Muze Eyes Cable for Media Guide

Whether they are picking a video-on-demand title or hunting for a digital music download, broadband users these days are not suffering from a lack of information.

Instead, they suffer because the systems to navigate them through the content landscape are poorly organized and poorly presented.

That's what Muze Inc. CEO Paul Zullo has argued as he steers his entertainment database company into the waters of the cable industry.

Muze is making the rounds of MSOs and programmers these days, talking about ways to create multimedia genre databases for broadband Internet or interactive television platforms aimed at helping customers find — and, more importantly, buy — the content they want.

While the cable market is new for Muze, the business isn't. A subsidiary of Metromedia Co., Muze started off in the retail CD space, providing information database kiosks at music stores to help customers find information on albums and artists. It later expanded the database services to cover books, video and games, and moved into Web distribution as well.

Today, Muze's 150 employees maintain entertainment databases for a laundry list of brick-and-mortar and cyberspace retailers, including, America Online Inc., Best Buy Stores Inc., Sony Corp., Sony Music Entertainment, Virgin Records America and Wal-Mart Inc., among others.

With the advent of VOD and high-speed data as points of content consumption, the company is now knocking on cablers' doors.

"What we are talking about here is thematically combining products that have a relationship to each other — and therefore a relationship to the user — of books, music and video," Zullo said. "This has been the company's mission for many, many years, and now we are offering it to [MSOs]."

Muze and Zullo are looking to strike deals with cable operators to develop databases tailored to particular consumer interests, presented either as part of MSOs' Internet content portals or their future ITV systems.

Depending on what the cable-operator or programmer wants, Muze could assemble databases of content offerings, focusing on specific genres such as extreme sports or on specific products such as video-on-demand titles.

"The idea is to create boutiques rather than department stores," Zullo said.

Muze has put together a prototype of such a database focusing on the rock 'n' roll art and culture of the 1960s.

Laid out in a timeline format, the database offers commentary on the significant video, music and literature of the time, even as audio clips of popular music play in the background. Links on the timeline lead users to explore specific works, and potentially could offer click-through purchasing of the featured content.

By focusing the databases on specific subject matter, Muze is creating a better way for people to explore the vast array of content available without overloading them with information, Zullo said. He pointed to the "video-store syndrome," in which movie renters simply can't decide what to pick based just on the multitudes of title they face.

By offering up related content items, Muze also encourages users to explore the genre more widely, even as it puts additional options under their noses.

"By contextualizing, we give them a media experience and a constant suggestion," Zullo said. "There are lots of companies with these tremendous catalogs of content and they have no way to promote it. We have so much stuff to sell and people can't find it."

For example, VOD menus are mostly just lists of titles, which does little to help a subscriber decide if he or she really wants to see a selection. Adding editorial commentary, video clips and related material would give the subscriber a better lure to hit the "view" button, Zullo said.

But the Muze game plan is still very much in the fact-finding stage — although the company has some prototype database presentations to show, it is not providing information on how much such a service would cost or what specific genres it might generate.

Zullo argues such specific information isn't available as yet, because the company is still trying to feel out what cablers and programmers might want and which type of business arrangement might be struck.

"Basically, my round of meetings was to show them what we do here at Muze," Zullo said. "They have to tell us how it fits into the world they see — both in the immediate future and the day after tomorrow."