Cable Show ’08: TVN Revamp Creates Rapid-Response VOD

New Orleans -- Service provider TVN Entertainment is overhauling its infrastructure to enable video-on-demand content to be repriced, repositioned and relabeled on the fly, which can be expected to make placement of VOD content more relevant to consumers.

“Now things like pricing, windows, the synopses accompanying content and menu mapping can be updated dynamically,” TVN executive vice president James P. Riley said in an interview. “So changes can be made within hours, or almost immediately. Before, it was weeks, if not months. This will unlock what is the current static nature of VOD.”

TVN said it is investing $28 million in the upgrade, which includes a doubling of its facilities floor space at a new Sherman Oaks, Calif., location (having just moved from Burbank), improved technology and a boost in research-and-development spending. The upgrade includes watermarking VOD content so that its movement can be tracked on distribution platforms.

Services company TVN manages the delivery of VOD for clients that are content providers and also multichannel-TV platforms. Riley estimated that multichannel platforms serving 70% of VOD-enabled households will have the technical capability to take advantage of enhanced VOD management immediately.

In the past, updating VOD usually meant replacing an entire content file, when typically only small metadata files attached to the content actually needed changing. Metadata is data about other data.

TVN’s revamp now enables rapid-response modifications to metadata while leaving the bulky underlying content -- which is called the essence in VOD -- in place on a multichannel platform. A TVN-processed VOD file has 172 metadata fields with information such as availability rules for consumers, transaction terms for consumers, start time a title is available and end time.

The new rapid-response capability could work to make a price change for a VOD title residing on a multichannel platform. A title’s price could be raised with a pitch to consumers that it’s a “last chance” to see a movie before the film goes off VOD. In all such metadata modifications, the content provider and multichannel platform would first agree to changes.

In another benefit, when Hollywood figures are in the news and suddenly topical, VOD content featuring that talent can be highlighted in the synopsis and the title moved up a platform’s menu. For example, a VOD platform could quickly organize a tribute for a famous actor that dies.

In another genre, VOD clips of political news can be relabeled to tie into fast-breaking events. “This is a way to make the platforms inherently customizable,” TVN chief operating officer Douglas H. Sylvester said.

Upgrading the response time and also data collection of VOD was a theme coursing through The Cable Show ’08 here. An Israel-based company, Pontis, was a first-time exhibitor with its own flexible VOD-management technology, which it said can energize the genre. “Changing pricing today [of VOD titles] has been challenging because of the complexity of billing systems” at multichannel platforms, Pontis senior marketing director Guy Talmi said.

Improvements in collection of consumer VOD activity data to speed reporting will have a ripple effect on sales and insertions of advertisements placed in VOD titles. Riley said VOD-content providers and multichannel platforms have always received a steady flow of information about consumer usage of VOD, but were often unable to efficiently respond with on-the-fly adjustments of content residing on platforms.

He thinks rapid-response VOD will be a hit with consumers, and it is becoming a necessity because consumers increasingly demand speed and relevancy of content they consume. “The bar keeps getting raised,” Riley said.

The $28 million for the upgrade came from internal funds earmarked for closely-held TVN, the majority shareholder in which is investment firm Morgan Stanley.

For more on The Cable Show ’08, click here.