Apr 16, 2012

Introducing the KIT Social Program Guide

I don't usually talk about my own work on here, but this is something I am particularly proud of: after months of hard work and preparation, working with a team that spanned from San Francisco to Milan, it's here: the KIT Social Program Guide or SPG.

Here's a 2 minute demo - if you're at NAB this week, you can get a hands-on trial

What Is An SPG?  It's a Social Program Guide-  a white label product that lays social functionality on top of a pay-TV provider's EPG so that viewers can see what their friends are up to and then act on that information... by actually changing the channel or hitting "Record." Hence "social" program guide.

We're emphasizing the program guide end of things because the genesis of this product is our belief that people rely heaviest on social data in the discovery phase - when they are figuring out what to watch. The KIT SPG lets them get input from a number of sources: friends, neighbors, all viewers, and critics. Chat-- via Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, is enabled, but we have found that chat usage varies greatly depending on the type of show. That, and the presence of multiple chat options, makes this a secondary feature. An important one, but secondary nonetheless.

A Social Program Guide also offers advertisers a real opportunity because they are now able to sync their first and second screen ads. That means a viewer will see a TV commercial during the show while a more detailed and personalized ad is shown on the second screen. We don't think viewers will interrupt their viewing experience to buy things during the show, but they will tap a button to see more information once the show is over.

Some key features of the SPG:

INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTS: Every family member gets their own account which is tied to their social networks. That means everyone can be sharing a first screen experience while simultaneously having a personalized second screen experience.

WATCHLIST: Your go-to screen, it combines all the shows you've recorded, added to the watch list or bookmarked via the (pay) On Demand service.

TV GUIDE: Two views: a traditional Grid EPG that highlights which shows your friends are watching, and a Recommended Viewing matrix that sorts what's currently on air via an algorithm that combines your preferences with recommendations and activity from your social graph and/or critics.

ASYNCHRONOUS COMMENTING: If you are watching something after it's aired, your friends comments are saved in a timeline and shown in real time, so you the experience is not ruined by spoilers.

MULTISCREEN: You can watch on any screen you like - tablet, smartphone and, of course, your television. You can move the show from one device to another with just one tap (there's a great demo of this in the above video.)

Some sample screen shots:

The Watchlist has all the shows you've saved, recorded or bookmarked on the VOD store. This is your personal TV Guide

The Recommended tab on the TV Guide uses a unique social algorithm to rank the shows currently on air for you, so you don't waste time searching through 2,000 channels.

So your friends don't give away the ending: comments are embedded in the video and show up at the appropriate time.

You can see which of your friends are watching from the TV Guide's grid view. This makes picking out what to watch a lot easier-- and more social.

The Five Things You'll Be Hearing About At NAB This Week

 While NAB is due to start in about 12 hours, I wanted to do a quick rundown of the sorts of things we expect to be seeing there:

1. Social TV Apps: The Pets.com of 2012. Lots of VC money being thrown at any and every permutation of "social TV," 99% of them suffer from two big problems: they don't interact with each other and they don't interact with the TV set.  Anyone who solves those problems will be drawing huge crowds.

2. Ahhhhh! Netflix!!!: The astounding success of their streaming service caught everyone (including Reed Hastings) by surprise as it flew in the face of three things that used to be part of the Conventional Wisdom: (1) Consumers are giant technophobes who won't try new technology until it's neatly packaged and served up on a platter for them, (2) Consumers are only interested in seeing the latest hit movies and anyone who can't offer that is dead in the water, (3) Video delivered via broadband will look like crap on a 42-inch HDTV.  Which is why so many broadcasters are standing like deer in the headlights trying to get their IPTV mojo flowing so they can figure out some sort of response to Netflix. (Hint: pay careful attention to the UX) Remember, this is an industry that just a year ago saw VOD as a promotion tool for new movies (hence the spate of five minute "The Making Of...." videos.) So look for a spate of people talking about consumer demand for streaming video and a smaller number offering actual solutions.

3. Gaming: Gaming is huge. It uses video. TV is huge. It also uses video. For some reason, that's as far as the industry's gotten: they still haven't figured out a way to successfully join the two. Using gaming devices like XBox to stream broadcast and subscription television is a step in the right direction- and there will be a lot of chatter about that at NAB- but I keep thinking there's got to be a better way to meld the two. And while TV-on-the-XBox is a great solution for the US and Europe, the high price of legally obtained discs for gamers in developing countries means that many of them don't connect their devices at all.

4. Timeshifting and It's Affect On Advertising: Not as scary as Netflix, but close: the more people timeshift-- particularly people in the desirable higher income brackets-- the less advertisers are willing to pay, since the assumption is that no one would willingly sit through a block of commercials when they own a set top box that allows them to fast-forward in 30-second intervals. A lot of the sessions around this broader topic are going to resemble group therapy, since there's no easy answer: what makes consumers happy makes advertisers unhappy, and vice versa. I'm hoping to hear about a couple of alternate solutions, a way for broadcasters to make money and without having to let technology pass them by.

5. Google and Apple and Facebook and Amazon: I'd be surprised to hear any sort of announcement here: if nothing else, NAB is not their crowd and won't generate the buzz they want. But what they are doing around TV, streaming video and the like, when and where (Kansas City) and why is bound to the topic of endless after hours conversations and a surefire conversation starter.

Tomorrow, we'll find out if I'm right.

Apr 9, 2012

Lack of Pinterest?

I've been prepping for a minor home renovation project and thus spending more time than usual on sites selling everything from appliances to furniture. These are sites that seem to be ground zero for Pinterest, yet few of them have added the little "PinIt" button up there with the Facebook "like" and Twitter buttons.

These are major retailers too, not some mom and pop shop.

It surprised me because I have found Pinterest to be an excellent organization tool - it's very easy to go back to the page, look at actual pictures of all the refrigerators I pinned (with prices and dimensions) and make a choice or narrow down the list.

And while it's easy enough to "pin" from the toolbar, you'd have thought the furniture and appliance stores would have been at the forefront of this - it's free advertising and adding that button can't be too much of a programming challenge.