The following is a guest post from Carl Kirchhoff, VP of BD at real-time predictive analytics service provider Sidebar. Follow him on Twitter @CarlKir.
Personalized media platforms will maintain the primacy of Television as the most impactful and entertaining medium.
First of all: TV is NOT dead and will continue to play an important role in entertaining us for a long time. The multi-billion dollar TV ecosystem is one of the oldest and most established systems that exists, but has been anything but stable during its history. The proliferation of terrestrial, satellite and cable networks as well as Internet and mobile TV demonstrates the robustness of the industry, and the overall revenue pie is still growing.
The future of TV is not a case of cannibalization or a war between “lean back” and “lean forward.” The invention of digital technology and the proliferation of streaming media content on the Internet have augmented, rather than cannibalized, TV viewing. Watching content over cable and online video are growing hand in hand. Each use case has its own merits for the user in terms of content discovery and consumption. The industry has typically shunned the concept of “lean forward” viewing, emphasizing the historical positioning of TV as pure relaxation. No doubt that is the main use case still. However, a whole generation of Internet video users can’t be wrong.
For those reasons, we need to acknowledge that TV as a distribution channel is no longer the same thing to everyone. One of the reasons I am so excited about the future of television is that personalization technology will enable us to deliver the right viewing experience to the right user at the right time and on the right device. No longer is it just about what show I want to watch, but whether I want to watch something live or recorded, something long form or a series of 3-5 minute videos, something on my home theater or on my iPad. The complexity of choice requires incredibly sophisticated and intelligent systems to factor in the abundance of information relevant for each individual (decision making) process.
When planning for the technologies required, we need to create flexible and easily extensible platforms because we simply do not know how everything will shake out. Let’s rewind to 15 years ago: we all thought that “mobile TV” would mean watching sports or news events live on our handsets while away from home. While there were service offerings for just that use case, it turns out we didn’t know what TV on mobile would become. Fast forward to now with the tablet and other companion devices reaching mass market adoption, and the advent of sophisticated conditional access technologies. Content owners and distributors are now in a position to build up a direct, one-to-one media relationship with their users. Mobile TV is alive and well, it’s just in the form of HBO GO on my iPad.
We are seeing a plethora of social TV applications and experiences in the market, and while some are compelling, others seem to resemble the old interactive TV applications we talked about in 2001. Social will play a large role in moving the conversation from the water cooler to the Net, but we haven’t seen how yet. Facebook is not a great source for me, personally, to discover relevant TV content. Sure I can see which shows my friends watch, and that is great, but I want a TV service that understands me in a way that 400 friends don’t.
I joined Sidebar 18 months ago because they had already developed the sort of extensible and flexible personalization platform designed with an uncertain future in mind. By leveraging a big data infrastructure and highly optimized Machine Learning algorithms and servers, Sidebar is able to rely not only on one source of data for creating recommendations. If metadata is the oil and recommendation platforms are refineries, then social data, user activity, and external data streams are coal, nuclear and natural gas. Truly personal recommendation systems will use all these inputs in a sophisticated way to tease out true personal “signals” from social “noise.”
I believe that the best way to create loyal viewers is to not only show them what they know they like, but to predict content that they will enjoy, based on a combination of inputs from multiple sources, but ultimately leaning on a thorough understanding of their user behavior. When consumers agree to receive personalized recommendations based on their activity, they become collaborators in creating their own personalized TV service.
We are convinced that in the near future we will see more alternative streaming media service providers going to market with this personalized approach leveraging social, gamification and other enticing features to attract and retain users through a unique service offering and user experience. One key success indicator will surround content discovery and the users demand for delivering content that he/ she was even not thinking about at that time of day/ day of the week. Companies able to read the user’s mind while communicating in a transparent and open way will win the customer’s trust and the race for the future of TV. Netflix was an early example of this, and paved the way for the next generation of personalization experiences. What those look like exactly is something we will each have a hand in creating.