Discovery in a World of Endless Content


BTR_Feature_Art_Find-_3-3-14 Getting subscribers to the content they want to watch has been a vexing challenge for cable operators since most of the people who now are running the show were in grade school. It was not hard to predict that the advent of essentially unlimited content, multiscreen capabilities and over-the-top (OTT) providers would exacerbate the problem.

What wasn't as obvious was that even as these advances multiplied the problem, they are also leading to its solution. It's simple: A person can live with a small leak in the roof indefinitely. But if the hole becomes 6 inches wide and the rain pours in, something must quickly be done. The avalanche of data streams, programming sources and end point devices represent that downpour.

During the past couple of months, two deals have been struck that promise to confront the issue. In late January, TiVo said that it will acquire Digitalsmiths, a company whose goals, in its own words, are "integrating search, recommendations, discovery and browsing." Billy Purser, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, said Digitalsmiths has a growing number of relationships with cable operators.

The second deal was last week. Rovi said it is acquiring Veveo, a company described in the press release announcing the sale as a provider of "intuitive and personalized entertainment discovery solutions."

The bottom line is that the very technical advances that are making it hard to find programming are also leading to its solution. "Now we are starting to see a whole bunch of tools and technologies coming to help us sift through it all," said Colin Dixon, the founder and chief analyst for nScreen Media. "It is going to take a while for it to all shake out."

Digitalsmiths' focus is on creating a sophisticated recommendations environment. A console provides the operator with the ability to do a number of things aimed at engaging subscribers. That can include providing special offers based on the preferences demonstrated by the subscriber. Somebody who watches The Godfather several times in a given period of time, for instance, may be offered a special on HBO - using Boardwalk Empire in the promotion.

The key is figuring out what the subscriber wants and offering it, regardless of the device. "We provide a business console that sits behind the scenes and allows the operator to incorporate their business needs into the video platform," Purser said.

Darren Gill, the chief product officer for Veveo, said there actually are two related challenges: Helping people who are not sure what they want to watch decide and getting people who do know to their destinations quickly. Gill said Veveo's user interaction tools, combined with Rovi's deep database technology, will help on both counts.

The newly combined company will be able to do things such as predict what programming a person is interested in after just a few keystrokes. For instance, somebody typing "red" may be searching for a Red Sox baseball game or the movie "Reds." The system would mine data for that subscribers and make the appropriate choice of what to suggest. The great power of big data can fine tune this function significantly. Indeed, news events - such as the Oscars this weekend - can factor into what choices are offered.

The combined company also will research voice interfaces. "[Voice] becomes a more and more important part of the puzzle," said Priya Rajagopalan, Rovi's vice president of product management for data. "But if you don't want to speak, using the screen will become easier. But voice is more and more important."

The bottom line is that these two newly combined companies - assuming the deals close - and others are using the great tools that have become available to finally confront a challenge that has dogged the industry for decades. "In late 2012 and in 2013, we closed deals with seven of the top 10 pay TV providers," Purser said. "They are moving very aggressively into this space."

It won't be easy, however. Dixon points out that the data is scattered in many places and, therefore, won't be easy to consolidate. "Just pulling it all together is a massive job," he said.

But the industry is starting to deal with this massive amount of unstructured data. There is plenty of incentive to do so: The goals are both offensive and defensive. Operators want to improve revenues and keep customers from churning. Those high level priorities and the obvious depth of the challenge are forcing the cable ecosystem to finally conquer the problem. And perhaps it is: "I think it is on the road to getting better," Gill said.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at

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