Welcome back TiVo

By Julian Clover
November 27, 2009 10.53 UK

Virgin Media is upgrading its technology and introducing dynamic advertising into its commercial VOD services, write Julian Clover.

A statement of intent was this week made by Virgin Media, that the UK cabler is not going to be left behind in the fast evolving world of user interface and content discovery that is exemplified by the moves towards Canvas and HBB.

TiVo, which had effectively pulled out of the UK market in 2003 as Sky picked up on the XTV technology developed by ***, is back in town. The last time I met someone from TiVo was at the CTAM Europe marketing conference, suggesting that Europe had remained on the radar of the DVR developer.

Virgin had signalled its intentions as far back as March when the company’s director of technical strategy Kevin Baughan showed delegates to the Cable Congress in Berlin the direction of travel. Baughan showed stills of a guide where channels would have their own areas, directing viewers to linear, on demand and broadband content.

TiVo however will have been noticed by Virgin Media’s US-leaning board of directors, who will have witnessed TiVo’s move towards the US cable market, and the trials running on Comcast and Cox. There are of course companies other than TiVo capable of offering search and discovery. Among them OpenTV, the almost-Kudelski owned middleware provider, who in Jim Chiddix has a common board member.

OpenTV has however another UK client that it does business with, and BSkyB recently licensed a set of new patents and intellectual property rights, not that puts up a barrier to Virgin.

There is however a fully functioning technology already in place on the Virgin system and one that successfully links back to its VOD system. TV Navigator, once a part of the Liberate portfolio, and now owned by SeaChange International is already working with Cisco on the next generation of DVRs for Virgin that can be expected to be deployed during 2010. SeaChange has also worked with Samsung its current set-top deployment that has received the thumbs up from those who have had the device installed. Does this mean two separate HD DVRs? Time will tell.

The involvement of SeaChange goes beyond the middleware. Virgin’s other technology announcement this week has been the rollout of advertising into its on demand content. The significance of this cannot be underestimated, even if the targeting of the commercials relates to the content that SeaChange’s AdPulse will insert them into, rather than the demographics of the people that are viewing them.

On Demand Group, SeaChange’s London-based content management subsidiary is aggregating programming for the service and providing ingest, publishing, Q/A and scheduling services. Initially it will run on Virgin Media’s own channels Living, Virgin 1 and Bravo.

AdPlulse inserts the ad on the fly into pre- and post-roll commercial slots and, significantly, centre breaks. Why should the catch-up consumer be deprived of this facility? More to the point if catch-up TV is going to be a churnbuster rather than a chargeable proposition, revenues have to come from somewhere.

The catch as always is that while the technology is there to allow, and indeed disable, the trick play of fast forward and rewind, there is a nervousness about removing the fast forward functionality from the consumer and consequently diluting the control VOD is supposed to give.