Automatic Content Recognition Tech Is Disrupting Industry

Sorab Ghaswalla
4 min readMay 16, 2020

Chances are subscribers of this newsletter may have never heard of automatic content recognition (ACR) technology. No problem. That’s why you have signed up for All About Content — the newsletter that brings you developments from the crossroads of content, digital marketing and technology.

So today, let’s catch up with what is ACR, and its various consumer-facing applications. A heads up, this edition of the newsletter is all about how content is consumed rather than created.

ACR is a complicated piece of tech at work, so I shall try to explain it as simply as possible. But believe me when I say this — it is one of the handful of technologies that is disrupting the content ecosystem.

Automatic content recognition is really a broad term that covers a family of software that aims to help consumers synch content consumption across hardware like a smart TV, laptop, and so on.

What does that mean? Let’s say you are watching an animal-related documentary on your smart TV. Clearly, you are an animal lover. When there’s an ad break, you will be served up animal-related content on your tablet, simultaneously. That content on your second screen could be an ad for pet grooming products or a promo for a similar documentary that’s coming up next week.

But just how did “someone out there” realize you were watching an animal related documentary on your TV in the first place? It’s not magic but ACR tech at work. You see, ACR involves the placing of an “embed” in your piece of content like a video to “track” audiences. That embed can be a digital fingerprint or even something as simple as a watermark. It is this embed which “messages” the tracking company of the route taken by a piece of content no matter where it is viewed.

Here’s one explanation that I found that describes ACR quite succinctly: Most smart TV manufacturers use ACR tech to know what you watch. Pixels from the program or ad you watch are analyzed by the ACR software and cross-referenced with a database to determine exactly what you are watching and the content source. Your IP address ascertains your geo-location and is used to match you up with other audience information associated with your IP collected from other sources.

Compared to other tech, ACR is fairly new, having come on the scene at the start of the last decade. Initially, it was part of legacy apps to prevent content theft and copyright infringements. But over the years, companies, especially advertising and marketing agencies, woke up to its “tracking” prospect and its potential to serve up synchronized advertising across platforms. ACR is now being used for specific messaging to target audiences. The tech is also being installed in smart TVs by manufacturers to record and understand a viewer’s watching habits; the data is then sold to ad agencies which in turn use it to increase revenues of their clients.

Take the example of the animal documentary I quoted above. ACR helps programmers know that their short film was consumed on both devices simultaneously. So, the tech helps with analytics.

What’s driving growth?

Two factors are driving the adoption of ACR tech despite severe reservations expressed by online privacy advocates: the demand for customized content, and the growth of consumer electronics. Increasingly, automatic content recognition technology is being embedded in “smart” devices such as TVs and mobile computing devices, including our phones. Increased levels of adoption of portable devices have been instrumental in maximizing the growth potential of the market.

For now, say experts, the world of ACR is in a stage of upgrade: there’s new hardware and software coming in. But research says the market for this tech is set to grow exponentially globally.

ACR applications

Over the years, it was the broadcasting, advertising and media worlds that were the largest users of ACR tech. But others like gaming companies, industries, consumer electronics and education, too, have now climbed aboard. With every advertiser’s and marketer’s thrust on targeted messaging, ACR is set to get incredibly popular, allowing them to measure and understand audience viewing patterns, which will then be used to beam content for a specific audience.

To give an example of the use of ACR in 3rd party apps: it is being used by digital voice companies in their offerings for turning text into audio. Podcasts and audiobooks apart, a trend that’s emerging of late is that of turning website text into audio, allowing visitors to “hear” rather than read what you have up on offer. ACR is helping in a big way in such text-to-speech efforts.

In conclusion: Automatic content recognition is poised to disrupt the content industry, and will be adopted in a big way in the days to come to help serve up targeted content.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay



Sorab Ghaswalla

An AI Communicator, tech buff, futurist & marketing bro. Certified in artificial intelligence from the Univs of Oxford & Edinburgh. Ex old-world journalist.