In the fifth part of our series on second screening, George Cole learns that the explosion of content available to consumers has strained some older technology, not least of which is the old EPG, as second screens step up to the plate.
The electronic program guide (EPG) is a product of the 80s, when many homes had access to dozens of channels. But now, the EPG is showing its age. “The EPG worked well when the world moved to multi-channel,” says Greg Gudorf, Chief Operating Officer, M-GO, Technicolor, “but today, it’s not just about channels, but all the content that is integrated into our entertainment flow; it’s a flow of channels.”
Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer of Red Bee Media, says, “We think there’s life left in the EPG, but it needs to evolve if it’s to remain relevant.” Chuck Parker, former Chief Commercial Officer at Technicolor and now a second screen consultant and blogger, says that the EPG was the right technology for the time, but now, “There’s a tremendous shift in the industry to other systems and technologies, especially on the second screen.”
Zane Vella, CEO of metadata platform company Watchwith, adds: “The traditional guide has already been eclipsed by a vast amount of information at the consumer’s fingertips; the sheer amount of information that’s not just on our TV screens but on other devices and services, and which is watched on multiple screens.”
Ben Weinberger, Chief Executive Officer of Digitalsmiths, a company that specializes in video search and recommendation, describes the current EPG experience as lying somewhere between “awful and bad,” but still thinks there’s a future for the technology. “In the US, pay-TV operators are already switching to a more visual and recommendation-based system, which gives you ways of finding content in multiple-methods. The 50-plus generation will still use traditional grids, but younger consumers will move away from them.”
Most EPG innovation is happening away from the television, says Plunkett, “Because it’s much easier to experiment and innovate on the second screen. But now, we’re seeing a trend where some of those more sophisticated EPG experiences are migrating back to the television set. I think that over the next 12-24 months most TVs and set-top boxes will be starting to use some of this innovation, with much richer EPGs that include links and recommendations.”
Many believe that the shift for content search and discovery will be from the TV to the second screen. “Second screen offers a better interface,” says Parker. “I think that the television EPG has a short life span – say five years – in terms of mass consumer use. The interfaces used by the various TV services will become non-EPG, so if consumers are really going to discover new content, it won’t happen on the EPG. In the next five years, you’ll see a tremendous shift, at least in terms of business models moving beyond the EPG. I think the only people who should worry about this trend are those who hold patents in EPGs.”
Anthony Rose, CTO of Zeebox, says, “Apps will be used to help you find things to watch. So instead of mindlessly flipping through your EPG, you can pick up your iPad and see what your friends are watching and decide, ‘I’ll watch that too and then chat to them about it’.” Andy Liu, CEO of Buddy TV, notes that for a long time, the primary screen has dictated what we watch. “We still use an old remote control to scroll through a lot of channels – it’s not a smart guide and it doesn’t personalize the information. Second screen solutions will prove to be more compelling.”
Parker distinguishes between search, recommendation and discovery. Search, he says, is a lean-forward activity, where we know what we are looking for (”I want to see when the X Factor is on”). Recommendation suggests things based on things you have previously watched, or by others with similar tastes. But anyone who has ever shopped at Amazon knows that recommendation can be a hit or miss affair, in terms of relevant suggestions. Discovery is a lean-back experience that uses more detailed personal information, and can also use information from friends or social media activity, to offer things the viewer hadn’t thought about, but will probably enjoy.
The key to Discovery and Recommendation is metadata, of which there are two main types that apply to these systems. Descriptive metadata describes the objects on-screen (the make of the car; the name of the actor, and so on), while time-based or contextual metadata tells viewers what is happening on-screen at a particular moment. The challenge that the TV and video industry face is that relatively little of the content out there has been uniquely identified on a global scale. All books, for example, have a unique ISBN number, while the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) is used to identify music.
But according to the Entertainment Identifier Registry (EIDR), only around 5% of film and TV content has been uniquely identified. EIDR – an initiative supported by content providers, distributors, technology companies and others including Movielabs, Cablelabs, Rovi, and studios like Sony, Disney, Warner and Universal – aims to create a global register for TV and video content. Registered users can submit objects for registration, along with core metadata to EIDR.
Jud Cary, who serves on the board of EIDR, says, “Metadata is really important for second screen and provides lots of efficiency. Second screen is certainly something we’re discussing at EIDR.” The various metadata providers, and discovery and recommendation companies use a variety of business models that include licensing, revenue sharing and subscriptions for B2B customers. [For more information on the EIDR initiative, its technology, and its members, see our feature in D2D, issue 14, page 34.]
Rovi provides metadata on more than three million TV shows, movies, sports and celebrities, and its offerings include TotalGuide xD, a white-label search and discovery application, which connects set-top boxes to multiple mobile screens, including tablets and smart phones. TotalGuide xD connects to Rovi Cloud Services, which include video data, search and recommendations, user profile management, and advertising services.
“The ability to define a program and use the data in a number of ways allows for better customization of your search and discovery experience,” says Jeff Siegel, Senior Vice President, Global Media Sales at Rovi. “It can learn from your past searches, based on the metadata it is reading. Metadata is the lifeblood for all the programs that are designed to help you make better informed decisions.”
Rovi’s products and services are used by broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers, service providers and others. “People want to watch good content that’s relevant to them, but in a world of proliferating content, it’s getting harder to find it,” Siegel reports, although he notes that, “Some 94% of people still use the traditional grid guide and spend about 17 minutes a day using it. The grid isn’t dead, but second screen is a totally new way of making money and making TV more accessible.”
Digitalsmiths’ Seamless Discovery solution combines a massive collection of time and asset-based metadata with sophisticated search and recommendation systems. Digitalsmiths’ clients include Warner Bros, Paramount, Technicolor, Turner, the NBA and NASCAR. “We can tell you about any moment in time, so if there’s a movie scene, we can say, ‘This is what’s happening; this is what they are talking about,’ the objects on-screen and their location,” says Weinberger.
The metadata is generated using a variety of techniques and technologies, much of it (around 80%) automated, including facial recognition, object detection and scene segmentation. Humans are used for quality control and adding information that computers find difficult to process (a computer may recognise a cellphone for example, but struggle to determine whether it’s an iPhone or an Android handset). Metadata can be generated from both recorded and live content, although the latter requires more human intervention.
Earlier this year, Digitalsmiths introduced Social Discovery, a feature that enables clients such as content providers to incorporate realtime social data, from sources such as Facebook and Twitter, into entertainment recommendations delivered to users. “We can analyze what TV shows are creating a buzz. So you can say to viewers, ‘These are the top five things people are talking about, and they’re on in the next half hour.’ It’s a means of discovery that doesn’t correspond to your profile, but what others are discussing,” says Weinberger. Digitalsmiths has also teamed up with automated content recognition (ACR) technology company Audible Magic, with the aim of developing more solutions for the second screen.
“We believe time-based metadata is the future of film, television, and advertising,” says the homepage of Watchwith, a platform-as-a-service for metadata driven video applications. CEO Vella says. “By adding metadata to content, you can enhance the consumer experience by providing them with information or links.” At the core of Watchwith is the Related Content Database, which contains time-based metadata on over 3000 feature films and television programs.
Watchwith clients include Disney, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros, Netflix, Fandango and Totalmovie. The database contains three layers of information: basic events offer fundamental data about what’s on the screen (such as the name of the actors); custom events are controlled by content owners and consist of time-based, unique proprietary intellectual property like polls and quizzes; partner events link to websites like the internet movie database (IMDb). Vella says that, “Metadata is the glue for connecting the first and second screens.”
“We sit between the app developers and metadata providers, because we provide content that’s automated around metadata,” says Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights. The company provides sports-related content, and its content database has more than 3 billion sports stats, with the company expecting to generate around one million tweets this year. “We talk to a lot of second screen app developers, because it’s difficult for them to keep up with, for example, all the major league basketball games. By using our content, they can put their app into autopilot when it comes to sport.” Automated Insights can provide quizzes, trivia, stats, notes, information and more for live and recorded sports events.
Technicolor is set to launch its M-GO app and service that includes recommendation and discovery elements linked to a cloud-based database of more than 100,000 movies and around 400,000 TV shows. “By using the cloud, we can make the devices lightweight, so you can use our service on an inexpensive smartphone,” says Greg Gudorf.
M-GO’s supporters include Intel, Samsung and Vizio, and devices such as tablets, smart TVs and Blu-ray players will be preloaded with M-GO technology. Gudorf says that users will have a simple individual log-in so that M-GO’s recommendations meet their user profile (”My Amazon recommendations are skewed by my teenage children,” he says). M-GO will provide recommendations for live TV, VOD and content stored on the user’s home network, with social media also used as a source for information and recommendations.
Last year, the media management company Red Bee acquired TV Genius, a software company that specializes in cloud-based content discovery across the internet, TV and connected devices. It has also launched RedDiscover, a suite of solutions that combines Red Bee Media’s metadata services with search, recommendation and personalization technologies.
The Dutch publisher Veronica has used RedDiscover for an enhanced EPG app for the iPhone and iPad. The new app can analyze Twitter traffic for the buzz around TV shows and display the results in the form of a colour-coded Twitter log on the EPG. This way, viewers can see at a glance, which shows are making the most noise, and click on the Twitter logo to read the conversations and join in. A similar system has been developed for Facebook.
Getting the balance right between first and second screen is crucial, says Plunkett, “You don’t want to overwhelm the user with information, so the key is to offer layers of information that the user can select. That way, they control what they see and when they see it.” Providers of linear content may also be nervous about losing their audience to the second screen offering.
“If you’re a linear broadcaster, you don’t want people looking down at the second screen too often, so there’s a balance to be struck. We developed a companion app for FX UK’s Walking Dead, which offered playability that was tied to the program. You don’t want to distract viewers from watching the TV; watching an advert or leaving the channel at the end of the show,” says Plunkett. “A good second screen experience will complement and reinforce the program that’s on the TV screen.”
Many thanks to Chuck Parker for his help with this series. Chuck’s blog on second screen can be found at: http://digitalvideospace.blogspot.co.uk