Predicting the future can be fun. It can also be a bit dangerous. After all, I was the “genius” digital subscriber line product manager that wondered why anyone would ever need 1.5 Megabits per second at their desk!
But all of these predictions about the end of pay TV seem as misguided as proclaiming that dialup modems would reign supreme. Yes, I am very aware of declining pay TV subscriptions, pressured margins, the need to improve customer experience and the overall upheaval that seems to be going on every day in our industry. Despite those realities, pay TV may be entering its greatest-ever period.
Look at the facts: 90 million households are still paying for, and using, their full subscription services, and cable hits are more popular than ever. From sporting events on ESPN to The Walking Dead to Game of Thrones, pay TV audiences continue to tune in at record numbers. Overall video consumption and quality is at a never-before-seen peak, thanks to the continued success of “traditional pay TV” plus the proliferation of OTT access to pay TV content. Pay TV, as a segment, is not going away anytime soon.
Legacy Platforms Linger
But that doesn’t mean pay TV operators don’t have their share of issues to deal with — you don’t get an industry upheaval like we are experiencing when everything is rosy. Every time a new medium comes along, people love to predict the demise of the legacy medium. Like me, I am sure you miss radio, which became extinct with the introduction of TV. And isn’t it a shame there aren’t any broadcasters anymore, because cable networks came along?
You get the idea: Great content always has a home and useful formats don’t vanish, they evolve.
Visionary John Malone is famous for, among other things, predicting a universe where there would be 500 channels. That didn’t seem like it could really ever happen. Well, we now know even the brilliant Malone was wrong — there are many more channels than that.
While this massive collection of video networks creates variety and choice, it also creates customer confusion, makes content difficult to find and drives platform complexity.
Because of that, it’s time for new technology to be integrated into video programming offerings to simplify consumer choices. Now is the right time for content programmers to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to better customize and personalize viewing experiences. But we can’t rely on AI alone. That would mean a world of either meaningless algorithm-driven content, triggered just because a consumer tuned to a program for a few minutes, or of our TVs outsmarting us and taking over completely, depending on whether you are a disciple of the Zuckerberg or Musk AI religious wars.
Instead, I’m suggesting the right AI, when combined with human decision-making, is what really opens up the world of content for our consumers. Great content is about emotion in some form, and it is only when we find the balance of art and science that the technology can really shine. The key is the right combination of human curation and artificial intelligence.
AI can be incredibly helpful in making better programming decisions, but it can’t be the only driver.
Subscribers have made it clear they want to watch content on their terms. AI offers tools to help them find the latest content, well beyond current curation by channel and title. Technology exists that can ingest any video and automatically extract metadata to identify and categorize it. It looks for faces, pulls topics from speech and text, and analyzes emotions to identify video genre and content sentiment.
That technology sets the stage for content to be customized for the individual viewer, bringing subscribers into (or back into) the pay TV tent.
Leveraging the advances in metadata creation and enhancement, AI can help video providers offer customized experiences and pave the way for personalization in curation and targeted advertising. There is no shortage of great content in the pipeline.
AI as Customization Tool
By leveraging AI, we can help consumers quickly navigate to the content they love and, even better, surface content to surprise and delight consumers who didn’t even know they were interested in that specific piece of content. And if we deliver incredible experiences our viewers will happily continue to subscribe.
By thoughtfully applying cognitive services and human leadership to the everexpanding supply of great content, we can help ensure the continued success of subscription television.
With AI, the future of TV is better television.
Jeff Weber is CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based zone.TV. Illustration by Chad Baker/Getty Images.
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