• ZoneTV Partners With Microsoft and Ooyala to Create AI-Driven, Customized TV Channels

    Niche programming provider ZoneTV has partnered with Microsoft and Ooyala to introduce a set of customizable AI-driven linear TV channels that will be made available in partnership with pay-TV operators using IP-enabled set-top boxes.

    ZoneTV will leverage 6,000 hours of video that it has licensed across a number of different content categories to create specialized linear channels. Then, as the viewer consumes the content that has been characterized using Video Indexer algorithms from Microsoft Cognitive Services, a more and more personalized channel is presented for subsequent viewing.

    ZoneTV is also using Ooyala’s cloud-based Flex CMS for video production and distribution workflows. Flex runs on Microsoft Azure Media services as well.

    The notion of customized TV channels, algorithmically created based on understanding the content and the viewers’ preferences is an enticing vision given the work now needed to wade through myriad choices of what to watch.

    Still, there are elements to the plan that still need to be seen in action. First and foremost, how customized and therefore incrementally valuable are the dynamic channels to the viewer? Six thousand hours sounds like a lot on the surface, but when spread over numerous categories, the actual amount of new content that super-fans of say cooking, would enjoy, may be rather limited. In other words, over time dynamic channels could end up feeling repetitive and tedious if not constantly refreshed from a deep library.

    There’s another little head-scratcher here which is the decision to only distribute the new dynamic channels solely through pay-TV operators. At a time when connected TVs are in over 70% of US homes, with more viewership migrating to them, there’s a genuine opportunity to create robust direct-to-consumer video services (obviously Netflix is the shining example of such a model).

    With pay-TV in decline, many set-tops not even capable of delivering IP and operators facing multiple priorities, it’s not clear whether such an all-or-nothing bet on pay-TV partnerships is the optimal path. Some of the ZoneTV personalized channels would be free and some subscription. There would be no cost to the operator, who would receive a revenue share.

    At a minimum however, ZoneTV is yet another example of how sophisticated technologies are being leveraged to create new kinds of viewer experiences. It will be interesting to see how well it plays out.