The Moment Has Arrived For Powerful Next-Gen UIs

Paul Stathacopoulos, VP, strategy, TiVo

Paul Stathacopoulos, VP, strategy, TiVo

TiVo, SeaChange and Other Vendors Respond to MVPDs’ Demand for Navigational Advantage

By Fred Dawson

September 19, 2016 – After watching next-generation UIs come and go over the past few years with little impact, a jaded observer might be inclined to dismiss the latest round of vendor displays at this month’s IBC Show in Amsterdam as another collective exercise in futility. But that would be a mistake, given how vital a compelling navigation experience has become to MVPDs in their battles to build viewership in the OTT-disrupted marketplace.

Moreover, in the latest iterations of UI templates on offer from TiVo, SeaChange and other vendors as well as the underlying support mechanisms for in-house UI development provided by a host of other entities, the navigational and rendering capabilities have reached unprecedented levels of functionality, often fueled by breakthroughs in the use of AI (artificial intelligence) with advanced analytics. Perhaps most important, while some solutions such as that of SeaChange are designed to work with legacy set-top boxes, the potential for widespread implementation of next-gen UIs has been solidified by the penetration of IP-capable STBs across the MVPD ecosystem.

Now the issue is no long whether there’s a real need or feasible way to implement these advanced interfaces. It’s which ones have what it takes to win over a gaggle of hard-to-please buyers.

SeaChange has entered the fray with a new UI it calls NitroX. “Our new generation NitroX products provide a ready-to-deploy multiscreen user experience that’s pre-integrated with SeaChange’s widely deployed Adrenalin multiscreen platform and Nucleus client software stack for rapid introduction of enhanced subscriber capabilities,” says Marek Kielczewski, SeaChange’s senior vice president of customer premises equipment software.

The UI functionalities have also been boosted through SeaChange’s recent acquisition of
DCC Labs, a Warsaw, Poland-based set-top and multiscreen device software developer and integrator, notes Tony Dolph, senior vice president of marketing at SeaChange. “This supports our intention to go farther into enabling personalized user experiences through a converged UI that can operate in virtually any device environment, from old set-top boxes to smartphones and 4K screens,” Dolph says.

Supporting multiple user profiles, NitroX’s presentation intelligence curates content options that are relevant to unique users and enables social discovery within an individual subscriber’s network, establishing a highly attractive and engaging cross-device experience, he adds. The UI lets subscribers move easily between devices, including maintaining individual bookmarks, favorites and recently-watched history, as well as providing access to catch-up and recorded TV from all devices.  Companion push-pull features between devices allow for new consumption modes, such as using one device for viewing, while simultaneously controlling the viewing experience on another.

Nobody is betting bigger on the central importance of advanced navigation than TiVo, which has leveraged its acquisitions of Rovi and Digitalsmiths to build a new UI from scratch, marking the first time it has done so in 20 years. “Our new UI is running on TiVo hardware, but it also runs on other service provider CPE with integrations on the backend,” says Paul Stathacopoulos, vice president of strategy at TiVo.

“The core of the Rovi acquisition is this is a company that’s phenomenally good at user designs and integrating pay TV with OTT,” Stathacopoulos says. “We’ve responded to the fact that our customers are all struggling with how to bring together multiple services in a consumer experience that’s contiguous across all device platforms.”

The urgency of that struggle is underscored by the results of a new TiVo-sponsored survey that queried 5,500 pay TV and OTT subscribers worldwide, including 2,500 in the U.S. and 500 each in the U.K., France, Germany, China, Japan and India. From an MVPD perspective, the most disturbing findings pertain to subscribers’ propensity to downgrade or cancel their subscriptions, especially in the U.S.

While, on average, 11 percent of all global respondents said they are extremely likely to downgrade and eight percent said they are extremely likely to cancel their pay-TV service in the next 6 months, the numbers for the U.S. were 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Mirroring results from other recent surveys, the TiVo study found that multiple points of access for OTT is now the norm with 58 percent of all respondents reporting they already pay for more than one subscription streaming video service and 45 percent reporting that they have more than one streaming media device in their home.

The opportunity MVPDs have to leverage advanced navigation as the key to keeping and adding subscribers was evident in some of the survey findings, including one metric that showed 37 percent of global viewers have stopped watching a show they previously enjoyed because it became too difficult to access the content. On average, survey respondents said they spend four hours daily watching or streaming video content and an additional 19 minutes per day searching for something to watch.

In the U.S. Millennials spend more than six hours per day watching content and another 32 minutes searching, the survey found. Across all countries surveyed, 53 percent of Millennials said they often get recommendations with their viewing. But Millennials and other age groups as well expect more, with 47 percent of all respondents agreeing that, for the amount they pay for video services, it should be easier to find what they watch.

The benefits of better discovery were also registered by the survey, which found that consumers across all age groups who were most satisfied with their search functions watch almost seven hours of content daily, which is 21 percent more than the average viewing time of respondents in the U.S. Viewing time, at 7.5 hours daily, was even higher among users most satisfied with their recommendation functions.

“Finding what you want to watch has become increasingly difficult with the growing number of video providers,” notes Margret Schmidt, chief design officer at TiVo. “This was the impetus for the design of the new TiVo UX.”

Conducting a demo of the new TiVo interface, Schmidt says the personalized experience “brings the content the viewer wants right up front faster through expanded discovery and predictions from their own cable subscription and the best online video sources. In short, we designed this UX so the viewer spends less time searching channel guides and opening apps and more time enjoying their favorite shows.”

As Schmidt notes, Rovi, with deep experience compiling metadata and designing EPGs for the MVPD and connected TV markets, and Digitalsmiths, a leading provider of analytics-supported recommendations and other content discovery functionalities, give TiVo a formidable arsenal to work with. TiVo, she adds, has also met another major requirement for the new MVPD UI by allowing every device to become a primary screen for video consumption.

Rovi’s portfolio of capabilities was built with the aid of a number of acquisitions of its own over the past few years, notably including  Veveo, which brought natural-language voice recognition to spoken-voice interfaces in Rovi customers’ products, and IntegralReach, supplier of a cloud-based predictive analytics platform that contributed to the Rovi Knowledge Graph, a repository of dynamic information on program titles, celebrity names, corporate brands, locations and other elements, including machine-generated metadata from 100,000 online sources as well as data manually compiled by Rovi editors.

As a result, TiVo’s new UX can tap contextual signals, such as current world news and trends, time, location and the consumer device, along with social media activity, to deliver cues that accurately anticipate a user’s interests relative to a specific time and place. With this deep understanding TiVo customers can convey semantic, highly relevant search results and recommendations to subscribers that accurately anticipate user intent and interests, as evidenced in what TiVo calls the “predictions” component of the UX.

“This is different from recommendations,” Schmidt says. “We look at a user’s actual viewing habits and predict the shows they most likely want to watch based on what’s available at that moment.”

The UX also populates user’s watch lists with information about episodes of programs they’re watching which they may have missed, letting them know where they might find those episodes either in their MVPD’s free VOD library or among OTT providers they have access to. “Unified discovery and seamless access to content removes some of these barriers for the consumer, improving engagement and resulting in real business benefits, including higher content consumption, increased subscriber retention and improved service value, especially for the Millennial generation,” Stathacopoulos says.