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9 January 2020

Gracenote Global OTT Guide seeks disruptive common EPG backbone

It’s about time the EPG as we know it got a lethal dose of disruption and metadata expert Gracenote has thrown its hat into the ring this week at CES with what the Nielsen-owned company is calling the Global OTT Guide. What Gracenote really meant to say is that it can now talk publicly about a number of tier 1 operators and major device manufacturers using the technology.

A throwaway comment was dropped into Gracenote’s CES press release talking about expanding into Europe. While we were already aware of Gracenote’s OTT Guide (usually called something else) the vendor told Faultline that its OTT Guide offerings have never been publicly announced until now, despite being available to the market for some time and in wide usage.

“What we can say on background is that in Europe, Virgin Media UK and Deutsche Telekom, which have integrated Netflix and Maxdome, are using our offerings. In addition, several of the largest global OTT device makers including Roku, Google and Amazon are on board,” explained a Gracenote representative.

Clearly these customer names are headline worthy, yet Gracenote instead used its announcement to look at the bigger picture.

Someone was always going to come up with an entirely new way of creating the metadata descriptions within video titles. Usually, when Faultline pays a visit to the Gracenote stand at a major show, along with the likes of TiVo and other pioneers, it’s the same old story of adding more searchable words and terms, with more refined search results based on an increasingly complex web of genres, moods, cast members, and more. It’s time that changed.

In short, Gracenote wants to tap into and dominate the SVoD stacking trend. While streaming services want to appear as a regular pay TV channel on a cable or satellite EPG, the pay TV service providers in turn desperately want to (need to) launch OTT video apps to complement their existing linear services (which is frankly just a nice way of saying offsetting declines).

For each side of the video coin to do this, Gracenote claims a critical element to the UX is ensuring a common set of features among these fundamentally different services – for example sharing the same universal search, parental controls and similar discovery features. Gracenote cites smart TV manufacturers as facing a minefield of streaming services and managing endless proprietary feeds and ID systems.

The idea of a common search is a frequently floated concept that is usually popped back into its jar before it can breed, for the same reason the idea of a common message platform is shutdown as undesirable. While the TV search lines are certainly blurring, the majority of consumers still prefer silos, it’s just a fact.

However, forming a common platform for the underlying metadata of certain features, across a variety of services and different devices, could – in theory – encourage viewers away from siloed experiences. In doing so, it would benefit both the broadcast and streaming industries. The same benefits might not be said to apply for Gracenote’s competitors in the TV metadata sector.

So, how does Gracenote plan to crack this nut? The vendor is marketing its OTT guide as the connective tissue between services, platforms and devices. This tissue comprises four technical fibers – unique IDs, descriptive metadata, custom content imagery, and streaming service feeds.

The first layer is made up of unique Gracenote IDs – powering universal search capabilities by linking related content assets. These unique IDs are designed to help OTT services gain competitive advantages by surfacing titles across various platforms while enabling easy one-click viewing.

This critical component comes from the Video ID Distribution product launched by Gracenote at IBC, designed to allow networks and studios to register content in the Gracenote Video Database to obtain content tags for use in search and discovery.

Below these IDs lies the metadata layer, where Gracenote’s Advanced Video Descriptors power content recommendations and navigation. These descriptors include metrics like mood, theme, setting and character attributes. Then comes the imagery layer, which is tasked with populating the OTT guide interfaces and carousels with content, such as episode-level images and cast photos.

Finally, comes the deep linking of all this data to ultimately integrate a streaming service into mobile, set tops and smart TVs. Gracenote’s Chief Product Officer Simon Adams addressed our earlier point on deepening content catalogs. “While much of the focus in the streaming wars has been on the largest catalogs and original content. The winners will also understand how to successfully integrate with a diverse set of video platforms,” he said.

While talking about its expansion into Europe for the first time, Gracenote is now lauding itself as the world’s top OTT guide provider with coverage of more than 200 catalogs in 13 markets globally.

Faultline pondered towards the end of 2019 what would come of Gracenote following the decision by its measurement giant parent company to spin off the Global Connect business into a separately run company. We were reassured that Gracenote was going nowhere and would remain an integral component of Nielsen’s Global Media business, and we would expect nothing less from Gracenote than an aggressive start to 2020 at CES.