The technology that underpins interactive video platform KERV Interactive has a colorful origin story.
It was created by an inventor named Andrew Welch, who previously devised the functionality that allows TV meteorologists to move weather and storm graphics around on green screens. Welch licensed the patent to ABC, NBC and CBS for their news broadcasts. His next project was to develop a telestrator for John Madden to draw freehand sketches over moving video images.
In 2014, he founded a startup called Grabit to try and make a business out of another one of his patented creations: pixel recognition technology for interactive video.
That business didn’t take off, but the technology caught the eye of Gary Mittman, an ad executive who decided to acquire it, along with all related patents. He renamed the company KERV Interactive, created a monetization platform and took on the CEO role.
Today, KERV has 35 employees, a roster of brand clients – including eBay, Troy-Bilt, Callaway and Carhartt – and closed an $11 million round of venture capital in April 2019.
Mittman spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: What’s your WFH situation?
GARY MITTMAN: I have two kids, 6 and 9. The 9-year-old takes Zoom classes on his laptop while I’m doing Zoom calls with clients. It’s like we’re The Jetsons.
How does KERV’s technology work?
The platform is a lot like a video-editing dashboard. We ingest a video and then use AI and machine learning to dynamically recognize the objects in the video and precisely trace the shape of each object to its pixel edge. There could be 50 different objects within a single image in a video and each one can be uniquely identified. For a 30-second ad, this whole process only takes a few minutes.
On top of that, we have a bunch of different features and capabilities, including tracking, multiline tag creation and integrations with the likes of Moat and Integral Ad Science. The videos are made to be programmatically distributed, and they’re player agnostic. You can also add in video overlays, like add to cart, form fill, links or descriptions.
Can you share a real example?
We integrated a map into a video for a local food delivery company that you could click on to choose a store and place orders in real time. We also did something neat for a studio that wanted a specific sound to play every time someone would mouse over items in their video that were related to a movie they were promoting.
How do you do the distribution?
We have our own managed DSP. When we work with brands and agencies directly, we get the IO and our in-house team buys the media programmatically. But we also provide what we call managed SaaS. We’ve done integrations with large publishers so that they can sell the capability of interactive video across their platforms, and then once they do we take it from here.
We’re set to release a SaaS platform sometime in 2021 that lets clients log in and do it for themselves.
Do people actually buy things from interactive videos?
To answer that, I’ll share an example. During the holidays last year, we ran a campaign with a big retailer that ended up selling out of the product they were promoting in the video, which was a leather jacket. They had to call us up to ask if we could quickly change the link to a general landing page rather than the specific product page for the jacket. People aren’t just clicking and exploring these videos, they’re buying from them.
What type of metrics do you track?
We look at views, time spent, scene saves, clicks, shares, interactions, swipes and many other things like that. But what separates us is that we’re optimizing interactive video by user engagement. If you’re optimizing by views only or some other standard application, that’s fine, but all you’re saying is that someone didn’t skip. There’s no depth of knowledge. But if someone clicks through, that’s actionable data related to real user engagement.
Studio production is shut down right now. Are you seeing more marketers repurpose existing creative assets?
People are coming to us with the assets they already have and asking us to change the messaging, which helps them be efficient and sensitive to the current situation. We’re also seeing a boost in activity from agencies and brands that want to make their videos interactive and use them to promote ecommerce. Ecom is becoming a priority for everyone right now.
What’s on the road map?
We’re always releasing new features. We recently launched support for vertical video, for example. Big picture, though, we’re thinking about OTT and the fact that streaming video only has two modes of monetization right now: ads or subscription. But there is a third option: in-show monetization. And by that I mean the ability to add interactivity to scenes in shows and movies.
It can’t be intrusive, which has been the case for interactive technology historically. To avoid that, we allow people to click and save scenes and then continue watching. They can go back anytime and interact later if they want to.
We think user behavior will evolve into a deep comfort zone with video interactivity. It’s already happening.
This interview has been edited and condensed.