TV-Everywhere software

Crafting successful business models for TV Everywhere (TVE) requires a true operational shift away from traditionally siloed information into true data interoperability with regard to entitlements. This means multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) need appropriate information about their subscribers and a subscriber data management (SDM) system to enable new features.

The SDM portion is critical because MVPDs need granular information about viewers' needs. This information enables the provider to develop valuable business analysis about which services to provide. An SDM solution can even be taken a step further by integrating it with other content and business systems to develop the maximum return for every piece of the value chain. This article will look at new ways to provide options to the viewer and potential new revenue to the content provider.

The authentication-and-authorization layer controls access to particular content based on a subscriber's entitlement profile (i.e., the services they have paid for or are permitted to use). This requires the software to recognize who the customer is, regardless of how they access the service. The software then overlays their entitlement (permissions) profile and monitors and tracks viewer behavior for billing and research purposes.

For example, restrictions may be applied to individual pieces of content or bundles of content (such as TV channels or premium films), or according to time-of-day, physical location, device, quality of service or multiple access by the same customer.

An effective premium entitlements and content monetization layer will act as the operator's own sales staff, allowing the subscriber to, for example, go beyond a basic package and purchase premium content on a one-time basis (e.g., an episode or season of HBO's “Boardwalk Empire”). It will also tie individual pieces of content to predetermined viewing periods (e.g., a one-time stream or unlimited views). In this instance, billing, policy and SDM all work seamlessly to provide such flexibility.

This portion of the playout architecture requires more extensive content rights agreements with content providers. Such agreements allow operators to sell subscription content in a TVE environment in exchange for a percentage of the resulting revenue.

Next is the necessary safeguard of parental controls, which provides a subscriber-initiated buffer to certain content based on age appropriateness, time of day, cost or other factors. Although system policy management comes first, user-adjustable charging restrictions also help operators better cater to families. Such granular controls are achieved by using content metadata that feeds into the software and manages viewer access based on these parameters.

Last is fraud protection. This is where identity management is a key element. This function may be embedded in the SDM software or exist as an independent component. MVPDs need to ensure that log-ins from one account are being used only by household members and not by outside parties.

Figure 1 illustrates how user preferences are embedded into one TVE system. The options shown are just examples. A TVE system can be customized based on an operator's preferences and billing structure.

User registration and preferences

In the example shown in Figure 1, John adds his wife, Jill, as another administrator, and his son, Billy, as a viewer. John has set parental controls for Billy to ensure age-appropriate content is available to him. He also sets Billy's monthly spending limit. If John wants further customization of controls over his son's viewing, such as time-of-day restrictions and customized usage reports, they typically can be purchased from the operator. As an administrator, John can set preferences for the entire household.

The content to which a user is entitled can be based on many parameters, including service plan, settings, profile, usage activity, demographics and location. In this example, some of the content to which John is entitled is shown in Figure 2. John has subscribed to only the basic tier, so although some content is free to him, he still has the option to purchase and view premium content on an ad hoc basis. The custom suggestions he sees are rooted in the SDM system, while the policy-management function provisions the content based on subscriber profile parameters. The billing software then handles the invoicing.

When the son, Billy, logs in, the content that he is allowed to view, shown in Figure 3, is quite different because Billy is allowed access only to content rated G or TV-Y. The content-restricting portion of this operation is a combination of operator policy management and parental controls. Charging limits also can be implemented for each viewer. This helps avoid “sticker shock” scenarios resulting from children inadvertently running up large bills.

If a viewer wishes to see a premium movie that is not included in his or her basic TV plan, the operator may offer several purchase options. One might be a 24-hour view window for all premium content. Another might be access to a single movie. Such options offer high value to all players — viewer, operator and content owner. Operators should be sure these kinds of options are included in any contract rights agreements.

Up-sell, cross-sell

SDM, policy and charging controls can enable operators to offer personalized, dynamic, subscriber-aware promotions to up-sell and cross-sell services. Such an infrastructure makes it easy to link past viewing behavior with recommendations and methods of fulfillment. For example, imagine an operator immediately offering a discounted soundtrack for the film following its conclusion or enacting promotions that provide a subscriber with one free movie for each five viewed.

This modeled experience rivals, if not bests, popular OTT offerings in many ways. For operators losing their perceived importance in the value chain, this and similarly built television-everywhere architectures provide an excellent way to showcase value to consumers on an everyday basis by integrating functional, intuitive interfaces and flexible purchasing options.

This type of viewer interface however, must be rooted in network software systems that can service the level of variable behavior and preferences outlined earlier. Even though similar software is in place at many MSOs, a true television-everywhere system that interfaces with each aspect of content viewing and billing represents a true operational advantage over low-cost, low-overhead OTT players. The resulting software integration helps the consumer enjoy a more customized and personalized experience, while operators are better positioned to generate new revenues from the newly afforded options.

Michael Manzo is chief marketing officer of Openet.