BVI Retail Video Analytics Examined

By John Honovich, Published Aug 15, 2011, 08:00pm EDT

For years, retail video analytics have been cited as having great potential. Despite this, large scale applications have been relatively scarce. In the midst of general concerns and lawsuits about video analytics, a US based retail video analytics provider, BVI Networks [link no longer available] has recently announced $8 million in funding, the largest funding the company has ever received.

BVI Overview

BVI's offering is called RetailNEXT [link no longer available] and is supplied on the RN series of appliances, as well as software-only for customers who would like to supply their own hardware. These appliances come in desktop as well as 1-3 rack unit form factors, capable of 500GB-4TB of on-board storage. The RN appliance handles all functions of the system, and is configured in one of two ways: in-store or regional/corporate. The in-store appliance is used to capture all data, whether it be video, analytic data, or data from other sensors.

RetailNEXT integrates with third-party VMSs, such as Genetec or Milestone, and a number of DVRs. Stored video is retrieved from the external video system and analyzed. Since these analytics are not for critical security uses, use of non-real-time video is suitable. Aside from the integration, the RN appliance is also capable of performing basic video management, with live and archived video available via web client. The web client also offers a dashboard view of all data, video and otherwise. Clicking a spike in interest in a certain display, for example, retrieves video associated with that spike, making searches quicker as opposed to manual review of video.

BVI offers video analytic functionality like numerous other vendors, such as people counting and dwell time, and can send alerts when thresholds for these analytics are violated. RetailNEXT also offers functionality unique to retail, however, by integrating to other systems in the store. Integrating analytic data with point-of-sale and inventory systems, for example, allows the retailer to see how many dwells resulted in a sale (called a conversion), and with which products. 

Compared to Security Analytics

The BVI platform differs from typical security analytics in a few ways.

  • Since these analytic functions are not critical to safety and security, accuracy is not as critical. BVI claims 95% accuracy rates and above when properly applied. 
  • Cameras for these functions are typically in locations different from typical cameras used for security and loss prevention. Cameras gauging dwell time for a particular display, or counting entries and exits to a store, are typically mounted directly overhead, a view which is almost never used under normal circumstances. 
  • Partly due to this positioning, RetailNEXT's analytics are meant to perform without any calibration. Users need to set bounding boxes for certain displays and areas, but under normal circumstances, the company says that no manual calibration is needed.

There are many analytic programs which can measure queue length and dwell time. We had a LinkedIn discussion [link no longer available] focusing on this very issue a few months back, in which users reported varying levels of success with other platforms.

RetailNEXT analyzes video as well as correlates data from external systems, such as POS and inventory systems. Where many security analytics would use an analytic event to alarm, BVI uses this data for data mining. So, functions such as dwell time are more detailed, allowing average dwell time, maximum, minimum, number of people who dwelled, etc.

Third, since BVI is not intending to be an all-in-one platform like security analytic providers, they have tailored their analytics to perform in one environment, for a select few purposes. This, they claim, allows them to have accuracy rates much higher than security analytics deployed for the same uses. This makes sense, as a camera intended simply to count how many people enter and exit a store, and located properly, is bound to perform better than a camera used for other surveillance functions, as part of a suite of everything-to-everyone analytics.

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Go to Market

BVI goes to market in two ways:

  • Integrator channel: Unlike many analytic providers, BVI partners not only with security integrators, but with POS and IT integrators, as well. When considering the market they are targeting, this makes sense. These integrators may have a better relationship with the retail stores, considering the amount of business they do compared to security.
  • Merchandising Firms: BVI has partnered with merchandising firms to provide them information on sales performance. Customers may buy blocks of time in which they can test new displays or products. Coca-Cola, for instance, may purchase a three-month window of access to local stores' RetailNEXT systems. This gives them access to in-store data regarding impressions, dwell times, purchases, etc.

Competitive Positioning

There are two major offerings for retail video analytics:

  • Embedded analytics: VMS/NVR providers, such as 3VR, i3DVR [link no longer available] and Clickit who embed video functionalities inside their appliances. This is a low cost / turnkey approach where retail video analytics are offered at a small premium to simply buying a regular 'box'. These providers have achieved at least moderate mainstream traction.
  • Add on analytics: Retail video analytic specialists offer their offerings as a complement to existing video recording systems. This includes companies like LightHaus, Scopix, VideoMining and BVI Networks. They tend to be much more expensive but may offer more sophisticated analysis. Adoption for many of these has been quite limited.

We do not know enough about the details of each offering to comment on low level comparisons. However, we believe the adoption of the retail-specific analytics has been and will continue to be stronger. Typically, these projects are sold on a large scale, at multiple locations of the same retailer, and often nationwide. BVI, for example, cites Macy's as a national account. Even if only a handful of channels are sold per store, it would mean thousands of channels have been sold.

We do see being an add-on to existing systems as a barrier to adoption by smaller stores who may not have the same budgets as other stores. BVI's NVR functionality may be able to overcome some of this, since it would lower total cost of ownership versus installing and maintaining multiple systems for these locations, who typically have less intense video management requirements, as well.

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