The Need for Personalized Television — I Want My My TV

Democracy in Media: The “Long Tail” is Already Being Televised Alex Rowland has an interesting long tailish post out about the problem we have of finding good TV. Rowland seems to feel that much of what we may want by way of niche TV is in fact already out there but that we just can’t find it.

Certainly tools like TiVo and it’s time shifting, recommendations and wish lists (and Rowland adds, Yahoo!’s TV Guide and TMS data) help some but even with these tools finding good television still is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Some of the mainstream stuff is pretty easy. When the whole world is talking about the Sopranos or Desperate Housewives you check some of this stuff out and it sticks. But what about finding new stuff and finding more niche stuff?

Rowland writes: “The worst part about this whole situation for the consumer is not that they’re paying too much for content (although they might be), but rather that they’re missing lots of content that would make their TV experience much more compelling (and far more personal). So, rather than settling down for the third rerun of some sitcom on ABC, they might find something really compelling on a channel they’ve never watched before. Combine this with TiVo time-shifting capabilities, and, all of a sudden, TV is a very different experience. A much better experience.”

Personally I’ve never been impressed with TiVo’s suggestions, although my brother swears by them. I’ve even spent hours and hours and hours trying to fine tune it and have still found that my TiVo and I have irreconcilable differences when it comes to suggestion technology.

I’m also not terribly excited about search. With TiVo, first it’s difficult to try to navigate around the little search box with the remote, and even then when I type in things that I’m interested in I get back very few if any results. Microsoft has MSN Remote Record which I find a little more useful (I can search at work and I can search with a keyboard) but still, much of my search is limited to text that is churned out in the descriptions of shows by the guide providers.

So what is needed? Full closed captioned text searches. When I had dinner with Jim Allchin last week, this is one of the technologies that I mentioned that I’d like to see Microsoft implement and Jim seemed to think that it was technically possible to do this here and now today. In fact Jim mentioned to me that in Japan (where they have far fewer channels than we do) that it could be technically possible to record all six of their channels for two weeks — yes every show on every station for two weeks all saved on a hard drive. If you could do this and then search the past two weeks of closed captioned text from those shows, I suspect you might find some cool new material to watch.

The problem with closed captioning is that you can’t predict the future which requires you to record everything and then search the past. This might work for six analog channels in Japan but when you start throwing in the 100 cable channels (and especially the storage hogging HDTV content) then it starts to become less feasible.

But how about this. How about integrating into the MSN Remote Record search engine the entire history of all closed captioned ever done. We could then find programs using this and even if it was shown two years ago tell our smart DVRs to record that show if it’s ever on again. And even if the show never was broadcast again, maybe we could buy it on a downloadable basis or at least view the transcript and read it.

One of the things that I like about Media Center is that they have some interesting technology where they partner with All Movie Guide. What you can do is search for a movie (by using keywords or actors or directors or whatever) and even if a movie is not scheduled to be shown for the next two weeks you can tell Media Center to record the movie for you if it’s ever shown again in the future automatically. This is pretty cool technology. Yes, for some movies they may never be shown again in the future but you never know. Maybe somebody out there really does have some residual interest in showing Ishtar one last time at 3 am in the morning on Showtime.

This works well for movies because you have channels like HBO (Hey Beastmasters On) and Showtime with lots of movies. But a lot of other content gets repeated all the time. And how cool would it be to have rich, meaningful, contextual search that you could use to try and record a lot of this repeated stuff that you missed the first time around.

I’m sure there might be lots of other tools to find good niche content (and I’m sure that Alex is working on some as we speak back in the lab) but one thing I do know is that TV will become increasingly personalized and I’m looking forward to the day when I “want” my my tv can become Ive “got” my my tv… oh yeah, and in high def.

Oh, and one more thing about TiVo suggestions. You really need to let me review the data that you are basing my suggestions on. Tastes change over time (not to mention I need to change the three thumbs up rating that the housekeeper gave the Spanish broadcast of Days of Our Lives because she didn’t know how to work the TiVo remote) and I suspect that in part some of what I feel are poor recommendations for me from TiVo might in fact be based on an inaccurate profile of what I like or don’t like — garbage in, garbage out. I should be able to see a list of everything that I’ve ever given thumbs up or thumbs down and review and modify this list. Perhaps then I’d get better recommendations.

And another thing. Give me an option with TiVo suggestions so that I can automatically screen out programs for future recommendation. Yes I want you to know that I loved the movie Barfly but no I don’t want to see it for the 10th time. You can only take so much of Charles Bukowski getting his ass kicked outside of a bar. By the way though, if Bukowski is ever mentioned on a show (in the closed captioned text for instance) I’d like you to record it for me.

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  1. SK says:

    Thomas,

    I think the captioning industry is coming up to a tipping point because of this exact issue. In the very recent past, captioning was specifically for that portion of the Long Tail– the 10% of the audience that is deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). Unfortunately, because captions are “closed,” it means that people who don’t use them everyday don’t notice when they’re missing. Hence, a lot of content is not captioned. The FCC has ruled that essentially all broadcast TV must be captioned by 2006, which will broaden the scope of available content by quite a bit.

    Now Google and Yahoo! are working on the searchability problem– making it possible to find the needle in the haystack by searching the closed-captioning.

    Google has been archiving the captioning for a limited number of stations, such as CNN, for a few months. To do this, presumably, they have each program running, in realtime, into a decoder with software that strips the captions into a text file, which can then be processed for keywords and so on.

    This will work great for programs that are airing from here on out. However, when it comes to old content, there are some major logistical efforts that need to be made.

    The first and most obvious is that it’s not a given that older programming was even captioned. And the older captions used a looser, sloppier style than you’d be likely to get today from an agency like mine– you’d find words switched around or changed to entirely different verbiage. It’s permissible today to do some judicious editing (cutting out some words for the sake of reading rate), but the standard is to approach verbatim whenever possible.

    So, logistically, if we want to present older film with captions, we have to pay someone to do the captioning. Agencies like mine are working to make the process as seamless and inexpensive as possible, but it does still take time, energy, and knowledge to get the job done.

    Now, of course, the issue is that online content has not yet been ruled on by the FCC, so almost none of it is captioned. Recently, my agency captioned Jeff Jarvis’s latest Vlog (http://www.chicagocaptioning.com/rtndajarvis.html), which can be viewed on Internet Explorer and WinMedia. This is an example of what captions online could look like for even small content providers.

    Well, I’ve run out of time, and I can’t post further. I’ll include some further thoughts on my blog, AccessExcellence.blogspot.com, when I can.

    Again, thanks for the great blog. I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in your discussion.