Search, Discovery and Recommendations: Why TiVo's Buying Digitalsmiths

January 30, 2014
By: Bob Wallace

Think of Internet use before Google (News - Alert). The Web contained seemingly limitless informational assets and business resources all battling for customers, but without search engines how could you discover what you didn’t know existed?

Enter Digitalsmiths, which helps content owners and their partners help themselves by enabling the automated search of vast and ever-expanding video warehouses down to the frame level to drive additional content and recommendations to viewers.

Maximizing content translates into longer viewer engagement, greater consumption, and both new and expanded revenue opportunities along the video delivery line to the consumer.

That’s precisely why TiVo (News - Alert) announced plans Wednesday to acquire Digitalsmiths for $135 million.

In Search of…

After all, you can’t monetize what you can’t find, let alone recommend and deliver to thirsting consumers who view video on everything from big-screen TVs and laptops to smartphones and tablets.

Video visionaries Paramount Pictures (News - Alert), Warner Brothers, The CW Network, The PGA Tour and TMZ.com discovered this reality early on and implemented Digitalsmiths’ search, discovery and recommendations functionalities years ago. The vendor has been awarded patents for parts of its technology and other content owners have since followed the first wave of implementers.

Digitalsmiths has not been alone in applying technology to the need to expand search and discovery options and drive recommendations capabilities. It’s unclear how TiVo’s planned acquisition of the not-so-little-but-known firm will affect a key market segment that includes innovators Jinni and ThinkAnalytics.

Getting Personal

Recommendations engines are hardly new and are still a work in progress. For example, just because you watched a romantic comedy movie doesn’t necessarily mean you are interested in recommendations for all other titles in that genre. Getting a solid idea of what a viewer likes/wants to view/buy using the same approach is a tall task, especially if you don’t evolve the approach.

Digitalsmiths has focused on what’s loosely called personalized recommendations, implying an approach based on viewing patterns – which evolve and change – of individual watchers. Recommending content means understanding the viewer so that content pushed has a solid chance of being considered.

Given Digitalsmiths’ list of service provider clients, along with its own, TiVo likely hopes to help operators create the optimal platform – and continually evolve it - for its subscribers.

Keeping Customers

Through its growing list of service-provider customers, TiVo can provide viewers a more robust and powerful user interface and backend than most enjoy today. The days of “search” meaning rudimentary cableco-deployed alpha-numeric options that let your search only for TV shows and movies by their names/titles appear to be numbered.

The metadata-powered automated searching down to the frame that Digitalsmiths enables delivers far greater granularity for consumers when it comes to content discovery and powering recommendations. Service providers need these valuable capabilities to help retain potential cord-cutters who may stay aboard if their overall quality of experience rose.

Unlike many vendors with CE roots, TiVo continues to think and evolve well outside the box – realizing that to understand what service providers truly need, it must first understand the viewing habits and sources of video for consumers. To that end, the company’s research unit has identified evolving viewing trends, some of which it announces to the masses.

Streaming On

Live streamers need the ability to expand and enhance in real-time their delivery of events such as a sports match with “instantly locate additional video and data” such as highlights, replays and statistics to extend viewer engagement that broadens advertiser and sponsor-spending opportunities.

Roughly four years ago, at the PGA in 2010, the game-changing ability to create video metadata in real-time – with metadata defining specific scenes from live coverage for use as soon as two minutes later – enabled viewers at pga.com to click away from the main stream. They could then watch individual holes, golfers, shots and more as part of a rich menu of additional footage for consumption as needed.

Offering additional content beyond the live sports stream to voracious viewers is akin to offering dogs unlimited meals. An unquenchable feeding frenzy ensues until all content is consumed, accompanied by a follow-on opportunity via access to the on-demand version of the smorgasbord.

Boosting the Pay-TV Experience

Since advanced models of TiVo DVRs draw content from linear and Web sources, the enhanced search, discovery and recommendations to be gained from Digitalsmiths should prove popular with pay-TV viewers seeking to make the most of their providers’ online assets.

Search, discovery and recommendations capabilities that span linear TV, video-on-demand (VoD) and live online assets should throw open the door to available content for pay-TV viewers whose search alone could be giving them tunnel vision. An upgrade from the trailing edge to the leading edge on search and discovery alone could prove to be a magnetic means of retaining pay-TV subscribers.

TiVo’s ongoing efforts to move the functionality of its latest DVR – Roamio - into cableco networks with like-minded operators such as Comcast (News - Alert) should result in robust offerings with additional and enhanced capabilities driven by Digitalsmiths’ technologies.

Adding smarts to the network DVR offering TiVo is working on with Comcast – demonstrated earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES (News - Alert)) – should drive demand for the alternative to its in-home systems.

Granularity = New Revenue Opps

By reaching to the per-video frame level for tagging and indexing content, Digitalsmiths has provided content owners, service providers and others the granularity needed for laser-focused searches – and intelligent recommendations - which can eventually lead to the creation of new video packaging and monetization.

Digitalsmiths was Iooking to the future back in 2010. If fans of a pet programming channel only wanted information on special breeds from episodes that had them, what could they do? The answer from the company then was that deeply intelligent metadata could accomplish this for a viewer. The resulting video content could also be custom packaged for other subscribers as new products to drive new revenue.

And while much has been said about personalized/targeted advertising, the fundamental first step is the same as that for creating recommendation engines: know your customer, well. Once a consumer’s true interests are known, new opportunities for marketers looking to reach then come to the fore.

Until then, much video content is like diamonds and oil; a precious asset that can’t be cashed in on until it’s located, prepared for use and brought to those who want it.


Edited by Rory J. Thompson