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Dealing With ‘Dirty Data’

LAS VEGAS — Recommendation and discovery engines built on viewing habits can be valuable because they help viewers sift through an ever-expanding sea of video content and options delivered via traditional pay TV and over-the-top services.

But the science and art of it all is still far from perfect, some CES video experts contended last week during a panel put on at the Parks Associates Connections event.

Personalization “feels like the Holy Grail” for video services, but the industry must continue to contend with “dirty data,” Scott Boyarsky, vice president of product development and planning at Comcast, said.

Some services create home-wide personalization based on all viewers, while others, like Netflix, use personalized profiles broken down by the individual, though users must log in to ensure that their individual interests are tied to the recommendations results.

Ben Weinberger, senior vice president and chief product officer of Sling TV and the founder of Digitalsmiths (a video data firm that’s now part of TiVo), agreed that personalization becomes more difficult and complex in an environment marked by a multitude of devices.

One way that Sling TV, which is launching an updated user interface, deals with the data issue is through a “contextually aware” system that can base decisions on which devices tend to watch specific types of programs during certain times of the day. While morning viewers tend to gravitate to news and watch on mobile devices, Friday-night viewers are more likely to binge out on a series via connected-TV devices.

The system tries to infer whom the user is, Weinberger said. “There’s no perfect answer yet … but it has to be an iterative approach,” he said.

Companies should be careful not to base recommendations solely on viewing habits, though, warned Jim Denney, TiVo’s vice president of product management and strategy. The risk of personalization “is a narrowing of the view of the consumer’s world,” he said.

The trick is to create a broad enough spectrum of interest that is in line with viewing patterns, he said.

Panelists also offered their predictions on what 2016 will be “The Year Of” in video, with the understanding that 2015 was The Year of OTT.

Rich Cusick, general manager of video at metadata giant Gracenote, sees 2016 as the Year of Interoperability, noting that everything under the sun is being connected to the Internet, but not everything works together without kludges. Interoperability, he said, will draw the “true power of the connected home … I think consumers are going to demand it.”

Bulent Celebi, co-founder and chairman of WiFi specialist AirTies, and John Driver, CEO of Lynx Technology, both said they believe we’ll have a replay: 2016 will be another Year of OTT. Driver reasoned that OTT hasn’t taken off in all geographies and demographics and still has plenty more ground to cover. Denney of TiVo thinks 2016 will be the Year of Personalization as platforms adapt to individual user tastes and preferences.

• Weinberger didn’t wade too far outside the corporate pool, predicting that 2016 will be The Year of Sling TV, reasoning that the service slots in with two big 2016 angles — OTT and personalization.

Maybe a Dingo Ate My Section 706?

While President Obama’s public endorsement of Title II-based Open Inter net rules may have had something to do with the FCC’s switch from a Sec. 706 approach to new rules criticized by Internet activists as too weak to the common-carrier approach, The Christian Science Monitor was giving a lot of credit to John Oliver, as was Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler.

Oliver is the host of HBO’s satirical series Last Week Tonight, who on the May 31 episode called out Wheeler as a former cable and telco lobbyist regulating those spaces. Oliver likened the scenario to having a dingo for a babysitter.

The Monitor listed the new net-neutrality rules as No. 4 on its list of the top five times when Internet activism made a difference.

The newspaper said Oliver’s Wicked Witch of the Westlike call to his minions to “for once in your life, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction. Seize your moment, my lovely trolls, turn on caps lock, and fly my pretties! Fly! Fly!” helped push the rules through to passage in February of last year.

Wheeler even got into the act, saying at a press conference following Oliver’s call-out that he was, in fact, not a dingo, an exchange that provided even more fodder for the comedian.

“Oliver’s explanation seemed to have a more immediate impact than many longer-term advocacy campaigns in raising public consciousness about the once-obscure issue,” said the Monitor.

The dingo got even more press following Wheeler’s Q&A at CES in Las Vegas, where the chairman was asked what he thought Oliver’s impact had been. Beyond schooling him on what a dingo was, Wheeler said Oliver got people interested in the most arcane of topics — Title II — and helped drive those 4 million comments in the docket.

Guess that dog did hunt.

— John Eggerton