Slated for rollout in early 2010, the guide is positioned to become an important factor in CE manufacturers’ efforts to sell consumers on the HDTV experience, notes Rovi president and CEO Fred Amoroso. “By uniting all forms of digital media into one interactive and personalized source, we believe our new guide solution sets the bar for how we’ll experience home entertainment in the future,” he says.
As a long-time supplier of electronic programming guides to TV manufacturers, Rovi is well positioned to gain traction for its new “Liquid” guide project, says Trent Wheeler, a director of product management at the firm. “We’ve been working with these guys for years to embed our technology with a lot of patents and agreements under our belts,” he notes.
Wheeler declines to name customers for the new guide but says, “We’ve made deals in the past with most of the top CE manufacturers, so it’s natural to assume we’ve talked to them about this.”
The company is consolidating navigation across three main sources of content – the TV, online video and content libraries in the home. “Instead of requiring two, three or four ways for consumers to gain access to their content, we’ve combined all this content into one user experience,” Wheeler says. “People will be able to use the guide without worrying about where the content is coming from.”
As the purveyor of TV Guide and brand-related electronic programming guides, the company has amassed a vast data base of content metadata, which is continually updated by a staff of 150 editors as new content comes into the marketplace, Wheeler notes. “We can express information about content in a consistent way through use of our data sources and through links to third-party sources,” he says.
This gives the user a single view of each piece of content, avoiding the clutter of multiple descriptions associated with each place where that content may originate from. “In our system there’s only one Rocky, Batman or whatever, but we show all the different sources where you can get that from,” Wheeler explains.
Through use of a virtual keyboard and the remote control, users can search for content using titles, actor names and other important keywords. The intelligence built into the system anticipates what the user is looking for, sometimes presenting options when just a couple of letters have been typed in so as to minimize the effort.
“If I type in Batman, the movie might be available from Amazon, Apple or wherever,” Wheeler notes. “If I were to get 17 results back for Batman it would really be confusing. But if I get one Batman and can choose where I want to watch it from, it’s an entirely different experience. Maybe the movie is playing at 9 tonight on TNT, but I want to watch it now and so I’ll pay to get it on demand.”
Along with search the Liquid guide uses a recommendation engine to bring content to people’s attention. “We want to make sure people can press a button and see a list of recommendations and jump into the experience right away,” Wheeler says. Such recommendations can be generated through association with a particular piece of content that the viewer has selected in the guide window or through associations based on viewing trends and preferences expressed over time. This latter approach would require that users opt-in to allow the behavioral tracking required for this application.
Community recommendations will also be part of the navigation experience, Wheeler adds. “We have a partnership with Flixster [a social network for sharing movie recommendations], which will allow people to recommend content to each other or to see what friends have watched and how they reacted,” he says. “If someone in your [Flixster] group is watching a movie on their PC and says they like the show and you turn on your TV, you’ll see that person has watched the movie and likes it.”
“With over 20 million monthly users on the Internet and mobile devices, Flixster helps people share and discover new entertainment content,” says Joe Greenstein, co-founder and CEO of Flixster. “Bringing that service directly to the TV, as part of the Liquid guide, solves a key missing link and will add enormous value to our users and their friends.”
The Rovi move adds to the growing momentum in navigation initiatives targeted to CE manufacturers, observes Colin Dixon, senior partner with the Diffusion Group. For example, he notes in a recent commentary, “TiVo is currently in talks with Best Buy to put the TiVo guide on Insignia TVs.” As previously reported (June, p. 22), startup AnySource Media is another player pursuing navigation deals with TV makers.
This new generation of what Dixon calls “Personal Entertainment Guides,” rather than focusing on organizing TV channels to help users navigate them, places the user “at the center of a new quantum media universe comprised of multiple content conduits and help[s] her navigate and organize it in an easy to use format that encourage[s] true discovery and interactivity,” he says.
“Consumers need a way to easily cut through the clutter to find the entertainment that really matters to them,” he notes. “By combining intelligent entertainment recommendations with access to digital content, the Liquid guide provides consumers with an important new tool to help discover, manage and enjoy entertainment for years to come.”
Dixon says Rovi intends to integrate the new guide with the cable industry’s tru2way middleware, allowing the navigation to cover on-demand and DVR content from cable providers. As for Web content, he says, “Although you will not be able to access all web-based media from the Liquid Guide, you will be able to access ‘curated’ services such as Blockbuster and Slacker.”