Leveraging the processing power of dedicated chipsets from Intel and STMIcroelectronics, the Rovi guide offers a vision into the potential appeal of connected TVs, Blu-ray devices and set-tops that goes well beyond anything yet seen in software-based navigation systems. The difference lies in how the platform can dynamically expose rich graphics, aggregate extensive information about content in real time and support a broad range of usage options in a framework that fits the intuitive expectations of viewers accustomed to grid-based guides.
In essence, TotalGuide is an entertainment portal that puts personalized navigation across all content domains at the core of the television viewing experience, said Rovi president and CEO Fred Amoroso. “Our challenge was to create an entertainment portal that offers a simple five-button remote way for consumers to find content from any of those sources that might increasingly be available to them,” he said.
Discussing the new platform at a private screening for visitors to Rovi’s suite at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Amoroso said the company had researched how various types of viewers access content, from those who are ready to cut the traditional TV subscription cord in favor of using the Web as their sole source of programming to those who rely exclusively on traditional programming sources and all points in between. The navigational experience must be sufficiently compelling to draw all viewers into “a next-generation environment they haven’t experienced before,” he said.
Rovi has signed deals with a variety of players in initial steps toward making TotalGuide or various aspects of its functionalities such as search and discovery a major presence in connected device navigation. These include content agreements with Showtime Networks, ZillionTV, the recently launched supplier of integrated over-the-top and broadcast content to the TV, and 15 European content providers. To support access to premium content through TotalGuide, Rovi will employ video optimization and digital rights management solutions from content protection supplier Widevine.
Rovi is also providing manufacturers a software suite that facilitates consumer media management on PCs, set-tops, mobile handsets and storage devices by identifying, tagging and organizing digital music, videos and photos for easier filing and search. Rovi’s Media Management solution includes a PC application powered by the company’s LASSO and Connected Platform technologies that enables consumers to reconcile digital media acquired from multiple sources and stored in different locations into a uniform, clean personal media library.
TotalGuide uses a traditional horizontal grid approach to displaying scheduled TV programming but with an important twist. When a user clicks on any given programming channel the horizontal space instantly expands to display photos and graphics for each program segment over the three-hour period seen on screen. Users can order up information on any program, including reviews, descriptions of story lines, who’s in the cast, etc., through direct interactive connections to the Rovi data base.
“The demos you’re seeing here are accessing live servers in real time,” Amoroso said. “We have over 300 people who get up every day and create editorial information and manage the metadata across movies, games, sports and all the other programming from a multiplicity of countries.” As heir to the resources of TV Guide, Rovi is able to provide data on programming from the earliest years of television, he added.
This informational resource is essential to the personalization and recommendation capabilities of the platform. “It’s about being able to understand the data by genre and by interest area to say if you like these shows, you should like these other shows as well,” Amoroso said. “Our guide is personalized. You will have your own guide, and your spouse and children will have their guides. And as we learn about your viewing habits we have a learning capability that we can use to recommend content based on what you’ve watched.”
As demonstrated by David Jordan, vice president of marketing at Rovi, the TotalGuide aggregates content available on demand from the Web using the same graphic richness and modes of access to information as it does in the grid presentation of linear content, but with organization tied to personal tastes, genres, popularity with other viewers or recommendations. In its movie portal the platform allows users to shop across multiple suppliers’ content libraries to determine best prices and who has what.
“We aggregate catalogues so the consumer can determine whether to buy from Netflix or Blockbuster or to see the movie on a TV outlet next week,” Jordan said. “This is one of the key values we provide.”
Leveraging the Rovi data base the guide allows the user to capture factual information about a movie, read reviews and gain access to other movies that match thematically or with respect to actors, directors or other parameters. Through a partnership with the Flixster social network for sharing movie recommendations Rovi provides users access to friends’ and other peer opinions.
There are many other features as well. A search function accessed via an on-screen keyboard shortens the input process by intelligently judging what the user is looking for after just one or two letters are selected. Prioritization in this short-cut to displaying search options is based in part on the system’s understanding of the user’s viewing preferences.
Users not only can make time-shift viewing choices as they browse through programming; they can aggregate their personalized lineup so that current broadcasts of a favorite program are associated with an earlier season of episodes that might be available from an online source such as Blockbuster. And they can jump back and forth in time on the grid via a “hopscotch” feature that takes them to whatever day and time on the schedule they choose.
The platform affords consumer electronics manufacturers advertising opportunities by allowing them to sell expanded positions on the grid that highlight specific programs with photos and other information, Jordan said. “You can grab attention by having the highlight within the grid as opposed to a banner running separately,” he noted.
All of these guide capabilities can also be incorporated into chipsets running on Web-connected Blu-ray players, which allows consumers to benefit from the navigational experience without having to buy a new TV set. “They can incorporate a Blu-ray player using even an analog TV and use it as a way of getting to the cloud and taking content from those sources,” Amoroso said.
“The chip capability with Blu-ray is farther along than on the TV, offering more storage, more performance,” he added. “So the TotalGuide can be implemented quicker on Blu-ray than on the TV.” As a result Blu-ray players with TotalGuide incorporated into chipsets will likely be on the market by next Christmas, in advance of the first connected TVs to carry the guide, which will appear in stores sometime in early 2011, Amoroso said.
Realizing the full potential of the TotalGuide user experience either will require cooperation between consumer electronics manufacturers and service providers so that all content, not just what’s available on the Web, can be accessed through one TV navigational platform or service providers will have to incorporate access to Web content via connected set-tops into their navigation options. Such steps could be an easy fit for some service providers, such as satellite or smaller network operators, who don’t have large VOD portfolios.
But Amoroso believes the opportunities for service providers extend to Tier 1 players as well. “I
think the service providers, while working within the walled gardens and controlling subscription relationships, are increasingly recognizing through things like TV Everywhere that the opportunity isn’t to stop the transformation of the market but to find ways to incorporate some of these new capabilities within their relationships with subscribers,” he said. “And so we think TotalGuide is a very strong solution for service providers to offer many similar types of user experience that the consumer electronics people are aiming for.
“The world is going down this path,” he continued. “It’s not just the TV; it’s the PC; it’s the mobile phone. And so for most businesses it’s about how to take advantage of those changes.”