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Virgin Media’s TiVo service marked the first next-generation web-connected TV product to hit the UK market. new media age spoke to Virgin Media executive director of digital entertainment Cindy Rose about the plans for the service and the rapidly evolving TV landscape.

What can we expect to see from Virgin Media over next few years?

The TiVo service currently available is just the starting point. Multi-screen entertainment, the integration of social media, increasing ad targeting and exploring using viewer-data insight, along with the opportunities to commercialise and personalise these experiences, are all strands we’re building into our road map.

Will you launch on Microsoft’s Xbox?

It’s definitely something that’s on the road map, and that we’ll be looking at over the next year. The past 12 months have been about the core TV experience and getting TiVo out to the market at scale.

We’re now shifting our focus to making it a multi-screen experience. We’ll be looking at how best to move that experience onto a tablet or a smartphone or a games console like Xbox.

How will ITV’s forthcoming micropayment-enabled TV catch-up player sit within the Virgin Media platform?

It’s something we’re discussing with ITV. In contrast to the internet, where a person may have multiple micropayment accounts, whether with PayPal or iTunes, Virgin Media has a simpler billing system. Customers that have the triple package of broadband, telephony and TV, which is 64% of our customer base, get one billing statement a month for everything, and there’s a real appreciation of the simplicity of that. As the world gets more complex, people will value that simplicity even more.

That said, we are researching the possibility of introducing micropayments on the TiVo platform [from third parties] and I can imagine there being a place for it in the world of gaming, and other areas like fantasy football where you would want a micropayment mechanism of some sort. We’re working a lot with Facebook, which is doing some great things in this space.

How do you see the TV market evolving over the next few years with new entrants such as Google?

There’s a big difference between what we’re doing and what Google is doing. Although I have respect for it as an organisation, it has jumped straight to the end game. It has replaced the remote control with a keyboard, and swapped the electronic programme guide (EPG) for a browser and a search bar, which makes it more like a computer in your living room. Our customer base and prospective base isn’t interested in or ready for that.

What lessons have you taken from having a connected TV product on the market?

We have first-mover advantage, because we are several months, if not years, ahead of any connected TV experience in Europe, but there are disadvantages in being first too. You have to take customers with you. Whether something is technically possible shouldn’t be the criteria for a new product development. Instead, it should centre on whether my customers will love it, will it transform their enjoyment experience and will they pay me for it?

What are the marketing challenges of bringing a next-generation product like TiVo to market?

You a need a product that appeals as much to the technophile as to the technophobe. The challenge is how to market that in a way that’s appealing to both sets of people without alienating either. With TiVo, we decided not to market the most advanced and sophisticated features that would be exciting to the techophiles, but to hone in on the core features.

We tried to zero in on basic human truths, like ensuring there are no recording conflicts, and then market like crazy the features we designed to address those. Some of those are quite basic, such as the ability to record 500 programmes and create a “personalised” EPG, and go backwards on the EPG.

We marketed all the things that have solved problems that were annoying people, instead of the most advanced things – we will get to that later.

What proportion of viewers are actively searching for web apps on TiVo?

We’re seeing a more accelerated adoption curve than I expected. I’m big on the customer journey – taking people along with you as you move toward the end game when the TV resembles more of a web experience. I expected people to use the EPG and try the odd search or browse the odd collection, dabble in the odd app. But we are finding the adoption effect is faster than expected.

The discovery tools are working so people are not only watching what they know and love already, but are discovering new stuff. This product marks our transformation from a broadcast platform to a content discovery platform.

Who do you see as your competitors?

It’s a much broader church than it used to be. People looking at the market from the outside have always identified BT and Sky as our main competitors. But the market has definitely expanded beyond the traditional TV platforms. Google and Apple and device manufacturers like Samsung, Panasonic, and LG are all in the mix.

But we all need each other. We’re “frenemies” with just about everybody, that’s where the world is going. We all need each other and we all compete with each other. It’s a completely different dynamic.

What are your plans for developing ad targeting on the TiVo platform?

The market is crying out for this because it provides a more intelligent way of reaching people, and more efficient way to allocate marketing spend. We have the technical capability to do this and there is very rich viewer data that comes from the TiVo set-top box.

We’re exploring what we can do with that data to gain deep insight into how people are using the service. Whether we sell that information to third parties is still an open question but we’re definitely considering it. 

Are you developing an equivalent to Sky’s AdSmart targeting service?

We have deployed the technology to do that but we haven’t yet commercialised it because we need to figure out how best to enter that market – how to package, sell and position that data in a way that’s of value to the market but doesn’t compromise people’s privacy.

What do you make of BARB’s plan to establish a working group to tackle the establishment of standardised cross-platform TV buying and selling data?

I think there’s a real need for it because there’s currently no currency or standard for measuring multi-screen entertainment, which is exploding. It’s timely and definitely something we ought to be involved in.

There’s a growing consumer demand for multi-screen entertainment, and therefore a growing demand from advertisers and content providers to understand how consumers are interacting with those devices and platforms. Otherwise it becomes difficult to develop those products, and to invest in those technologies, you need to understand how consumers are using them.

Cindy Rose was formerly senior VP and MD, EMEA, at Disney Interactive Media Group

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Published 13 October, 2011 by NMA Staff

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