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.