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Content Conundrum


Content discovery— the concept of using data to predict a viewer’s program preferences—is a burgeoning technology that experts predict could change the way we watch TV; in some ways it’s already happening.

Recently I bought a device from start-up company QPlay that—like Chromecast and the other numerous OTT devices on the market—allows viewers to access video off the Web and port to their HDTV set. However, unlike the others, QPlay makes the decisions for you in a program guide that can be controlled by an iPad. Started by former TiVo execs, QPlay “learns” your tastes and lines up internet videos—by linking to social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter— in a queue (hence the name). You can skip around or just press “play” and let the streaming run indefinitely. No more hunting down what you like on the internet; QPlay does it for you.

Does it work as an alternative? It’s still in beta and taking feedback from early adopters, but speaking for myself, old habits die hard, so it will take some getting used to. For now, it’s just another channel on my OTT menu.

The concept of “pushing” programming to the viewer as opposed to said viewer having to search out and “pull” particular programs has even been cited as one of the inspirations for the mythical “Apple TV” tech bloggers have been salivating over for several years. But that doesn’t mean the current Apple TV device can’t have the same capability as the company demonstrated earlier this month when it tested sending real-time “notifications” to its users of live performances during its annual iTunes festival.

The concept of content discovery and “recommendation engines” has been around for more than a decade (TiVo was among the first devices on the market to “learn” a viewer’s preferences), but the popularity of social media and big data have helped the concept gain even more traction.

And the need for it will only grow stronger, especially as more consumers reconsider the costs of pay TV. According to a recent survey by DigitalSmiths (owned by TiVo), nearly 31 percent of respondents said they were “overwhelmed” by the number of channels offered to them and that more than 88 percent watch the same channels over and over. The company added that these same viewers “may ultimately fail to see the value of paying for hundreds of channels but only watching a few.”

Perhaps that’s why the company added that it is working with seven out of the top 10 pay-TV providers in the U.S. to offer personalized recommendations and forecasts “broad adoption” of this functionality in 2014.

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (, the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.