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Metadata in the future of TV

Post Author Take1 / May 8th 2014


We’re in the business of producing metadata and it’s exciting to see in the last few years particularly the power that metadata has to improve user experience.

Metadata, quite simply, is information. In relation to TV programs this means information such as:

  • The cast, even who is appearing on screen at specific times and for how long
  • Scene details
  • Location
  • Timecode
  • Identification of products on screen

Big data

However as the technology develops metadata is becoming more sophisticated. The buzz term is ‘big data’. The BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory recently dedicated an episode to big data. The amount of data available on our potential audiences is staggering. We can understand their likes and dislikes, how fickle they are, their search history, online purchases, birthdays, addresses, social influence, where they are, where they’ve been and much more.

Why does all this information matter?

Well the more we understand about how audiences watch TV the better we can serve them. However, big data, by its very nature, is so saturated with information that it requires extensive processing capabilities. The processing power of our viewing devices i.e. laptops, digital TV receivers and smart phones, can’t cope with big data yet.

All together in the cloud

Cloud hosting is undoubtedly the key to making use of all this information. A single online account such as Synacor’s TV Everywhere platform will allow us to gather information, process it and then respond in the most suitable way for each viewer’s lifestyle.

Viewing platforms such as Netflix already learn from the users viewing habits, allowing the system to suggest other shows or movies the user might enjoy. Similarities in genre or common actors and/or directors give each suggestion a level of personalisation.

Big metadata could allow us to pre-empt viewing patterns. For example if a family watches a program at a certain time everyday their TV can immediately suggest it for viewing without the need to set a reminder.

Advertising

As well as helping TV companies with content planning, advertisers will have a wealth of information too. We may find that marketing and advertising leads the way in this area. Already we have targeted advertising online. Readers will surely have noticed ads appearing on web pages that appear to be based on products you viewed earlier. If you have a Google account you may even have noticed that a product you viewed on your smart phone is later advertised to you on your desktop. The ad even seems to know whether we made a purchase or not.

What barriers do we face?

We’ve already highlighted the need for more powerful processing to better interpret big data, this is only a matter of time.

One potential obstacle that is already proving a sticking point is the issue of licensing. Traditionally the TV networks and film production companies have limited the ways in which we view their content. Last year Games of Thrones producer, HBO, boasted that their show was the most pirated TV program ever. While they must realise the potential revenue loss they have done little to change their licensing model. By releasing the show later in other countries HBO pushes fans outside the US toward viewing pirated content.

Synacor CEO Ron Frankel also points to a deal between Netflix and Lionsgate for Mad Men. The deal gave Netflix exclusive rights to air the show, leaving anyone without a Netflix subscription locked out of legal viewing options.

Ultimately big metadata is ours for the taking but how it will be used and to what effect is yet to be determined.



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