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2015: Moving towards the smart home

 

Smart Home World

Smart Home World

As the new agenda for 2015′s Smart Home World (23 – 24 June 2015, London) makes clear, this looks like being a pivotal year for the smart home. 

In this special guest post for IP&TV News, Murali Aravamudan, SVP Discovery, Rovi, looks at some of the biggest issues.

While 2014 was the year that the media and entertainment industry became obsessed with data, 2015 will be the year that the customer really starts to take centre stage as these companies begin to harness the range of data now available to provide highly personalised services that rely on data and ability to extract intelligence from data.

Highly personalised entertainment experiences

When it comes to understanding consumers and their associated viewing habits, there is a vast amount of data now available that allows us to paint a picture of what consumers are watching, when they are watching it and on what device.

However, the entertainment industry on the whole has been slow in both embracing big-data and in developing the analytics capabilities required to make sense of this insight. Improvements in analytics and the range of data available means that it is now possible to offer hyper-personalised experiences to consumers wishing to view content, drawing on connected systems that span the home.

For example by learning about viewing habits, you can monitor how consumers like to watch films and create an intuitive and fundamentally better user experience for them. So if a consumer often watches a movie at 6pm on a Saturday, a connected system would be able to detect when they walk into a room, dim the lights, switch on the TV, and thereby recommend a film to the user based on previous viewing preferences on Saturday night.

While 2015 may not be the year we see a truly connected home, it will be the year where service providers start to fully utilise the data from these new interactions by using complex analysis techniques and therefore helping to create a much more in-depth picture of customers.

The scene has been set by search providers, who have blazed a trail in harnessing data and new technology to better provide for their customers. In 2012, Google announced its “Knowledge Graph”, which was designed to understand keywords on a deeper level than ever before and make them more about relationships than simple terms. In 2013, Facebook revealed “Graph Search”, which crawls for results based on the searcher’s friends, content and relationships, as well as wider trends on the site. These technologies have introduced high-quality and relevant search results to consumers everywhere, and have set a benchmark across industries. Television and service providers have not yet boarded this ship that might be about to leave.

In the context of TV and more broadly within the home, most consumers have preferences that can be mapped to provide highly personalised results that fit with them. This is more accurate than user-based profile creation or ‘thumbs up/down’ ratings that are both error-prone and do not automatically take into account users’ changing tastes and preferences over time.

When applied across a connected system this so-called “hyper-personalisation” could be a major plus point for consumers, who would benefit from next generation levels of service within the home.

The rise of the conversational interface

While it seems unlikely that 2015 will be the year that the smart phone becomes the tool of choice for consumers to control the home or watch video, the next 12 months will see a rise in the number of new conversational interfaces being incorporated into a range of devices.

Conversational interfaces simulate natural communication qualities on devices and applications, allowing users to interact with them in casual language modes – similar to the way people converse in everyday speech. For many this is the logical next step of interfaces required for the emerging era of smart-connected devices, but simply adding speech enablement to existing solutions will not provide consumers with the interactions they desire.

To become fully functional and effective for users, voice technologies must be backed by sophisticated search capabilities, including detailed deep metadata to boost the “understanding” that the machine has. By building these technologies effectively, consumers can expect to reap the rewards of fast, accurate and intuitive voice content search.

For example, voice technology must be able to understand and navigate shifts in context and genre to reflect how people rapidly jump between subjects. Machine learning should also be considered, with the knowledge graph able to learn that certain users prefer different things and disambiguate accordingly – for example learning that searches for “City” mean the football team Manchester City, rather than Norwich City.

Voice can be a unifying factor, providing easy access to search functions across a range of devices and over the next year, we may see a number of new devices enter the market including smart watches, which could provide a useful platform for speech based technology.

This new range of devices will continue the trend towards second screening. In this scenario viewers use a mobile phone or similar device for additional activity while viewing programmes on a main screen. We may also see more instances where these new devices can be used to control what is appearing on the main screen.

A more integrated market approach

Away from changes in the home, there has been an intense focus on the success of fee-based streaming sources like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Having made a dramatic impact over the past couple of years, 2015 will see service providers looking to offer streaming services as part of packages to attract customers, bundled with offers for broadband and other services. In the UK BT has started to bundle access to Netflix into in its subscription package. Consumers get access to more content, while the provider gets to retain its customer. Overall there’s a trend towards greater co-operation and content sharing: for example in the US, people who want to watch both HBO and CBS content now find it easier as the two have moved toward sharing more shows.

Fundamentally 2015 will be about better customer service and making more content available to those consumers. In order to meet these demands we will see the continued growth of OTT. Despite this growth, we will see little disruption of the big cable operators. In most cases they should be able to navigate most market changes. However all providers must be wary of complacency, viewing habits and preferences can be fickle, so this situation may be very different in five years. All providers should seek to keep on top of changing customer behaviour by watching trends carefully and ensuring that their offerings capture the imagination of their consumer base. In order to do this they also need to stay on top of the shifting technology landscape, not only in their own industry but also what is happening in web and mobile, and how it correlates to video and television.

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