MSOs Explore Ways to Expand TV Everywhere Service Appeal

Ian Blaine, CEO, thePlatform

Ian Blaine, CEO, thePlatform

March 23, 2012 – As cable service providers grow increasingly anxious about the market strength of their legacy premium services there’s a new pay TV service model emerging from the TV Everywhere space that could prove much more powerful against over-the-top upstarts than most people realize.
 
In fact, notwithstanding perceptions that content licensing for TVE has been a disappointment, there’s now enough premium content in play for viewing on connected devices that MSOs have begun tests to explore what this new service paradigm might look like. In many respects it represents a far more flexible and aggressive use of content to keep consumers engaged than originally envisioned for TVE.

At least two unnamed MSOs are working along these lines with Comcast’s Web content publishing arm thePlatform to test a new set of TVE capabilities the firm has introduced as free enhancements to its mpx video management system. “TV operators are seeking ways to unlock the potential of larger content libraries, extend the value of their subscriptions, and create tailored viewing experiences for their customers,” says Ian Blaine, CEO and co-founder of thePlatform. “With the challenge of authentication largely behind us, and more content available than ever before, the industry can shift to creating even more customized entertainment packages.”

Essentially, through use of rich metadata sources and coordination of functionalities across the complex web of content partner relationships, thePlatform’s new features are enabling a version of TVE that goes beyond simply mirroring content from subscription packages for delivery to authenticated subscribers on IP-connected devices. Blaine says MSOs are using the new features to explore ways to carve out new viewing options, create new topically specific package configurations, define audience segments and accelerate the variety of upsell and other marketing initiatives in ways that exploit the full power of the IP environment.

“Traditionally with TVE the goal was to deliver content within the subscriber’s chosen package to more devices,” notes Marty Roberts, senior vice president of sales and marketing at thePlatform,. “But the opportunity going forward is to expand the functionality in order to add value on top of those traditional subscription packages.”

While Roberts acknowledges that “content libraries are growing slower than everyone would like,” the fact is the stock of video available for MSOs’ distribution to IP-connected devices has grown significantly along with the stock of content that’s been licensed for OTT usage.
The ability to leverage all this content in new ways comes just as operators are discovering they have a major incentive to fashion the TVE viewing experience as an alternative to content packages offered through connected TVs, game consoles and specialized set-tops.

“Increasingly we’re helping operators port their portals to the Xbox, Samsung smart TVs, Roku devices and the like,” Roberts says. “It used to be when subscribers turned on the TV they saw the cable guide or the last channel they were viewing. Now they are looking at user interfaces offering many different packaged content selections. Operators have to come up with ways to persuade subscribers to click into the cable viewing experience versus the Netflix, Google or some other offering.”

The new value enhancements enabled by thePlatform rely on IP discovery and tracking tools to create viewing experiences that go beyond legacy cable TV. In contrast to the traditional household level of information available to operators, the IP space generates personalized information on which to base viewing options. “We know things about you like your geographical location, the type of device you’re on, your content preferences,” Roberts says.

“Operators now are investing in user profile services where they can track which users are associated with an account, what the accepted content ratings are and what devices are authorized to access content,” Roberts adds. “The cool thing is we don’t need to know personally identifiable information like the user’s name, but we can make smarter decisions about presenting them choices. This richer relationship with users is just at the very beginning.”

The new features offered by thePlatform facilitate push-button configuration of TVE service options along two tracks – content packaging and subscriber groupings. Where content is concerned, operators can draw from larger catalogs than are currently available on linear TV or VOD to create highly customized extras around genres, TV series, actors, holidays and special events.

“Your VOD system might only have three back shows available from a given series, whereas you don’t have those limitations with much of the programming that’s available online,” Roberts notes. Such content can be used to create augmented children’s program packages, for example. Or operators can put together special incentive packages such as a “history buff” aggregation of content that might be available for some limited time prior to a major historical anniversary.

The new subscriber group features enable operators to segment customers based on a wide range of operator-defined filters, such as geography, acceptable content rating, device type, content viewing preferences and more, Roberts says. Within thePlatform’s system, subscribers can belong to multiple subscriber groups, and can be offered a variety of subscription packages to create highly tailored offerings.

Because everything associated with content and subscriber groupings can be arranged dynamically through the mpx dashboard, the new approach to TVE creates a much more flexible environment for marketers to work in when it comes to enhancing value and creating upsell incentives, Roberts notes. “One of the powerful things about this is you can track views to help determine the success of your packages and make changes on the fly to improve your performance over time,” he says.

This flexibility allows operators and programmers to sustain their reliance on the bundle while delivering enhancements that reflect some of the benefits of an a la carte approach. “Based on subscribers’ preferences operators can highlight content of interest to them,” he explains. “Even though I subscribe to a whole range of channels I’m getting much more in the areas that interest me.”

The dashboard-based management system also allows operators to create highly targeted, very short-lived promotions as well as longer term options, Roberts notes. “Say, for example, you as an operator are offering a big fight on pay-per-view,” he suggests. “You may not have rights to augmented content from the fight, but you can put together interviews, clips from past fights and other elements you have access to in order to create a value-add package for that event.

“When we talk to marketers about what can be done with these features in TVE, their eyes light up,” he adds. “These are capabilities they’ve never had before.”

A key technical underpinning to this new flexibility has to do with advancements in metadata management. Metadata has historically been used to enable better content discovery, search and recommendations, Roberts notes. Now, he says, operators will be able to leverage metadata to set new business policies that take advantage of their vast content libraries to create better services for their subscribers.

Another technical foundation lies in the recommendation and discovery tools thePlatform has built into its publishing system. “The technology is the same we use for applications in navigation,” Roberts says. “Only in this case, rather than supporting individual discovery, we’re using the tools to find content that can be aggregated into enhanced package categories.”

In general, looking at TVE as a way to design services that more directly compete with OTT-delivered video for viewers’ attention is helping to ease operators’ anxieties about cord shaving and cutting, Roberts notes. “When we talk to our customers about the competitive challenges, we encounter a spectrum of perspectives, from those who are in denial to those who are hyper paranoid with many occupying a healthy place in the middle. Everybody agrees TVE can be used to add greater value.”

It helps that licensing for TVE has become a normal process for bringing new content to market. “All new deals are being negotiated for targeting game consoles, tablets, PCs, etc.,” Roberts says. “We find customers who have been aggressive about obtaining such licenses are seeing a lot of benefits. It feels like we’re making good headway now that we’re moving beyond the technology hurdles to TVE.”