Rovi preps advanced guide for CE; service provider version to follow

Thu, 07/16/2009 - 8:50am
Brian Santo

Rovi said it will have an advanced guide available for direct integration into consumer electronics, including TVs, by the beginning of next year. Another version designed specifically for service providers, with expanded capabilities to support addressable advertising, will follow some months later.

Rovi’s introduction of the guide – called Liquid – is another tributary contributing to the flow of CE vendors and content providers getting into streaming video. Rovi also announced it is working with Blockbuster to integrate access to Blockbuster OnDemand content and services directly through the Liquid guide. At the same time, Rovi said its guide is compatible with net-based content delivery technology from Roxio CinemaNow.

Blockbuster and Sonic Solutions – the company that owns Roxio – announced in January they would be collaborating on technology that would enable Blockbuster to deliver content both to TVs, PCs and mobile devices.

And Blockbuster has arranged a deal with Samsung, in which the latter would build into its TVs support for a streaming service from Blockbuster, starting in the fall. Samsung has similar deals with Netflix and Amazon, while Blockbuster is also working with Vizio and TiVo.

Rovi, formerly known as Macrovision (whence the new name – Mac•rovi•sion), expects the CE version of Liquid will be ready to ship to partners early next year, possibly early enough to be demonstrated at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show next January.

With the profusion of content from multiple sources, simple guides, such as the classic TV Guide that Rovi picked up when it bought Gemstar-TV Guide, aren’t going to cut it anymore. A modern guide must not only present lists, but also enable the discovery of content and make recommendations.

The new Rovi guide will do that, based on capabilities the company picked up through a pair of acquisitions. One was the purchase of All Media Guide in 2007; AMG had a powerful system for creating metadata about content and an enormous, continuously updated database of tagged music and other content. In April, the company bought Muze, which not only had its own metadata techniques, but also had expertise with DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), a standard designed to allow CE devices within the home to easily share content across a home network.

The guide will list everything that is available to individual consumers, starting with over-the-air signals. If connected to a pay-TV service, the guide can be set up to provide lists for that service.

“It will only show you the content you’re able to get,” Rovi chief evangelist Richard Bullwinkle said, “all in one place. You don’t need multiple boxes.”

If connected to the Internet, the guide will list publicly available (e.g., Hulu, YouTube XL, Slacker radio) content, and it can be set to list content from Internet-based services an individual has rights to. One instance of that is the deal with Blockbuster. That integration will enable consumers to access Blockbuster’s growing library of digital content directly and easily on the TV.

The Blockbuster deal is not exclusive; the Liquid guide could also be engineered to work with the service of other content providers (e.g., Netflix, Amazon).

The ability to determine what is available indicates the need to ensure that the TV is capable of accessing it. The Liquid guide deals with that.

“You have to be able to verify the content is there,” Bullwinkle said, explaining that the application is in fact a QoE utility. “In the process, we check if they have the bandwidth. No? Then we check: Is there a hard drive? Yes? Then we recommend a download.” 

The capability is inherent in DLNA, he noted. That’s where the Muze acquisition comes into play.

The same capability works for content stored on other devices attached to a home network. The guide will check for content on other devices connected to the network via MediaShare (e.g., films on a DVR, music on a PC hard drive).

Leveraging metadata, the guide can retrieve supplemental information about a song being played, or about a show being viewed. It will allow content to be searched in multiple ways. A viewer might be able to search for content based on title, actor or director, for example.

Viewers can input profile information, and the guide will also start making recommendations based on viewing behavior.

Rovi has also partnered with Flixster, Bullwinkle said, so if a viewer’s device is Internet-connected, the Rovi guide will also enable viewers to access recommendations and lists from friends via Flixster.

That the Rovi guide will appear in a commercial product is apparently not in doubt. Bullwinkle declined to comment on which CE manufacturers might make use of it, but he said it was built to the specs of its partners.

The guide’s capabilities are broken into three separate modules, a Television Content Guide for linear broadcast television, a Broadband Content Guide for both free and paid Internet-based content, and a Personal Content Guide for discovery of content within home networks. The Liquid guide is planned to be available for CE manufacturers as an entire package or as individual modules.

The guide is likely to show up in high-end TVs first.

“This is designed for future TVs,” Bullwinkle said. “The CE companies are trying to sell connected TVs, but consumers need to see the benefit. This is a way to sell new product to maintain margin.”

A version of the guide designed for service providers is unlikely to be available until well into next year. Bullwinkle agreed that many of the same capabilities in the CE version – discovery, recommendation engines, opt-in profiles – will be useful in supporting addressable advertising.

More Broadband Direct 07/16/09:
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