TV apps and recommendation engines are two ways that cable operators can keep subscribers from wandering away into the arms of another service provider.

Wednesday’s session “The evolving customer experience” provided an overview of TV apps, personalized recommendation engines, and cloud-based services.

AppCarousel managing director Terry Hughes said that that there were three key elements to enabling TV apps; platform standardization, distribution and monetization.

Current TV apps are still fundamentally clunky, and the EBIF model of point and click with remotes never quite fulfilled its promise on the app front, Hughes said. Further complicating the TV app market are decisions on where a TV app should reside, which could include set-top boxes, Blu-way players, smart TVs, gaming consoles and tablets.

There’s also the matter of different network capabilities and different browsers. Apps shouldn’t be standalone and they should be used to enable a two-screen experience.

“Right how it’s a fragmented ecosystem,” Hughes said. “We have to fix that to get developers to the build the apps.”

Monetization could follow the same model as mobile apps with banner ads being placed on free apps. App users could leverage their existing relationships with Apple and Android stores to buy the apps.

“Apps are critical for monetizing the rich content that is out there,” said Hughes, whose company is working with Arris.

ThinkAnalytics founder and chief technology officer Peter Docherty said personalized recommendation engines increase subscriber stickiness and perceived value, increase VOD usage or buys, decrease overall churn and increase the customer base.

“What we want to do is help consumers find the content we know they will like,” he said. “We understand the content and consumer behavior. Those two aspects are critical.”

Successful recommendation engines incorporate user data from all the devices in a home. Docherty said having one way of making recommendations was akin to just having a just hammer in a toolbox.

There also needs to be recommendations for each individual in a home in order to draw a bead on accurate viewing patterns.

Cox Communications is using ThinkAnalytic’s recommendation in its Trio guide. According to a survey by Cox, 76 percent of its users “strongly agree” that the recommendation engine made it easier to find and record movies and shows. The survey found that 56 percent of the users said the recommendation engine make them aware of content they hadn’t previously known about while 32 percent said it made them watch more television.

Nagra’s Robin Wilson, vice president, business development, spoke about cloud-based services. While cloud services have a history that date back 50 or 60 years, Wilson said the term was often used on services that aren’t actually cloud-based. “Cloud washing” applies to marketers that try to re-brand services as cloud-based.

“Just because something can be cloud-based doesn’t mean it should be,” Wilson said. “HTML5 is a good example of that. If someone tells you it’s a private cloud, I would be very suspicious. Private-cloud is a questionable definition.”

HTML5 is often synonymous with cloud-based user interfaces, but in some cases those interfaces are coming from a server in a service provider’s rack.  Over-the-top services and recommendations are two examples of cloud-based services, according to Wilson.

Using the cloud can lower capital expenditures and lower cost compute resources. The cloud can also enable more features on legacy set-top boxes, according to Wilson.

Wilson said service provides should also think about security and reliability issues when using the cloud.

“In some instances you don’t want to put DRM or conditional access services in the cloud, or clients’ information,” he said. “Running a headend in the cloud is pretty dubious at this point. Also live events in the cloud aren’t there yet.”