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April 30, 2012
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Content discovery: the moment of truth on Saturday night

Pay TV operators can boast about the number of HD channels and the size of its rapidly growing on-demand offer, and its multi-cultural channels, all of which can help it to differentiate in the market, but none of this means very much if consumers cannot find the content they want. That is the view of Markus Grupp, Manager, User-Experience & Applications at Rogers Communications, who is focused on developing next-generation content discovery and navigation approaches for an era characterized by growing content choice, more time-shifting and viewing across different screens. “Building out a content catalogue the size of ours takes time so content is a huge differentiator from OTT competitors, but only if viewers can find it when it really matters,” he declares.

Grupp says the moment of truth arrives on Friday or Saturday night when someone wants to find a movie, or when their kids are screaming and they want to entertain them. If it then takes 15 minutes to find a movie from the VOD offer, that is what shapes their perception of the service, not what the advertising billboards say about having the most HD. “User satisfaction is very much related to content discovery,” he says.

The challenge facing many Pay TV operators is that while the amount of content available has expanded rapidly, and is set to keep increasing, the paradigm for discovering it was built for a different era. As Grupp points out, the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) is the interactive on-screen version of the magazine guides that preceded them, built for a world dominated by linear TV viewing when everyone watched according to the broadcast schedule. But that model needs updating.

Grupp sees a future where the EPG still exists, and remains available to viewers who want to use it, and the company is still innovating in this direction. Witness the introduction of red flags to indicate that a programme is new and that you have not seen it before. Personalized filtering of the EPG, so that you only see your favourite channels, is another way to make the programme grid more useable in a world of 800 channels. But what is really needed is a focus on both operator-generated and social recommendations.

In a next-generation TV experience, Grupp expects to see a completely new starting point for most consumers (those who can be weaned off the EPG, as he puts it) that is dominated by content suggestions, presented in a visually rich way. These will take account of user behaviour whether it is what you have been watching today or over the last three months, and of course this means viewing behaviour across all parts of the service and all screens, including live TV, web, smartphone, tablets and gaming consoles.

Grupp says the recommendations will have to factor in what content you watch on different devices and how you are watching now. This can be subtle, including for instance the difference between whether you are watching a tablet using WiFi or 3G. This makes sense, because viewing is being shaped by the device used. People tend to watch content for longer on larger screens (thus smartphone vs tablet could determine the content formats suggested). Even the number of interruptions people are used to (like for advertising) could be factored in. “Recommendations will be tailored to each screen,” Grupp emphasises.

Social recommendation and integration has a huge role to play, he believes. However, Grupp’s philosophy is that it should be social media for the TV and not social media on TV. So while there is little value in Twitter feeds or Facebook comments on the TV screen, he does believe it can harness the fact that someone has ‘liked’ or shared content with their social network as an indication of their taste. Equally, the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ coming from friends can be used to shape viewing suggestions. This will all be closely related to social TV experiences generally, including on companion screens.

Rogers is still figuring out how to determine who is in front of the TV at any given moment, a problem that is taxing many people. Grupp highlights a typical family scenario where you have a common viewing area (like the living room) where people watch content together, plus individual viewing in that area and also individual viewing in other rooms, like a children’s bedroom. To create a seamless user experience, various log-in concepts can be considered including voice and gesture recognition, and even less explicit approaches like guessing the viewer based on the time of day, the content being consumed and other consumption patterns.

When it comes to the future of content discovery, the big ambition is to ensure Pay TV operators remain relevant by keeping users engaged, which in turn should translate into revenues. “Pay TV operator content catalogues have grown incredibly in the last couple of years but the mechanism by which people try to discover that content is the broadcast TV paradigm, designed for a set number of channels, watched at a certain time,” says Grupp. He believes that enhanced content discovery, when combined with providing a single destination for content, will provide clear differentiation from OTT providers.

Markus Grupp will be discussing this subject in more depth at Connected TV Summit this week, where he is addressing the question: ‘How will consumers find content in the connected world?’ His presentation is part of a breakout session focused on content discovery beyond the EPG. Screen Digest, Toshiba Europe, Rovi, ThinkAnalytics and Virgin Media are also addressing this subject. Even if you are not attending in person, you can watch the conference online.