Lying With Pixels

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Lying With Pixels

I don't know about you, but I was sure spooked by last season's Super Bowl broadcast. Each time the camera cut to a new angle, this strange orange first-down line popped into view, as if painted onto the field underneath the players. After each first down, it mysteriously re-drew itself 10 yards down the field. When a friend explained that it was being inserted in real-time with new video-manipulation software, I began to wonder: What else might I be seeing on TV that isn't really there?

A lot, as it turns out. According to an article by Ivan Amato in the July issue of MIT's Technology Review, in the two years since they began using video insertion technology, it has become commonplace for sportscasters to insert corporate logos and other subtle advertising images into sports broadcasts.

Harmless as it may seem, virtual insertion technology could push advertisements to the personalized extreme. As the CEO of one video-insertion firm tells Amato, 'Say you like Pepsi but your neighbor next door likes Coke and your neighbor across the street likes Seven-Up-the kind of data harvestable from supermarket checkout records. It will become possible to tailor the soft-drink image in the broadcast signal to reach each of you with your preferred brand.'

But real-time video insertion has far more serious implications, in this age of what Amato calls the 'CNN effect'-where the mass media go beyond merely reporting on events to 'actually influencing decision-makers as they consider military, international assistance, and other national and international issues.' Just imagine, Amato says, '[how] a government, terrorist or advocacy group could set geopolitical events in motion on the strength of a few hours' worth of credibility achieved by distributing a snippet of well-doctored video.' -- Leif UtneGo there>>