AI TV is poised to change the way we are entertained, but don’t worry about being programmed to by a robot. The human element is still essential.
ZoneTV introduces AI augmented dynamic channels
ZoneTV recently announced that it would use AI tools to automate some aspects of the curation of linear TV channels. Working with Ooyala and Microsoft Cognitive Services, the company will launch its “dynamic channels” on pay TV operator systems later this year.
ZoneTV licenses digital originals and has built a library of 6,000 hours of videos. It plans to create a suite of themed channels from this content combining the traditional programming approach with AI assisted modifications to create a more personalized linear experience.
ZoneTV channels are delivered over an IP connection to a connected pay TV operator set-top box. The channels appear in the regular grid guide and look like any other broadcast channel in the guide. When a user selects a ZoneTV channel, it plays completely normally, with ads inserted just as the viewer would see from any other channel.
Unlike a regular channel, however, the content that plays to a specific viewer will gradually become more personalized. ZoneTV tracks all the viewer passive and active actions while they watch a channel. Using the operator remote control a viewer can actively engage with the content by skipping to the next segment or “liking” a segment or channel.^ If a viewer watches a complete segment, a passive activity, that is taken as a tacit “like” of that type of content.
ZoneTV processes personalization and real-time usage data to derive a set of “signals” about a user. It has developed sophisticated AI algorithms that combine these signals with media and curation information to derive a customized playlist for each channel viewer.
Enhanced metadata critical to AI TV processes
It does not matter how sophisticated an algorithm is in generating personalized signal data if it cannot find content to fit the profile it is worthless. That is where Ooyala and Microsoft come in.
Ooyala ingests~ the content from ZoneTV partners like Vogue, Wired, and PlayKids. Part of that process leverages Microsoft Cognitive Services (MSCS) to liberate additional information (metadata) about the video. MSCS uses closed captioning and voice-to-text analysis to derive some of the data. It also uses semantic analysis to derive emotional and thematic information about the video.
This enhanced data allows a list of videos to be derived that are, say; serious cooking shows focused on Asian cuisine.
According to Belsasar Lepe, Ooyala co-founder and SVP of Products and Solutions, there is one further step that makes the entire solution even more powerful. The signals derived from viewer usage of content are processed by ZoneTV algorithms, handed to MSCS and added to the metadata in real time. The process creates a closed-loop system where the next videos in the playlist of a specific viewer are constantly updated.
How does this impact the videos a viewer sees? In our example above, the viewer may grow weary of the serious approach and skip to a lighter segment suggested by the channel programmer. The playlist can adapt to this, biasing more toward lighter cooking videos.
No danger of AI running everything
With a pure AI approach to programming a thematic channel, there is a danger a viewer may get stuck watching the same type of shows. However, Jeff Weber, CEO of ZoneTV, says this will not happen with ZoneTV:
“You program it as if it is a static channel. The AI is an enhancer, not a replacement. We really feel strongly, in the media space, in particular, there is art and science.”
Using this approach viewers will always be exposed to some content decided by the channel programmer. The combination of AI and programming should keep people viewing longer. Since the same approach can be applied to the ads a viewer sees, there is less danger people will tune away to another channel during a break.
Why it matters
Consumers expect their media services to be personalized to their specific tastes.
Personalization has been difficult to achieve with linear TV channels in pay TV services.
AI is allowing some personalization to be injected into programmed linear pay TV channels delivered over IP to the viewer.
^Mr. Weber explained all the user data is anonymized and secured.
~The ingest process: video is imported into the content management system and tagged with metadata.