mDialog Looks To Transform Mobile-Ad Market

Dynamic, real-time video-ad insertion is hitting the Apple iPhone and iPad, courtesy of mDialog, a mobile-ad-insertion platform provider that has a close relationship with Inlet Technologies, whose Spinnaker live-streaming appliance counts as believers Major League Baseball Advanced Media, NBC Olympics, UniversalSports.com, and NBC Sunday Night Football. That relationship, coupled with the explosion in iPhone and iPad users, could take video advertising in sports programming to a whole new level. And other platforms will follow.

“Our focus is on dynamic, real-time ad insertion and delivery, and our software-development kit does everything the HTML player does and more,” says mDialog President/CEO Greg Philpott. For example, he says, while the ad is loading during pre-roll, it is impossible for the user to skip the ad.

“It also has the ability to do multiple midrolls and interactive overlays,” he adds. “What Apple iAds is to immersive banners we are to streaming.”

There are two ways the system can be deployed for sports content. When coupled with the Spinnaker system, the mDialog platform detects the commercial break within the linear program feed that Spinnaker delivers in various bitrates and formats to the Internet. The mDialog platform then inserts ads that have been sold by the broadcast sales team.

“It plays out really nicely and can replace the commercials in the linear stream with local, targeted in-stream ads that are measurable,” says Philpott.

The system can also be used for live events, where it is unknown when the commercial breaks will take place. A management console can be located on-site in the production truck or venue or also at the master-control facility in the broadcast plant. Philpott says the console allows the user to manage a collection of “ad pods,” cue them up, and hit play so it delivers the ad into the next available slot.

He points out that mDialog is not an ad-delivery network, with spots already sold. Instead, the system allows a sales-and-traffic team to log in and organize ad pods. The business model for mDialog involves charging an ad-delivery fee to deliver targeted, measurable ads.

For now, the system is available only on the iPhone and iPad platforms, but more platforms will be added in the future, including support of the Android 2.0 platform and Microsoft devices, Philpott says, noting, “Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming is very promising,”

He adds that the problem with the first Android platform is that video is delivered in a progressive download as opposed to Apple’s use of HTTP adaptive-bitrate specifications so that a live stream can be delivered consistently.

“We would love to see Android adopt that specification,” says Philpott. “It makes live streaming possible and compensates greatly for varying network connectivity. So, if you’re at a bus stop on a 3G network, it will stream even if the bitrates vary.”

Interactive graphic overlays are also important for sports broadcasters, he says. “It makes the ad come alive, and users can tap the screen and enter contests or vote. Or when a star or marquee player has the ball, the operator can overlay stats related to that player.”

While technology companies like mDialog have a clear vision for the future advertising landscape, many of the sales teams at the TV networks and even the advertising agencies themselves are still grappling with what new concepts like social media, content delivery to mobile devices, and more will mean to their advertising plans. And Philpott says that products like the iPad and similar tablet-size devices will hit a sweet spot in terms of usability and monetization with advertising.

“The iPad is in that magic spot of being usable as both a lay-back and lean-forward device: people are in their living room using the iPad while they simultaneously lean back and watch TV,” he explains. “Immersive, interactive TV has found a form factor in the form of a tablet.”

Will services like those offered by mDialog that can transform national ad buys into localized ad targeting based on a phone’s GPS data take off? Philpott cautions that transformative changes in the media landscape are never really a “big bang.” Any attempts to judge success or failure based on these early days of mobile platforms can be a fool’s errand.

“Apple didn’t come out with four screens,” he points out. “They came out with one screen, and, once the mobile screen was proved out, they came out with the next screen, and it’s pretty obvious that succeeded.”