Mar 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

It is a technical terms for the package of information electronically attached to every program or other video element sent by satellite to a cable or satellite service. It is sometimes called “data about data,” and typically includes everything from the title to the program length to pricing.
Sounds dry, doesn’t it? But in fact, it may well be the key to survival in the wake of the revolution in how people watch and use television now under way. The implications of this change are huge for the TV industry.
To understand why metadata will be important, one has to first understand the nature of the revolution changing how we use and view television.
From the dawn of modern broadcasting until today, television has been a push technology. That means a network aggregates content and then markets it. It in essence “pushes” programming through a pipeline to the consumer, who then chooses where to spend time and money.
While consumers can also pop in a cassette or a DVD or choose among a handful of pay-per-view offerings, most viewing has been a choice among prepackaged video streams.
Now a number of factors are coming together to cause a change that is a bigger deal than the conversion to color, the advent of stereo or even the coming of cable-all of which were simply improvements on push technology.
This year Cox, Charter, Cablevision, Comcast and other major cable providers will have all finished, or gotten close to completing, major system upgrades. That was the first step. It means they can now offer two-way services such as video-on-demand with much larger menus of programming (an advantage over satellite).
Combine that with the wildfire acceptance of the DVR and you have the hottest ticket in TV. It goes way beyond TiVo. Every MSO is offering, or will soon offer, a DVR built into the cable box for your home.
At the CTAM Digital & Broadband Conference last week in Los Angeles, preliminary results were revealed from several sources about the acceptance of the PVR. The reality is that once consumers get a PVR, almost 100 percent want to keep it forever. And more than half recommend it to a friend.
The data shows the PVR is not being used as expected to pause live programs. By an overwhelming margin it is being used to record shows off the air for later viewing, often while zapping out commercials. The surveys also show that in homes using the PVR, the first thing they look to when the set is turned on is their own menu of recorded shows. Why? Because they know there will be something there that they like.
What it all means is that the consumer with digital cable, VOD and PVR is almost always watching shows out of the usual network presentation pattern. That impacts the way shows are introduced, marketed, distributed and rated.
That is the heart of this revolution. Instead of programs being pushed to consumers through scheduling, advertising and promotion, the new order is to have programs “pulled” out when the consumer is ready. “We’ve laid out the challenge to the marketers,” said Greg DePrez, VP of subscription video-on-demand for Starz Encore. “In my company, and for the cable operators, we say, `Look, you’ve got this technology. It’s exciting stuff. It’ll revolutionize television. It’s never going to change [back to what it was]. The paradigm of push programming to the consumer becomes pulling and choosing once and for all history. And it is happening right now. You have a beautiful opportunity to market that and take advantage of it.”’
It seems as if the immediate roadkill in this new race for consumer attention would be advertisers. That may be true for the 30-second spot, which is not a secret. The surprise is that new ways to advertise are emerging. It goes beyond sponsorships, product placements or guerrilla marketing.
Consider a test involving Cox cable, which offered a tier of VOD for free. Some of it was sponsored videos. So a consumer considering a $40,000 car or a complicated home security system could click to see a five-minute or 10-minute video with detailed product info. In the Cox test, people watched these kinds of promos in surprisingly large numbers. “That’s an incredibly valuable lead to sell to advertisers,” said Mr. DePrez. “They’re thrilled. The most qualified lead you can have is the person who has sought you out and drilled into your demand offering.”
Another problem is how to make it easy for consumers to sort through thousands of program offerings. It seems clear that at least in the early years, there will be no single method. There will be video-on-demand sold one show at a time, and subscription packages that offer unlimited VOD selections. There will be “free” VOD, which will include teasers for paid shows, extended commercials and brand builders like a gardening show from the Home & Garden channel.
That is where metadata becomes important. It is a crucial source of intelligence for marketers in what is called the “last mile display,” the final step before the consumer makes a choice. It becomes the code that determines how and where the program info is displayed (by title, brand, genre, affinity to other programs), the pricing, the spin of the synopsis (toward specific groups or interests), and what is displayed on the program guide.
The metadata can be mined to capture results: Which homes watched and for how long? Which saw commercials? “In a push environment, marketing is in your face,” Chris Stasi, VP of operations for TVN Entertainment, said at CTAM last week. “In the pull environment, marketing has to be more organic-not just programming but advertising as well.”
Borrowing a page from Amazon.com, after the viewer makes a choice, the vendor will use metadata to suggest other shows that person might also want to watch. The technology will allow highly targeted pitches to be delivered to very specific homes.
The reality is that revolutions tend to leave some behind while propelling others to new heights. The only thing we know for sure is that this time, the revolution really will be televised.