Startup’s ‘Commercial Break’ App Debuts on Apple Devices

Aristarchos' Long-Term Aim is to Meld its Ad-Skipping System With Set-Tops and Cloud DVRs

Aristarchos Ltd., a startup based in New York, has developed ad-skipping technology that, it claims, has the potential to be built into set-top boxes and cloud DVR services.

But its technology is starting out life as an application for Apple iOS devices called Commercial Break that monitors a select group of channels and alerts users when regular programming resumes. The Commercial Break app is free, but the company is considering a premium model that monitors the most popular channels at no cost, and charges a fee for access to the full TV lineup.

The Commercial Break iPhone app, released today in public beta form at the iTunes store, currently monitors the New York broadcast TV feeds of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, as well as the national cable feeds of ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, and USA.

Aristarchos, said company CEO and co-founder Haim Kairy, is also developing a version for Android devices and is looking to expand its ad-skipping platform into several more markets before 2014, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. It’s also making plans to monitor a broader number of channels.

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“We can run this solution for any channel anywhere in the United States,” Kairy said. “It’s a matter of rolling out more hardware to support more channels.”

While the company’s approach appears to share similarities with AutoHop, the controversial ad-skipping system Dish Network has built into its Hopper HD-DVR, Aristarchos claims that its system is fully automated and, therefore, better equipped for live TV. AutoHop, in comparison, is believed to require some manual human computation, as its ad-skipping magic doesn’t take hold until 1 a.m. ET after a show has been recorded to the Hopper’s PrimeTime Anytime library, which is capable of recording all the prime-time programming of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and storing it for eight consecutive days.

Commercial Break, Kairy said, uses proprietary algorithms to constantly monitor the video and audio of TV feeds, looking for scene cuts and cues (at 40 times per second) that help to distinguish normal programming and the commercials. Aristarchos has installed a “small server farm” in New York City to monitor its initial set of channels, Kairy said.  

The company’s longer term plans is to embed its technology into other devices, including set-top boxes and cloud DVR services. “We think that’s the bigger picture,” Kairy said, noting that Aristarchos has created an application platform interface for prospective partners.

In the live TV/set top scenario, the platform could send a message to the user that the commercial break is over or retune the user to the channel being monitored automatically if the user decided to channel surf while the ads are running.

But Kairy believes Commercial Break will first be implemented in a cloud DVR, allowing users to push a button to skip commercials, versus requiring them to fast-forward through them manually.

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Kairy said his company is, in fact, already working with a cloud DVR company and is in the process of having its technology implemented. He’s not naming it, but a possible candidate is Aereo, which has launched its broadband TV/cloud DVR service in New York – Aristarchos’s first target market. Cablevision Systems also operates a cloud DVR in New York that was recently updated to allow customers to record up to ten programs simultaneously. Kairy acknowledged that his company has held discussions with Aereo’s legal team.

Considering that programmers are attacking Dish’s AutoHop feature, he also realizes that his Commercial Break system could draw similar attention. “We are anticipating some static,” Kairy said. “We don’t record or redistribute programming. We’re very confident on the legal side.” 

Aristarchos, founded in June 2012, has two employees – Kairy and fellow founder and company chief technology officer Eli BenDavid. Kairy said the company has raised some seed funding, but will be looking to raise more as it expands to more markets.

The company’s name pays homage to the ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, believed to be the first astronomer to hypothesize that the earth is not the center of the universe.