By Peter Docherty, Founder & CTO, ThinkAnalytics

2012 marked the coming of age for the recommendations engine and content discovery market with a large number of operators either experimenting with pilot projects or starting full deployments. But what lessons can cable operators learn from these deployments and what do they mean for the future of the pay-TV industry?

The lightening rod: live, linear EPGs

With so much focus on how to take advantage of multi screen, VOD and catch-up TV, it’s easy to forget that the majority of content viewed by your subscribers is through the linear EPG and will stay that way for some time.

You have a wide choice of recommendations engines to support your relatively static VOD libraries or OTT content but the more challenging proposition is supporting ‘on the fly’ real-time recommendations for dynamic, linear TV and personalising it to the individual. Deployments at Liberty Global and Cox have shaped the user experience and helped differentiate each operators’ service in a competitive market.

This year will see more cable operators choosing to deploy a recommendations engine powerful and flexible enough to support linear EPGs that feature 500+ channels. That requires support for more than 200,000 programmes over a two-week period.

One size never fits all

Not all recommendations engines help cable operators differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Cloud-based ‘black box’ solutions that churn out the same recommendations to every pay-TV provider in a specific region or country are starting to lose their lustre.

Your recommendations platform needs to go beyond generic household-wide content recommendations.

At Cox for example, its recently updated Trio guide features the ability for customers to receive personalised recommendations for programmes based on the customers’ viewing habits. Users have the option to “like”, “dislike,” or “suspend”, further improving the recommendations they receive. Recommendations can be customised for up to eight unique users in a home for a personalised viewing experience.

Less searching

Just four per cent of viewers know what they want to watch and search for it. Based on recent deployments we can see recommendations moving from the EPG sidebar to take centre stage as part of the standard UI. The 96 per cent of viewers who prefer a ‘lean-back’ user experience will benefit from a recommendations-based UI as the ‘lean-forward’ EPG search takes a backseat.

Multiscreen support

As the cable industry starts to embrace OTT and multi screen, the need to support automated intelligent navigation and personalised recommendations on multiple devices and platforms is now coming to the fore. Service providers are expected to create great user experiences on smartphones, tablets, PCs, Connected TVs and games consoles, as well as via the set-top box.

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