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Metabyte, Navic jostle for position

Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Personal-video-recording and suggestion-engine software licensor Metabyte Networks has filed an application for a patent that would give the company ownership of a technology that tracks the television viewing habits of multiple viewers in the same household.
If approved, the patent would grant Metabyte the rights to a revolutionary advertising tool that Metabyte conceived to provide the advertising industry with a nuanced understanding of individuals’ television viewing predilections. And unlike Nielsen’s conventional television ratings system, which charts the viewing patterns of entire households, the technology would seek to predict the future viewing behavior of particular household members.
The viewership tracking tool would achieve this feat with the assistance of a sophisticated computer program endowed with the ability to detect human personal identities by perceiving how several instances of human behavior (for example, someone watching television several times in a week) correspond to behavior that a computerized artificial “mind” would have executed. From seeing how different shows watched in a household match up to shows that would have been watched by artificial, computerized “personalities,” the program can sense how many separate human personalities are present in a household and what kinds of TV shows each of those personalities are likely to watch in the future.
“We started to look into artificial intelligence and statistical algorithms for how we can identify the viewer,” said Metabyte Networks President and CEO Manu Mehta. “Based on what you’re not watching or [are] watching, we know who you are.”
Navic Networks is also developing a tool for advertisers billed as being able to monitor the television viewing patterns of various individuals in a household (“Ratings tracker Navic joins Scientific-Atlanta program,” EM, June 18). But Navic’s technology, unlike Metabyte’s intricate pattern-recognition system, simply relies on passwords that household members would enter to identify themselves before watching the programs.
Over the past several years, Metabyte has established the foundation for the predictive technology by performing original research in the fields of statistics and cognitive modeling, Mr. Mehta said. In 1993, Mr. Mehta, a computing industry veteran, started Metabyte as a software consulting and engineering firm with a subspecialty in the field of television viewership prediction technology research and development. Metabyte began filing patents in that arena even before it spun off its TV technology division into a separate company, Metabyte Networks, in 1999.
“We have a very extensive portfolio of pending patents,” Mr. Mehta said.
Since its inception two years ago, Metabyte Networks has developed personal-video-recording, viewership-tracking and recommendation-engine software for cable and direct broadcast satellite operators. Metabyte bills itself as an application service provider. ASPs provide broadband services to businesses, unlike their Internet service provider cousins that offer online access to consumers. The company is currently conducting laboratory tests of its technology and will begin deploying its offering in cable systems by the middle of 2002, Mr. Mehta said.
Unlike TiVo, Sonicblue’s ReplayTV and CacheVision, which operate in the PVR hardware technology arena, Metabyte has no plans to sell PVR hardware at retail. One of its closest competitors in the PVR niche is Keen Personal Media, and Navic is one of Metabyte’s most direct rivals in the television viewership tracking arena.
Keen has developed a “sidecar” PVR hardware attachment for mid-priced cable set-tops. That device is designed to obviate the need for cable operators to purchase the pricier set-tops that are endowed with innate television video storage capabilities. Mr. Mehta said that Metabyte has intentionally steered clear of the unproven PVR sidecar industry.
“We have discussed the possibility of a sidecar with several of the operators, and there’s no interest anywhere,” Mr. Mehta said. “It costs so much to produce a sidecar that you may as well just replace the set-top box. Our estimate is that a sidecar costs about $300 and so does a set-top box. … [A sidecar] is a short-term makeshift solution.”
On July 24, Metabyte received a welcome dose of financial sustenance when it closed a $10 million round of financing, bringing the company’s total amount of funding raised since its inception to $20 million. The financing round was led by digital cable middleware vendor Canal Plus Technologies and cable set-top box manufacturer Scientific-Atlanta.