Cognitive Networks Detects What You’re Watching On Your Smart TV

If you’re looking for a more interactive experience from your favorite TV shows, a company called Cognitive Networks is working to make it happen.

Cognitive Networks was founded in 2008 and we last wrote about it back in 2013, after the company announced its partnership with LG. When I ran into President Zeev Neumeier tonight at CES in Las Vegas, he told me that the technology is now embedded with “most models” of LG TVs available today.

As Neumeier explained it to me, his team has developed automatic content recognition (ACR) that looks at the picture on your TV and uses that data to identify exactly what you’re watching. That, in turn, enables a content provider or advertiser to add interactive overlays to the TV screen itself, triggered by what’s onscreen at the moment — say, a poll that’s relevant to a scene in a show or a coupon that’s tied to an ad.

At CES, Cognitive Networks showed off Showtime programming with those overlays — and yes, Showtime is actually a live partner. This should help media companies engage with viewers and gather valuable data, and it could make the experience more fun for at least some TV watchers. (To be clear, Neumeier emphasized that the company is focused on the TV-recognition technology; it leaves the actual content of the overlays up to its partners and customers.)

In addition to giving me a quick demo, Neumeier discussed the competitive landscape. I was particularly curious about his view on Shazam’s moves into TV — granted, Shazam uses your smartphone to identify TV content while Cognitive’s technology works through your TV itself, but aren’t they both competing for the same viewer’s attention?

Neumeier acknowledged that “first screen and second screen ACR initially look like they’re related,” but he said that they’re pretty different, because a second-screen app like Shazam is best for reaching users who are already engaged, while a first-screen experience like Cognitive can potentially reach a more casual viewer. (To be clear, users opt-in to Cognitive’s overlays, too — you’re not going to see polls start popping up without your approval.) He added that these experiences “kind of feed each other,” and they could even work together, with a button on your TV sending a coupon to an app to your phone.

“All power to Shazam,” he added.

And Neumeier argued Cognitive has a “very different technology” compared to companies that use visual fingerprints in order to identify copyright infringement online.

“This is a business that’s fiendishly difficult to scale,” he said. That’s because Cognitive isn’t just examining content on the web, but also processing identification requests from a number of TVs simultaneously.

Another recent development: The company raised a $14.5 million Series B from Hearst Ventures and others.