MyDTV's Personal Navigation System

Ask viewers how many channels they get and you might hear: “Way more than I watch.” The frustration not only stems from channel overload, but from the more than 300 channels per household and the difficulty in finding appealing shows.

The Personal Navigation System – or PNS – is a “smart” programming guide. Its user-defined “search and alert” function fetches metadata and delivers it to the viewer on the fly, even if he or she is watching a different channel.

The mystery of “what’s on TV” is not lost on programmers or cable operators who know the dilemma viewers face when they grab the remote. Fighting an average annual churn rate of 40 percent in digital cable by adding more channels would be counterproductive and more confusing.

The problem isn’t about choices; it’s about selection — or rather, how to make one. Existing Electronic Programming Guides (EPGs) with their traditional time-channel grids are poor navigation tools. Designed to handle far fewer channels, EPGs resemble a spreadsheet. With a maximum of 10 to 15 channels per page, consumers scroll through 20 to 30 pages to see what’s on, sometimes sifting through inaccurate content due to last-minute programming changes.

On the horizon is a new paradigm for locating the right content quicker and with precision unimaginable with a traditional EPG grid. The Personal Navigation System – or PNS – is a “smart” programming guide. Its user-defined “search and alert” function fetches metadata and delivers it to the viewer on the fly, even if he or she is watching a different channel. With PNS, viewing habits can be sorted by preferences rather than by channel number. Personalized programming lets viewers allow PNS to surf for them and deliver selections that are relevant and meaningful.

The ramifications are significant. Not only will viewers be able to watch what they want, but cable and satellite operators and programmers will have a targeted vehicle for promotions, including VOD, PPV and premium channels, and thus new potential revenue streams. It’s a win-win-win situation.

With PNS, a consumer navigation tool, or “agent,” enables consumers to enter their content preferences via over 1,000 categories, or by entering keywords in a simple one-minute process. (Consumers can update it on an ongoing basis.)

The agent lets viewers watch TV dynamically. A pop-up notification is offered for advanced notice, even if they are watching a different channel. Or, viewers can refer to a program list built entirely on their own preferences on as granular a basis as imaginable. Viewers won’t miss out on content of interest, without surfing through hundreds of channels.

PNS also solves the problem of last-minute programming changes. With the old EPG system, if you find something interesting, you face the prospect that the information is a day or a week old since these guides are usually only updated once a day. The PNS real-time connection to the content provider enables sending schedule changes on the fly to the set-top box (STB). Yet, another problem with existing guides is the lack of metadata about the content. Sift through the guide, and much of the data you’ll find is generic, such as “news” or “sports”.

PNS, however, goes end-to-end, taking metadata directly from the source at the content providers’ facilities, analyzing it and sending it in real-time through the head-end to the consumer’s STB. This takes seconds and solves the problem of a lack of or changes in information.

A 6-month trial at a large cable operator proved that once consumers invested the time to personalize their cable systems, the likelihood of churn reduced significantly. This successful trial was acknowledged in July when The Fox Cable Networks, Mulitchannel News & CTAM Summit Retention Case Study Competition honored the provider with an award. The PNS trial reduced churn rate by 35 percent. For programmers, trials showed that PNS can:
increase ratings — by driving targeted viewers to programming from all channels: 84 percent of viewers switch to channels or programs that an alert directed them to.
improve retention — by having pop-ups promote brand image and loyalty: 51 percent of viewers use alerts so they don’t miss programs of interest.
offer sampling — or promotions that expose viewers to new programming: 52 percent of viewers were sent to programs they otherwise would not have known.

For advertisers, PNS provides an infrastructure that supports true personalization of advertising. And viewers can use their time to “watch” TV, making content king once again. It beats getting trapped in a 1980’s-style EPG time-channel.

Gil Dudkiewicz is founder of MyDTV, a California-based software company.

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