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12 December 2019

3SS, Media Distillery, XroadMedia tie-up – a masterclass or overkill?

A front-end TV software developer, an AI-based video analytics outfit and a content discovery vendor walk into a bar. After several buzzword cocktails, the trio hit it off and the resulting collaboration is an AI-led linear on-demand Android TV platform which on the surface appears to have all the minerals to stand head and shoulders above competing services. But is this a case of too many cooks spoil the broth?

This is the love triangle formed between 3SS, Media Distillery and XroadMedia late last week. 3SS brings its revered 3Ready UI framework to the fore, while Media Distillery provides machine learning algorithms designed to detect and index content, which adds a new element to XroadMedia’s personalization engine. This combination of technologies is ultimately creating a linear on-demand experience, a term coined by 3SS back at IBC 2016 to demonstrate increasing viewer demand for highly-personalized, playlist-like channels created on the fly.

We have observed companies like Pluto TV burst onto the online video aggregation scene with linear on-demand capabilities, prompting a $340 million swoop by Viacom, and only last week we reported how ShortsTV is trying to disrupt the short-form streaming market with its Spotify-esque approach. Now, 3SS, Media Distillery and XroadMedia want to empower operators to do the same – providing multiple layers of metadata to keep eyeballs from drifting away from their content. And what better platform to do it on than Android TV operator tier?

Let’s break it down. Germany’s 3SS has come to prominence with its customizable front-end tools, which easily let customers introduce new services to subscribers. The 3Ready product was launched over three years ago for linear on-demand and the injection of data from Media Distillery and XroadMedia could be interpreted as a huge step forward, or an admission that 3SS did not have the personalization clout to enable truly linear on-demand experiences on its own. Operators want serious upticks in viewership and fast.

We’d argue that 3SS was ahead of the curve and most operators weren’t prepared to relinquish such a vast amount of viewer data to a platform pushing a viewing format outside the traditional pay TV comfort zone.

That’s where its two partners come in. Media Distillery, which Faultline listened to at an event in London last week, uses a combination of machine learning techniques to identify visual and audial aspect data inside video – including faces, speech, objects, logos and text. Through a deep content understanding of what comprises a title, Media Distillery claims this is the most efficient way of yielding accurate search results.

Crucially from the monetization angle, the Dutch firm also puts its AI to task on advertisements. Media Distillery’s CEO Roland Sars gave the example last week, “If a viewer leaves after 15 seconds then we can safely assume they didn’t like what they were seeing. Say it was a car advert, we can collect this data and personalize content accordingly.” He added that jumping ship could be based on the type of car, rather than a disinterest in cars in general, which the system must consider.

From this data, flexible linear on-demand channels are created based on XroadMedia’s content discovery and personalization software. This learns from selection patterns and viewing history across multiple sources of content – including third-party OTT video services – presented in navigable linear playlists. This is based on the Ncanto discovery software from XroadMedia.

Together, these three vendors are imploring pay TV operators to throw down the gauntlet to the online content aggregators – essentially creating rivaling channels to those provided by the likes of Pluto TV and ShortsTV. We have reached out to for confirmation about how the system interacts with other linear on-demand channels in operator environments – if at all.

The 3SS team was too busy finishing open tests for the close of 2019 to reply, but XroadMedia’s Founder and CCO Tom Dvorak was on hand for comment. “An operator using our linear on-demand solution will be able to create or let their users create personalized linear on-demand channels. These channels can be filled with any content the user has access to and even more, as we can offer snackable content as well. For example, we can create snackable, topic-driven clips (e.g. a news show) and those clips can then be recommended to users and inserted into the linear on-demand channels. This way the user can also discover relevant content which was not originally part of the service delivery of the service provider,” explained Dvorak.

As we mentioned in our coverage of ShortsTV last week, the US short-form start-up transformed its business by looking at what Spotify was doing in the music app market with its intelligent playlist-curating algorithms. Not only does Spotify offer tailor made playlists, but has a neat Artist Radio feature which continues playing similar tracks after an album has finished, encouraging additional listening rather than shutting off abruptly.

While long pioneered by YouTube, linear on-demand has only in the last few years crept into the operator environment. Subscription-based ShortsTV has enjoyed particular success in India, where it now boasts reaching 100 million viewers through DTH operator partnerships, and wants to take this to the next level by adding social viewing feature.

Media Distillery and 3SS have collaborated previously on a pre-integrated AI platform promising “unprecedented TV service personalization.” The duo claim operators will benefit from a wide combination of machine learning techniques to identify, understand and index aspects of content – such as faces, speech, topics and logos – to enable more diverse and accurate search results. The offering combines the 3Ready front end and UI product from 3SS with Media Distillery’s AI technology.

Importantly, the 3SS 3Ready product enables voice control, tightly integrated with the new highly-personalized, AI-powered Android TV platform so viewers can create unique channels via conversational interaction.

“The resultant deep, detailed, accurate searching is generations beyond what’s possible with traditional EPG, metadata and UIs. Enhanced voice search plus rich metadata gives operators a powerful set of capabilities which transforms the searching act, yielding superior customer experiences and monetization possibilities,” promises the press release.

The product is being marketed as the most advanced linear on-demand personalization machine out there today and is certainly impressive, yet the launch also mirrors what we warned back at IBC – that vendors are huddling together in increasingly congested markets like Android TV to differentiate. And with that, comes sacrificing a larger slice of the pie.