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EPG Innovation Will Drive Over the Top Video

According to Forrester Research, over-the-top TV is easy to conceive but hard to deliver. It has the potential to completely shift the way that TV industry works, connecting consumers and their pocketbooks directly to content providers, while creating disruption for traditional cable or satellite -- and more recently telco -- pay-TV service providers.

But, for now, there are four big challenges to over-the-top TV delivery -- a lack of devices to connect TVs to the Internet; poor video quality due to limited bandwidth; lack of an economics justification; and lack of TV interfaces that can cope with millions of programming choices.

Forrester concludes that over-the-top TV won't start to develop momentum with ordinary TV shows, because they're far too lucrative right where they are. Instead, look for momentum to begin with niche programs that currently can't get on broadcast or cable TV channels.

Even if a broad collection of shows becomes available on TV sets from the Internet, there's still a problem -- how do you find what you're looking for? With PCs, the combination of the Web, mice, graphical displays, and search engines have made navigation tractable -- although, the inefficiency of text search for Web video still remains a problem.

But the navigation tools on TV sets are much cruder, consisting of displays with large on-screen graphics and remotes that allow navigation through buttons for up, down, left, right, and select.

These navigation tools don't quite succeed in allowing consumers to browse approximately 3,000 videos available on Comcast Digital Cable On Demand -- so, how could they possibly deal with 100,000 or more online videos?

Forrester believes that any solution to this problem of finding the best video content -- to match each consumer's eclectic interests -- will include elements of several technical breakthroughs. Frankly, the electronic program guide (EPG) capabilities and associated interface is where I see the greatest opportunity for innovation -- as I've recently stated in my suggestions to Cisco's CEO, John Chambers.

Better pointing devices -- Hillcrest Labs HoME navigation system features a simple bagel-shaped remote that permits exquisite navigational precision, combined with an innovative set of zoom-in/zoom-out graphical screen displays. The result is a far easier, more graphical way to navigate thousands of choices responsive enough to forgive errors and make retracing your steps far easier.

Intelligent preference selection -- ChoiceStream's software system is specially designed to help consumers make entertainment choices. By observing past behavior, it can help rank current choices from most to least desirable. The company has finally made inroads with a pay-TV company, DirecTV, indicating that the TV industry may be ready to accept help in developing preference engines. ChoiceStream or a similar system is a required element of any future mechanism for navigating large amounts of Web video.

Community tagging -- YouTube's top 10 featured videos reflect the wisdom of the vast crowd. But what a consumer really wants to know is: What do people who think like me watch? Gotuit Media is one of several vendors now creating software that will allow consumers to tag videos not just for watch-ability but also for keywords, creating the advantage that navigation engines need to direct or guide consumer's video choices.

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