Neptuny Brings Social Networking, Recommendation Engine to IPTV

March 4, 2009 – IPTV will soon see an infusion of advanced social networking capabilities with software provider Neptuny’s introduction of a new version of its ContentWise recommendation engine complete with Facebook-like affinity groups and Amazon-like content rating features.

Italian triple-play service provider Fastweb has been using the earlier version of
ContentWise for its VOD IPTV services, but for competitive reasons, the provider has not yet released data documenting results. It is clear, however, that user-generated media recommendations among friends, affinity groups and blog followers has become a major trend among users of Facebook, MySpace and other social networks.

Neptuny intends to leverage that behavior from the Web to IPTV environments with its forthcoming ContentWise 2.5 release, which culls recommendations from VOD content, TV Channels, TV programs and programs available on personal video recorders. The system also now supports social network-like groups of friends or of people with similar affinities and tastes.

“You can create or join or leave a community, and the system provides a social approach to get recommendations within a community rather than from the whole customer base,” says Stefano Moscetti, director of digital media business development for Neptuny. “You are sharing your information with the community as a group, aggregated together.”

ContentWise also generates related-content types of recommendations based on data the system gathers on specific customer usage, taking into account such factors as actors and the synopsis of a movie or other programs, as well as the programs that a user has purchased. In a multilingual region, for example, the engine might decline to recommend French-language movies to a user who has primarily watched English-language movies in the past.

Operators can add additional filtering to the recommendations, such as parental control filters to prevent adult content from being recommended or viewed and to push premium content based on a customer’s profile.

The new software release also provides IPTV operators with an expert system that can automatically extrapolate and apply additional metadata tags using rules-based automation – rules both out-of-the-box from Neptuny and custom, operator-defined rules to enrich what is often incomplete or meager metadata generated by content providers.

“The system provides rules to enrich metadata,” Moscetti says. “One big current problem is incomplete metadata. Now it’s possible to generate additional information at the operator level.”
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This is achieved, in part, through preprocessing of a program’s synopsis. “You can look for key words like ‘black comedy’ and automatically detect content that fits in the specific genre,” he says.

ContentWise 2.5 further enables users to rate content on a 1- to 5-star basis using their TV remote controls – another category of information upon which the recommendation engine draws. The user can either rate a film after watching it or the system will collect information about whether the user watched the whole film or stopped it before it has finished. Explicit preference collection based on factors including favorite genre is also supported.

“When you access ‘My Friends Recommendations,’ a movie rated with five stars will likely be listed on the top,” Moscetti says. “It requires some additional design on the user interface. Even with a powerful recommendation engine, if you have bad design, like a difficult path with too many button strokes to reach the recommendations, you can make the service too hard to use.”

On that front, Neptuny claims to be IPTV middleware agnostic and has undertaken or is now working on integration with Microsoft’s Mediaroom, Minerva’s ITVManager and other popular middleware. “This is a real-time engine specifically designed for digital TV operators,” Moscetti says. “It does not include a user interface, but it is easily integrated into Web portals or TV user interfaces through standard APIs [application programming interfaces]. We collect information about the content catalog, both linear and VOD.”

Agility users can access on-demand, online or batch reporting of consumer usage of ContentWise, not only to assess adoption and usage rates, but to fine tune content acquisition decisions, metadata enhancement, UI design and support for particularly active communities.

From Neptuny’s perspective, the greater the availability of IP video, whether via IPTV or ‘over-the-top’ Web video destined to reach TVs as well as PCs and other devices, the greater will be the incentives for broadcasters to adopt the recommendation engine as an integral service, Moscetti says. Although over-the-top video presents a greater challenge to North American telcos and cable operators than it currently does in Europe, operators in all regions can expect more tools to keep up not only with the breadth of Web video, but also with the Web’s more exciting features and functions in the months ahead.

Beyond Fastweb, which is majority owned by Swisscom, other current customers using Neptuny business intellgence products include British Telecom, Italtel, On Telecoms, Pirelli Broadband, Telecom Italia, Vodafone and Wind.