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Cox's Guide Gets Personal

Perhaps you would like to try Modern Family? A slice of Homeland? Or maybe a side dish of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?

Like a waiter at a high-end restaurant, Cox Communications would like to suggest something to watch that pairs with your unique tastes.

The operator is upgrading the Trio HD guide, available through its Advanced TV package, to include personalized recommendations for linear TV programming and up to 40,000 video-on-demand titles — based on the likes and dislikes of each member of the household. Cox expects to deploy the enhanced guide to all of its 21 markets by the end of December.

TV content recommendations aren’t new: TiVo provides suggested shows based on users’ thumbs-up/thumbs-down ratings, and Netflix has featured recommendations since first launching its DVDs-by-mail service.

But Cox claims it’s the first U.S. pay TV provider to tailor recommendations for different viewers in a household. With the Trio guide, subscribers can create up to eight profiles, each with its own set of favorites and personal settings.

“There’s so much available across TV, on demand and DVR, our customers were saying, ‘Help me find it, make it relevant to me,’” Len Barlik, Cox’s executive vice president of product management and development, said. The personalized suggestions are key, he added: “My 12-year-old son may have interests that are not mine.”

Cox is using the recommendation engine from ThinkAnalytics, a small company based in Glasgow, Scotland. The MSO worked with ThinkAnalytics and Cisco Systems to integrate it into the Trio guide, originally developed by NDS Group (now part of Cisco). The recommendations key off TV listings provided by Tribune Media Services, Cox’s metadata supplier.

The Trio guide offers recommendations automatically, based on ThinkAnalytics’ algorithm that weighs previous shows viewed and users’ feedback on whether they like or dislike a specific program. (Users also can choose to turn them off.) Recommended programs are designated in the grid view with a green diamond; users also can access a folder with a full list of recommendations.

The feature is aimed at boosting customer satisfaction and letting Cox tout an advantage over satellite and telco TV competitors, Barlik said. As for whether recommendations could help boost VOD buy rates, he said that’s a “hopeful outcome but it’s really driven by the overall user experience.” Eventually Cox plans to provide the ThinkAnalytics-powered recommendations to second-screen apps as well, he added.

Cox rolled out Trio to its entire footprint in February 2012, and began upgrading the guide with the personalized recommendations last month in Oklahoma, San Diego and Orange County, Calif.

It took Cox nine months from green-lighting the recommendations project to implementation, according to Barlik: “We are really getting into a quarterly cadence of delivering and enhancing new capabilities to our customers.”

Barlik declined to identify other content-recommendation vendors Cox considered. But he said that ThinkAnalytics was the only company with a recommendation engine that delivered per-user suggestions. “Everything else we see out there today is a high-level, holistic ‘family’ approach — that’s not what we wanted,” he said.

The deal with Cox is among the first in the U.S. for ThinkAnalytics. Worldwide, ThinkAnalytics counts 35 service provider customers, including Liberty Global, BSkyB and Virgin Media, representing more than 80 million licensed subscribers.

“Cox’s Trio Program Guide sets a new bar for live and personalized TV recommendations in the U.S.,” ThinkAnalytics CTO Peter Docherty said. “ThinkAnalytics Intelligent Navigation brings together live TV, VOD and DVR viewing histories to provide recommendations that are truly personalized. We’re very proud to partner with Cox on this groundbreaking innovation.”

Other enhancements in the new version of the Trio guide include the ability to pause live TV from any set-top in the house on a whole-home DVR network; the expansion in the grid view from three to five timeslots; and additional recording options including the ability to replay a scene in slow motion or rewind and fast forward frame-by-frame.

Cox declined to disclose how many subscribers have access to the Trio guide. The Atlanta-based MSO has an estimated 4.7 million video subscribers nationwide, according to SNL Kagan.