprinting TV content, will "help enable us to bring this product to a level that nobody else will bring it to you," said Jim O'Hara, president, media product leadership for Nielsen.

The two companies have been "quietly" working on this project for over a year, said Harkness.
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