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OpenTV Shows EPG of the Future

Interactive software provider OpenTV was looking to generate some buzz a the IBC show in Amsterdam last weekend with a demonstration of ZUI (zoomable user interface) TV, a prototype electronic program guide (EPG) that uses video thumbnails and predictive software to help viewers navigate to the programming they will find most appealing.

The main concept behind ZUI TV is that the linear grid used in today’s EPGs won’t be able to keep up with the exploding number of program choices. Instead, ZUI TV uses scenographic menu bars that feature video thumbnails of different channels of broadcast and cable network programming as well as video-on-demand offerings.

“It’s a very innovative kind of EPG,” says OpenTV CEO Jim Chiddix, who notes that current cable EPGs offer 48 slices of guide information per channel per day, or 15,000 choices per day on a 300-channel digital system. Since navigating through all the information is onerous, viewers tend “stay in their comfortable little neighborhood” of channels and never find new programming that they might enjoy.

In contrast to electronic program guides that use picture-in-picture technology which often obscures portions of the live programming being watched and /or program listing information, ZUI TV shows a preview of other programming stacked on top of the live picture, like two planes of a step on a staircase, without covering the live video.

Video-on-demand offerings are shown in scenographic fashion, with thumbnails along the bottom of the screen representing chapters in a movie, similar to DVD functionality. OpenTV predicts that many program suppliers, including networks, will start tagging their programming with such scene-specific information.

ZUI TV also uses what it calls an “Anticipation Engine,” a predictive software tool that makes suggestions about programming that meets viewers’ interests, and allows viewers to create their own programming categories based on their tastes, such as “Bill Murray,” “cooking” or “extreme sports.”

OpenTV executive are quick to point out that what they showed at IBC was merely a demonstration running off Flash technology, and that it will be at least 18 months before ZUI TV could make a commercial launch. But Chiddix says that existing digital set-tops and OpenTV’s current middleware could probably replicate 70 to 80% of the ZUI TV functionality shown at IBC.