The following is a fictional scenario, but the technology already exists to make it real.
You go to a concert. You’re given a free poster. Small print on the poster suggests you place it on a wall facing a webcam for added effect. You mount the poster and record a short video of you reviewing the concert. What you don’t know is that it contains an augmented reality marker – a simple fiducial that can be used as a point of reference for computer software to insert or embed digital imagery that wasn’t there before. This marker might look like an icon, a logo, or a simple QR code. In this example, it is the black Warner Brothers logo on a white square background.
The software reading the marker is built into popular media upload sites like flickr and YouTube. It works on both photographs and video. When a marker is recognized, a simple calculation is made based on its size and angle, and a limited ad field is created. In this case, the ad field is the size of the poster. Since the poster is mostly black, it is easier for the software to effectively mask the area and appear ‘behind’ other objects.
When your video is displayed, contextual ads are embedded seamlessly into the background. They change depending on who is watching the video, and at what time. Placing these ads in situ is far more effective than overlays because the content appears naturally in the environment. And if the ad is related to the original content (i.e.the Green Day poster) and the audience (people who want to watch you review the Green Day concert), than it should theoretically be more powerful. In this example your Green Day poster becomes an announcement that the band is making a local appearance next week: local to the person viewing the video.
Rolling over the limited ad field turns off the mask, and brings the announcement into the foreground where all of it can be read. Clicking on it opens a new window with further information.
As time goes on, the old poster from the last album is digitally updated when a newer album is released. Your paper poster has essentially become it’s own electronic billboard, thanks to the magic of augmented reality.
But who controls this new display area? Is it owned by you, the content creator? Is it owned by the online service providers, the Googles and the Yahoos? Or is it owned by the traditional companies who distributed the physical originals? Ultimately it will be all three— in a complicated revenue sharing agreement. Since Reprise Records distributes Green Day, and is owned by Warner Music Group, Warner Brothers might want to show some of their other media properties. If a big movie release is pending, WB could choose to convert all their augmented reality property to movie posters. Flickr’s serving software and augmented reality presentation layer would need to be updated, and you would need to click a checkbox allowing WB to present action movies. Now, instead of an old concert poster, there’s a promotion for the new Sherlock Holmes movie. You would be paid by the view, and even more by the click. Or something like that.
And what about three-dimensional objects? In both pictures and videos, the augmented reality marker can calculate perspective, and therefore embedded 3D objects into a scene. But they need a bit more space. Ideally, the software would look for a smooth, uniform colour and expand the mask beyond the borders of the original poster. In this case the expanded ad field takes over the entire wall. Now there’s a lot more space to insert a realistic object into the scene.
The next trick is to match the lighting. In this example, an IKEA shelf (complete with books and magazines) is embedded in place of the band poster. IKEA would have to pay Warner Brothers (both of which pay flickr, of course, who hopefully then pays you!) for the right to advertise these shelves to your audience.
Rolling over the shelf results in catalogue information being displayed. Clicking could then pause the video, but allow you to inspect the shelf in three dimensions, including zooming in for more detail. (I don’t know why you’d want to zoom into the details of an IKEA shelf, but it was a conveniant example.)
Companies will need to encourage users to display or capture these augmented reality markers in their pictures and videos. Revenue sharing and giving the users some control over what is displayed would go a long way. Imagine an Augmented Adsense of sorts, where you could set parameters over what type of images are embedded, and track how much you earn.
Then you could choose and change the poster you wanted to have hanging on the wall behind you, without leaving your chair, and get paid to do it.
Augmented Reality Markers will find their way onto T-shirts, changing the way we see concert footage. They will find their way on to cars and buses, changing the way we see streaming traffic camera feeds. They will find their way onto the logo-dotted backdrops of red carpet galas, so that photo-opps of celebrities become even richer marketing opportunities. They will find their way onto signage at popular vacation destinations so your family travel photos become ads for future vacationers…
The possibilities are endless, but the plausibility is up to you. Do you look forward to this new potential revenue stream, or are you repulsed by the idea of marketers placing ads deep inside your own creations? Please discuss.
Note: Big thanks to Torley who posted a video on flickr using the Creative Commons license of Attribution and Share Alike, which gave me permission to change it and use it for this post.