The question at the heart of the ugliest problems every network operator has is: How do you make sure that the person you're shipping valuable content to is, really and truly, a legitimate customer?
What if someone told you they could solve that problem in seconds – with voice recognition? You might even laugh at them as you challenge them to prove it.
TradeHarbor asserts it can do it and has a new offer to let operators prove it in their own networks, to their own satisfaction, for no money down.
TradeHarbor's Voice Signature Service (VSS) is already being used by various banks and other financial institutions.
Paul S. Heirendt, co-founder and CEO of TradeHarbor, said a demo so fascinated Charter Communications founder Barry Babcock that Babcock came out of retirement, invested, requested a seat on the board and insisted TradeHarbor pitch its product to the cable industry.
The company believes that it can be an effective solution – for starters – for authenticating cable subscribers quickly and easily in customer service applications, and then for authenticating customers when they request services that demand a high level of security, such as TV Everywhere.
So the company is offering a "Quick Start" program for MSOs and entertainment content providers that includes free integration support and free use of the VSS as they try it out.
The VSS is a voice recognition system that the company says can get an accurate voice print with a nine-second training session – a fraction of the time that most subscribers spend waiting for a live agent.
It's a little hard to believe. Fingerprints and retinas have long been great identifiers because each is unique. There is no practical way to get millions of people's prints or retinal scans, however.
Each person's voice is unique too, but the historical problem with using voice recognition is that some of the qualities of any person's voice change during the day, change over the course of their lives and change with medical conditions – a stuffy nose can be a problem.Heirendt says TradeHarbor has developed algorithms that compensate for all of that. He said TradeHarbor's voice recognition technology is far more effective than using passwords, personal identification numbers (PINs) or other identifiers Heirendt characterized as "shared secrets."
In a customer service application, subs typically have to provide multiple identifiers to the automated system, and then have to provide even more when a service rep gets on the line. TradeHarbor suggests getting the automated system to ask, "Would you like to enroll in voice recognition so that the next time you call you can be put through to a service rep faster?"
The system will ask the sub to say a couple of phrases, and that's that. The next time the sub dials in, they'll be asked to repeat the phrases, in a process that can take as little as nine seconds, but could save at least 20 seconds, possibly more.
Trials of opt-ins at other companies show a tremendous take rate, Heirendt said. In one trial, the company expected about 25 percent of people would opt in. The actual take rate was in excess of 80 percent.
In a TV Everywhere situation, many devices have speakers built-in – smartphones certainly, but many tablets, netbooks and other devices, as well. An operator could either ask the sub to call, or even initiate a call, ask the sub to say a couple of phrases, and that sub will have been reliably authenticated, wherever they are.
Authentication is one of the keys that would open an early release window for MSOs to show films on-demand  right after the theater release window, instead of waiting for the DVD window.
Heirendt said that what TradeHarbor is offering is precisely the sort of assurance that studios want.
That has attracted Brad Hunt, former CTO of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), as a special advisor. The company quotes him saying, "The motion picture industry has been looking for a way to implement secure parental controls and remote access of high-value content by authentication of the user for nearly a decade. TradeHarbor's VSS can enable these services while preserving the privacy of the person."