Personalized Service Framework Is Linchpin to Next-Gen Video


Introduction

The multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) industry has reached a crossroads where maintaining market strength depends on a cable or telecom operator’s ability to implement a next generation of video services that can keep pace with new user behaviors and external market innovations.
 
Where multichannel operators could once drive their own roadmaps on their own terms, the combined market force of over-the-top entrants, social media applications, third-party content and metadata, and the multiscreen phenomenon has pushed consumers to expect more choice and flexibility in what, where and how they consume video and related services. Consequently, what has mostly been a shared, linear, passive household experience is becoming a highly individualized experience where every user has an opportunity to shape and socialize what they consume on their personal devices.
 
But the personalized experience as it stands in today’s fragmented app environment comes at great cost. Not only must consumers endure the hassles and complications of finding and signing up for apps they find useful; they end up with dozens of portals and applications on their devices, smart TVs and browsers, each with a separate user lifecycle of discovery, registration, authentication, service use and maintenance.
 

Multichannel Operators as Next-Generation Aggregators

For multichannel operators, the opportunity arising from this state of affairs starts with extending premium content to connected devices, which has been underway for the last several years. But there’s much more to be done, all of it in keeping with the aggregation role that has allowed operators to deliver a must-have service since the dawn of CATV.
 
In much the same way that operators have traditionally aggregated programming content, interactive guides and applications like personal video recorders to households, the next generation operator must grow into an aggregator of those, and many more services.  In fact, with the breadth of Internet-enabled content, application APIs, and advanced interactive services available to an end user, owning the audience becomes an unprecedented aggregation opportunity – an opportunity to unify and personalize an increasingly fragmented offering landscape to individual end users, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1:  The MVPD’s Next Generation Aggregation Opportunity

Strategic Ambitions, Tactical Challenges

So far, video operator strategists who embrace this vision have looked on reaching the end goal as a long, arduous process, beginning with tedious one-by-one integration of new applications to get closer to delivering the video experiences users are already getting through over-the-top (OTT) outlets and second-screen service experiences.  This one-by-one approach leads to fragmentation of portals, services, users and apps in a way that moves the operator’s subscribers further away from the vision of a seamless, personalized multiservice experience.  Witness the several service providers that have gone to market by launching separate, disparate portals and apps for their TV Everywhere initiatives.

A brief browsing of the Apple or Google Play app stores will yield a diverse selection of remote STB, PVR, EPG, VOD and live TV apps, many of them from the same multichannel operator.   While some like Comcast Xfinity have made moves to bring these components together, most will concede that there is a long way yet to go in delivering a unified, seamless, multiscreen experience.

Consider the cases of HBO GO and ESPN Live, the innovative multiscreen offerings from the namesake studios.  As a Time Warner customer, must I still download the Time Warner TV Everywhere app, the HBO GO app and the ESPN Live app (and authenticate to each) just to get the full value of my multichannel subscription?  Or will I soon be able to enjoy it all through one, unified experience, delivered to me by my multichannel provider?

From the Household to the User – the Personalization Gap

Further complicating the current aggregation opportunity is the fact that next generation video experiences extend beyond programming content, metadata and basic applications to a vast range of third-party as well as operator-developed applications that must be readily available on a one-to-one basis to each individual in the subscribing household. The range of applications covers second-screen/companion apps, social media, user-generated reviews, recommendation engines, blended services and targeted advertising systems. These services will continue to expand, limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of app developers worldwide.

Multichannel operators have thus far supported personalization implied by these offerings by using separate user databases resident in these offerings. This point-solution approach has sacrificed user convenience, but has at least brought the odd individualized service to market.  Operators are now beginning to understand that moving beyond the household subscription model to a personalized multiservice account model is essential to being a next generation aggregator.

But since existing operator legacy systems can only validate and authenticate subscriptions on a household level, the operator has little to no knowledge of individual users inside the household.

Crossing the chasm into personalized services requires integrating a holistic User Management capability into the experience, and seamlessly across all services.  Perhaps most importantly, it must be done in a way that does not mandate replacement or working around the existing household subscriber management systems in place.

Market Drivers for Change

Opportunities and Vulnerabilities with Next Generation Video

Market forces seen by some observers as threats to the cable status quo actually constitute a huge opportunity for renewing the vitality of a pay television service as something that is uniquely suited to new trends in consumer behavior.  Recent research and analysis bears out this opportunity.

In fact, the question isn’t whether consumers are watching video across new screens, the questions are : (a) how much are they watching, and (b) how are they watching.   To answer the first question, one needs only to refer to Accenture’s insightful Video-over-Internet 2012 Consumer Survey, “Hearts, Minds and Wallets.”

Figure 2:  Frequency of Watching Video Content over Each Device

Source: Accenture, 2012

As shown in Figure 2, users are actively using the ‘whatever device I can find’ approach to next generation video – which leads to the next question of ‘how’ users are watching multiscreen video. In this regard, a key driver to aggregating content and applications comes into play as we see how users employ second screens to discover, communicate and engage with video content and other viewers.   The recent 2012 report, “Rise of the Connected Viewer,” exposed various ways the second screen was being used in conjunction with video content (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  What People Do with Mobile Devices While Watching TV

Source:  Pew Research Center

Perhaps most telling in the Pew Research report are statistics showing that users are enriching their video experience with personal interactions, including text messaging, voting, social comments and browsing.

But while OTT providers have done a fine job in creating one-to-one experiences with users (Netflix, Apple and Amazon all rely on a personal subscription with a single username/email and password), these players are vulnerable to an aggressive cable strategy that personalizes the multiscreen service with high-value content and app aggregation that delivers a far richer experience than any OTT service can provide.

Foundations of a Next-Gen Cable Service

Some of the core characteristics of such a service are evident in the many categories of apps now vying for operators’ engagement. With the right abstraction platform in place to support integration and provisioning of new apps for access by users through personalized accounts, an operator could readily compile the following capabilities into the multiscreen service offering:

  • Individualized Navigation & Discovery – Cloud-based options abound for fashioning universal discovery, to aggregate and recommend from all sources viewing options suited to each individual taste; from mood and taste analytics engines like Jinni to user-generated metadata from Rotten Tomatoes, third-party APIs promise to help the user sift through mountains of content to find content.
  • Targeted Advertising – By utilizing the individual user data amassed for the personalized service, including data describing user characteristics, tastes and type of device employed with any given session, operators can put into play all the addressable and interactive advertising capabilities under development in the industry and can employ the return data streams reporting each user’s interaction with content to feed ad-related responses into the advertising metrics platforms;
  • Social Graph – An abundance of apps provide the means by which users can share and communicate about their viewing experiences with friends on Facebook or through Twitter and other outlets; the value of integration to social media provides a means to promote content, along with the ability to better understand the consumer and leverage the social graph for engagement.
  • Presence & Second Screen– By linking second screens to a concurrent viewing experience, operators can exploit viewers’ propensity to multitask (see Figure 4 above) by offering integrated access to common second screen activities like voting, messaging, commerce and advertising, and much more.
  • Communications & Blended Services – Multiscreen connectivity to the operator’s messaging and even voice services, along with integrated caller ID and voice mail notices, can be made part of the personalized service experience as easily as video-related apps. Not only can this enrich the experience, but in essence, it elevates the value of an integrated bundle.
  • Customer Care and Marketing – The possibilities of improving service experience through personalization and easy implementation of in-house apps are boundless. Some examples include helping customers trouble-shoot problems; making them aware of service benefits such as who is providing them the Wi-Fi service that magically connects them whenever they’re in reach of an operator’s hot spot; and delivering notices about broadband usage and cost options for exceeding tier limits.

Requirements for a Next Generation Application Platform

The Win-Win for Operators and App Suppliers

Clearly, the multichannel service characterized by these types of capabilities represents the next step in the operator’s evolution as the leading force for meeting consumer expectations. Consequently there’s no more pressing an issue confronting operators than what must be done to make such a service possible from a cost, time-to-market and practical operational standpoint.

Presently multichannel operators who have begun to provide personally selected apps to individual subscribers with TV Everywhere service find themselves mired in silo building, where setting up the authentication process, the integration with the billing and provisioning systems, provisions for delivering the app to each type of device and other facets of implementation must be undertaken as a major project every time an app is added. Conversely, app suppliers must work with each MSO customer to integrate the app platform with the specific types of back office systems each is using.
APIs Abound, Ready for Operator Consumption

Lately, the third-party app space has seemed to open its thinking on the subject of being “aggregated” by operators – perhaps in recognition that a hundred disjointed apps on a user’s iPad or Android tablet is a non-starter.  After all, is the prospect of success for a metadata provider like Rotten Tomatoes higher as a standalone app, or as an integrated piece of a multichannel operator app, packaged and distributed to millions of households?   It would seem that many startups now believe the latter is a better strategy, judging by the number of consumable, operator-targeted APIs available (see Figure 4).

Figure 4:   API Exposure of Next Generation Video Add-on Services

Application Type

Vendors with an Operator-Ready  API

Metadata

Rovi Cloud, Rotten Tomatoes/Flixster,

OTT/Second Screen

Netflix, ESPN Play, CinemaNow

Recommendation

Jinni, ChangingWorlds, Redbee

Advertising

BlackArrow, YuMe

Blended Services (Voice, Chat)

Skype, Genband, Twilio

And while each application partner might bring to the table all the components essential to integrating the app with the operator’s billing, provisioning, subscriber data and other backend systems, these are integrations the operator will not want to perform over and over again.

The operator is motivated to lower the time to integration via a repeatable service application platform that can accommodate these services, while the application vendor/partner is interested in lowering the hurdle they have to clear in winning the operator’s business by plugging into their service offering to immediately reach a broad subscribers base.

The Next Generation Video Service Architecture

Implementing a platform that can aggregate, integrate, unify and personalize the various services that make up next generation video requires new thinking about the service operations architecture. Essentially there needs to be a new element in that architecture that serves to aggregate and package new services, abstract back-office functionalities and deliver unified experiences on a personalized basis to each member of a subscriber household.

A comprehensive solution capable of delivering the next-gen service in an operator environment should meet the following requirements:

  1. Leveraging Legacy Systems/Fit-Gap Approach:  The starting criterion for this new architectural element is that it must be able to leverage existing BSS/OSS and Network Service platforms so that no major change outs or reconfigurations of other elements are required.
  2. Multiservice Personalization:  The platform must be able to employ a sophisticated logic-based data gathering framework to draw out all the information available from operator and third party resources to keep session, credential, subscription and usage data of each individual. This implies a flexible multiprotocol interface, supporting legacy LDAP, XML-RPC and custom interfaces, and current standards like SAML, OAuth and REST.
  3. Managing the User Lifecycle:  The platform must allow the personalized ‘User’ to manage all elements of their profile, from username, password and service creation and modification to household hierarchy management and permissions.   Going from household to user is more than just a data schema extension – it is a paradigm shift requiring new functionality.
  4. Service Abstraction and Orchestration: The platform must be able to abstract each added service into a set of authenticated RESTful functions required to deliver the service and accompanying apps to any given user on any given device. In this way, the operator will maintain flexibility in extending, combining and launching new experiences to any device, at any time, from a centralized place.
  5. Rapid Onboarding of New Services: The platform must be able to leverage standard interface protocols to enable rapid development and deployment of apps into the service environment. This means that the operator and third-party app developers alike must be able to use the data and services available through the platform to build user interfaces into their apps and existing Web portals and to build new Web portals for apps that can readily leverage the platform’s data and functionalities to support specific personalization features.
  6. Cross-Service Utilities:  As the hub for federating and packaging next generation video and related services, the platform must provide additional functions that can be leveraged by any and all services.   Relevant and innovative modules for data aggregation and normalization, presence, connectivity management, context, user-logging authentication, synchronization and scheduling and error handling all play a vital role in the next gen services platform.
  7. Seamlessness: The platform must be able to support persistent access to content as the user moves from one device to another. This means the system must track the user’s place in the video experience continuously throughout the session, including what apps or actions are in process, with the ability to synchronize all functionalities with the transition to another device.

UXP Systems’ Multiscreen Interaction Platform

An Application Services Framework for Next Generation Video

UXP Systems Multiscreen Interaction Platform has been designed, market-launched and field-implemented as an application services framework for next generation video services. The platform is the first of its kind, one which can be readily integrated with the operator’s existing BSS/OSS infrastructure to personalize delivery of any video or communications service with any combination of apps to any screen.

By leveraging billing, asset management, workflow, data collection, provisioning, navigation and all the other systems essential to supporting today’s multiscreen cable operations, the MINT Platform allows operators to make the transition to the next-gen personalized service at minimum cost with maximum flexibility to continually bring new applications into the service mix from outside as well as internal service sources. Multichannel operators have already begun to put MINT to use as an application services platform/gateway to bring together video, metadata, social media, blended services and BSS.

As represented in Figure 5 UXP’s MINT Platform integrates a set of middleware processes consisting of the centrally located core, which operates on a local application server in the operator’s data center to support all the major functions of the platform.  The Console, shown at the top of Figure 5, exposes key services of the Core to end users at the client device and Web portal levels. The communications between Core and Console are supported by a RESTful API, fully documented for the multichannel operator’s use.

Figure 5:  UXP Systems’ MINT – An Application Framework for Next Gen Video

MINT User Lifecycle Management (ULM)

The transformation of today’s cable video, broadband and voice services into a personalized set of converged app-rich multiscreen services rests on the MINT platform’s ability to create a one-to-one relationship between the operator and each user through the functionalities embodied in the User Lifecycle Management (ULM) System. As illustrated in Figure 6, the ULM System encapsulates all user-centric data and service interactions, from account creation and authentication through to user management and service personalization.
 

Figure 6:  User Lifecycle Management

The cyclical flow of interactions with each user begins with creation of the individual user account employing data from all available sources. To amass this data the MINT Provider Interface utilizes a multiprotocol, multi-instance interface to communicate with multivendor billing systems, existing SSO systems and user directories, media systems and other resources through whatever language is appropriate, including SOAP, XML, FTP, SAML, OAuth, XML-RPC, SyncML or virtually any client-specific proprietary interface. The platform can draw data from multiple network services as well, including IP Video, EPG, SMS/MMS, VOD, remote DVR, voicemail, social media, email, contacts and call history.

The Administration module is the conduit through which operators manage the platform, including all ULM functions relating to data and users held within the system, with provisions for integration into CRM systems to facilitate ongoing customer support as well. Once a user account is established the operator can continually add features to the user’s services on a personalized per-user basis, and the user can customize the services to personal tastes as well through selection of whatever app and feature options are exposed for personal selection by the operator. All usage activity and behavior is logged by the ULM System for ongoing applications with each individual account.

 

MINT Experience Orchestration (XO)

The MINT Experience Orchestration (XO) engine packages and abstracts all the network functions essential to delivering any given service and its apps and features to any given device in response to client interaction with the MINT Platform. XO comprises the mechanisms combines an operator’s services and features into a single, unified set of device-agnostic data and commands for orchestrating seamless distribution of any authorized service to whatever device any given user is employing to access the service.

In other words, the XO processes can be described as falling into three major functional areas:

  • Access, aggregation and packaging of a services features and capabilities
  • Packaging of the abstracted features into service models preserving the workflow of how a service works
  • Abstraction of features and service capabilities and delivery using the RESTful API

UXP Systems’ MINT in an Operator Environment

Nothing better illustrates the ground-breaking service transformation capabilities of the MINT Platform than how it is being used in commercial deployments.  One such deployment bringing video, metadata, social media, OTT and voice services together into the personalized multiscreen experience was implemented in Spring 2012 by Caribbean MSO Columbus Communications (Columbus).

Columbus is based in Barbados with about 450,000 cable TV subscribers in Trinidad, Jamaica, Curacao and Grenada and also has broadband Internet reach into many other Latin American countries. The company is leveraging the MINT Platform in several ways to create personalized multiscreen services for cable subscribers and to enhance the experiences of users who access its services over other broadband facilities.

The MSO’s subscriber TVE service is designed to eventually stream more than 30 linear broadcast channels as well as large quantities of VOD content on a personal-account basis to multiple connected devices. In addition, the company is using the MINT Platform to create a unique multiscreen service experience that brings together an unprecedented number of services in one application across the subscriber region, including:

  • Video:                        Linear Video and Video on Demand
  • OTT:                        ESPN Play in-app integration
  • Metadata:            Rovi & TMS Metadata
  • Social:                        Facebook Integration
  • Voice:                        Voice Calling, Voicemail, Call History
  • Hierarchy:            Household Personalization w/ Hierarchy management

Merged into the Video Everywhere experience, Columbus has included a “Voice Everywhere” multiscreen service which allows its cable customers in Trinidad to use a Wi-Fi connection anywhere they are to link into their home VoIP service and all its features, including voice mail and caller ID, thereby avoiding use of cellular networks to make calls on their smartphones and tablets while they’re away from home. The multithreading capabilities of the MINT Platform allow Columbus to blend the user experience across the video and voice services and apps so that each user can readily access whatever they need on any device wherever they might be.

Critically, Columbus has been able to launch all these capabilities without having to change out or implement new components in its back-office operations, other than the specific functionalities tied to the new content protection, transcoding and streaming requirements of the IP video service. All the authentication, rendering of user interfaces and implementation of features for the different services are abstracted onto the MINT Platform from functions performed by cable modems, set-tops, voice adapters and other network components under direction of the existing operations and business support systems.

In a matter of a few months, the Caribbean cable operator moved from a traditional legacy triple-play business to a personalized next-generation blended service paradigm which has put it in the vanguard of cable operators worldwide. “UXP figured out a way to layer in multiscreen services without messing with legacy systems,” says Columbus CEO Brendan Paddick. “I think they’re pretty disruptive when you look at what we’re doing.”

By enabling this multiscreen vision, we are transforming service providers into experience providers, increasing their relevance across screens, elevating the value of the services bundle, and enabling truly compelling service experiences. For more information about UXP and MINT contact infoatuxpsystemsdotcom  (infoatuxpsystemsdotcom)  .