Entries in social tv (3)


Social TV – The Second Screen


The chance that you or someone you know has a tablet or smartphone is growing. The chance that those same people are using one or both devices while they watch traditional programmed television is growing even faster.

The Second Screen, as it is being called, is a new and compelling avenue for content providers, community builders and advertisers to come together.

Why is the second screen driving this change? Three reasons:





That’s So 1980

The old guard Set Top Box (STB), which is what the majority of households have installed, is difficult if not impossible to upgrade once it has left the factory. This is chiefly because the ability to perform meaningful over-the-air (OTA) upgrades or changes (i.e. how applications found on your smartphone are updated with the latest release) just doesn’t exist. Without OTA, the ability to change and adapt to new customer feedback is anemic at best.

Connectivity for the STB device - downstream to the home – is good. Bandwidth is constrained, however, on the upstream channel. This constraint limits the size and frequency that user data can be fed back to the operator. If the operator doesn’t know what is happening in the ecosystem, moment to moment, how can they create a compelling experience to the user? Social networks might as well not exist either, as there is no way to connect into them.

Lastly, user data is the super fuel that is required to transform the viewing model from ‘push’ to ‘interactive’. STBs dearth of data necessarily creates a disconnect between service provider and service consumer. They don’t know you and therefore can’t tailor an experience for you.


New And Improved Formula – Meet Social TV

There are now more than a few social TV companies vying for space on your mobile device or tablet. Because these fledgling enterprises are creating dynamic applications on powerful, connected devices they have the grand opportunity to deliver a personal media experience never before imaginable.

Given this new freedom of interaction and deployment, a few strategies are emerging that aim to create that winning user experience.

Companion Services

Got cable? These companies provide cool new ways to interact with the programming, share the experience with friends, buy related items and even earn points for being a loyal watcher. Nice.



This is a clever app for your iPad that seems to be focused heavily on social interaction. Find out what your friends are watching, invite a friend to watch a show with you or buy the games, music or other merchandise related to the show. Check out this video for a comprehensive overview.



This iPhone app is all about checking in to a show – and they have some powerful tech to help you do this automagically. After checking in, users earn reward points for the length of time they spend watching (points are redeemable for physical goods – cool), can find out about which shows are being talked about, post updates to Facebook and more. While not connected to the social graph yet, it is surely in the works.


Cable Cutting


If you want to go completely outside the bounds of connected television, then Frequency offers up a compelling product. The iPad app can connect into your social graph, pull in and organize video and social conversation while providing an elegant navigation metaphor. More can be seen in this review below.


What’s In It For Me?

As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, doing something smart with the user generated data will go a long way to create differentiated experiences. I’m looking forward to the possibilities.



Recommender Systems are the New Oil Refineries

From Crude to Shrewd

I read a post by a colleague of mine, Richard Kastelein, who covers the Social TV space in which he proclaims “Scene-Level Television Metadata – Tagging TV – is The New Oil in the Industry”.  There is a great deal of merit to this train of thought, and indeed having access to this kind of metadata about television programming has been a long time in coming.

I like his New Oil analogy and, given my interest in recommender systems, thought it appropriate to continue the analogy meme with the statement that Recommender Systems will be the New Oil Refineries.  

What does this mean?

Crude oil has limited applications until it as been processed and refined into myriad useful products.   Likewise, metadata itself provides a modicum of utility, but its full potential becomes realized when combined and processed with usage behavior. 

Until recently, comprehensive television usage data was not captured, as there was no pipeline to transport the information.  A burgeoning well of data was left untapped because of the limitations of the Set Top Box (STB) platform itself.  The STB had limited data bandwidth, processing power and the majority of its logic was burned into its firmware – making it inadaptable and expensive to upgrade in the field. 

Over The Top (OTT) solutions have arrived and are aimed squarely at solving the STB challenge.  These second screen companion devices (e.g. iPads, tablets) provide the facilities to capture quality data as well as the feedback mechanisms for retrieving that data in a timely fashion. 

OTT solutions will deliver the missing data pipeline and concomitant data elements that are the fuel needed to power sophisticated, data hungry recommendation platforms. 

What are the applications? 

Recommender systems have the capacity to analyze and decision against incredibly large datasets.  As noted above television content can be one of the recommended products delivered – but so can advertising; be it imbedded, pre or post roll.

Ready, Fire, Aim 

If it is indeed true that 82% of TV Ads generate negative ROI then surely it makes plain sense to have a powerful machine learning system in place that can accurately target content to users in real time. 

Television advertisers just don’t understand me 

The combination of new user interaction models, the availability of standardized TV metadata and powerful machine-learning infrastructures will deliver a more personalized experience to each user.  Indeed as users move en masse to tablets for companion viewing and in some instances primary viewing, or as systems allow for user logins, there will be an even greater opportunity to understand the individual.  This personalized experience will reach across all content – including advertising.

Not Just “New” Search

One of my favorite VC bloggers, Mark Suster, posted an article on his site not quite a year ago; The Future of Television & The Digital Living Room.  He touches on the subject of better search in in his 7th point about Content Discovery and the improvement of the user experience.  What’s missing from his discussion is the introduction of recommendation engine services.  Better Search will not be the difference in next generation TV.  The power of understanding the consumer at a heretofore-unavailable scope via this new OTT data rich model of usage interaction combined with a wealth of television metadata is how we’ll be equipped to offer meaningful, relevant content discovery experiences.  

Consumers need relevant content served up to them - let’s fire up the refinery and make it happen.


Photo credits: © 2011 Eric Wilson


Recommender System + OTT or STB = Personalized TV

What To Watch

There is so much good programmed content available today it has become a staggering proposition to sift through the morass and find things that are interesting, compelling or even stimulating.  This is both a good and bad thing for the end consumer.  The proliferation of content choices has made the position of consumer an arduous task – and search does not solve the challenge.  “We want to be entertained and don’t really want to work for it.”  It is this divide that has consumer businesses scrambling for a better mousetrap and more often than not these content megaliths are turning toward recommendation systems.

Understand Me Please

Consumers today are engaging with content and should be rewarded for it.  They are providing valuable insight into their interests simply by participating within the content ecosystem.  Each time a consumer sees a content element, they have the distinct opportunity to interact with it.  What they do and what they don’t do can shape the ongoing model of what that consumer should be presented with.  Time of day, device (i.e. tablet, mobile phone) or set top box provide more articulation of exposure and direction with respect to future interest probabilities.  Armed with user behavior, contents’ performance in a Darwinian ecosystem and meta-data, recsys solutions have a strong foundation from which to attack the burgeoning content discovery battle.

What will make this personalized TV movement fail, however, is by forcing the user to contribute meaningful information to the personalization model at every turn.  There is no way to realize the ‘lean back’ experience where content is magically presented in increasingly more accurate interest categories if the user has to proactively engage with the system.  This is where behavioral observation can play a lead role, allowing consumers to simply ‘be’ in the system.  The consumer can unassumingly go about her day by interacting with the things she finds appealing all the while a recsys is paying close attention and is learning about her interests and preferences in the background.

What about systems that allow consumers to rate things?  Cool – this is helpful information.  I would like to suggest that the star rating system and other incarnations like it be banned from use.  Consumers just don’t know what to do with stars in-between one and five.  The best rating approach is really ternary (i.e. thumbs-up, thumbs-down and neutral or no thumb).  It’s the clearest and most elegant way to allow consumers to express interest.  You can see this KISS principle in action at sites like YouTube.

“What about my privacy?”  This is one of the top questions that arise from discussions I have around recommendation system implementations.  My approach is always to let the consumer know up front what is trying to be accomplished by such an effort and to get the user excited and engaged with the experience.      Surreptitious gathering of user data has gotten some very large and well-known public companies into trouble.  There is no excuse for ‘spying’.  It’s not needed as long as the target goals have the consumer in mind.  Systems can be very successfully designed and implemented that do not require Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

The Road To Personalization

Keeping the aforementioned points in mind, the ideal of providing a compelling content experience is readily achievable.  Especially as a growing number of consumers employ the tablet as a second screen or even in some cases use it as the primary screen.  Terrific amounts of quality data can be gathered from these devices.  In turn this data will be digested by the recsys platforms, which will produce more targeted, relevant personalization experiences.

Personalization solutions will become table stakes in the new world of multi-device entertainment.  Those that realize this early will have a great advantage in the competitive marketplace of content and consumers.