Celebs and media planners alike gathered at Camden’s Roundhouse earlier this month for Channel 4’s 2018 Upfronts.
On the 4th July, Channel 4 brought famous faces to the stage to announce several future programming launches – including a Brexit referendum drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch, a Victorian comedy featuring Matt Berry named Year of the Rabbit, and a new dating show titled Flirty Dancing.

On top of this, Channel 4 announced plans to inject an extra £10m funding into E4, and also gave the industry a sneak peek of an exciting new advertising product called “Contextual Moments” – soon to be available for brands to trial.
Contextual Moments is an ad proposition allowing brands to appear on TV within contextually relevant environments. For example a character in a show might be seen enjoying a plate of chips at home, and consequently a brand’s oven chips advert would be placed in the following break.

The pioneering technology will be powered by artificial intelligence – using algorithms to recognise visual and audio cues to identify the right contextual moment for an ad of a particular product or category to be served.
However, until the algorithms have been properly developed, the system will be manually overseen by humans, who will remain vital for approving each contextual moment before going live at this stage.

Channel 4’s own research into the technology sounds promising – in their study, placing contextual ads next to regular spots meant spontaneous awareness went up by 34%, while positive brand perception increased 12%, and purchase intent by 13%.

After development of the AI-driven tech, Channel 4 will be looking to sell contextual moments in bundles to brands across different product categories.

The chief commercial officer of Channel 4, Jonathan Allan, said: “Our pioneering ad tech provides an exciting opportunity for advertisers to test a global first in linear TV ad targeting which we know delivers strong results”.
Channel 4 are currently on the lookout for partners to test the new technology, with an aim for more research and a full market launch in 2019.

While an interesting tech-led development in the otherwise relatively traditional space of linear TV, advertisers are likely to have reservations – particularly when it comes to negative contexts and brand safety.

The challenge for Channel 4 will be in ensuring its algorithms correctly identify brand safe scenes or contexts. However, despite potential uncertainties, Channel 4 are taking a bold step in the right direction to enable smarter and more effective TV planning.