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18 November 2021

Gracenote should be disrupting Media Distillery, not partnering it

Gracenote has integrated Media Distillery’s EPG Correction technology into its Global Video Data offering to carve out more accurate replay and DVR functionality for pay TV operators, broadcasters and direct to consumer streaming services. What the press release doesn’t tell you is how the joint offering actually works, or how it came to being, or that there are already two tier 1 operator customers deploying it. Thankfully, Faultline has exclusives on all the above.

Earlier this year, following an interview with Media Distillery CEO Roland Sars, Faultline described how, on paper, Nielsen-owned Gracenote looks like the type of metadata giant that Media Distillery might aspire to topple, one day. Sars disagreed, responding with a plan for synergies and potential partnerships with Gracenote, as well as with other metadata suppliers – highlighting non-scripted live content as an addition to existing metadata workflows.

Months later, his vision has come true, forging a partnership that should springboard Media Distillery through the doors of operators that were previously out of reach.

The issue being addressed is that when programs overrun, viewers can be burdened with sitting through the end of the previous program, or even an unsolicited ad break that may sow a churn-inducing seed. Worse still, if a program starts early for one reason or another, then a subscriber will miss the start of a beloved title and be left questioning the point of even owning a DVR or using an operator’s replay/catch-up service, when so much great on-demand content is available OTT without these potential timing pitfalls.

Faultline has said in the past, when discussing EPG correction software, that such viewing inconveniences would have been considered mere trivialities years ago. In this day and age of viewing demands, however, any delay is unacceptable.

Media Distillery, a Dutch metadata extractor expert, has been championing this field for a while now, winning respectable contracts for its EPG Correction product at the likes of Liberty Global’s Telenet, VTR Chile, Proximus, and Portuguese operator NOS, which has deployed the technology across its 70 most popular channels for automatically adjusting start times for TV programs as they are broadcast, regardless of source.

While the partnership, on paper, looks like a metadata match made in heaven, the explicit contribution of Gracenote’s Global Video Data to the joint venture is unclear and unexplained in the press release. Faultline had to go on the hunt for detail, and representatives from both side of the coin explained that the technologies are functionally complementary – with Media Distillery handling ingest of programming metadata from Gracenote, where it performs time corrections, and then it provides the output back to Gracenote. The output then flows through Gracenote’s systems to the TV operator customer.

Against the backdrop of our initial cynicism, it has been emphasized that both parties perform critical functions. Gracenote takes the role of metadata aggregator, while Media Distillery is one source of metadata. “Gracenote’s video metadata is a fundamentally important input,” we are assured.

This collaboration hasn’t just been plucked out of thin air though, as apparently customers of both companies have explicitly asked for this pre-integration. “Existing customers and potential customers alike want to deploy both Gracenote’s and Media Distillery’s technologies,” the company representatives explained.

Under development for several months, Gracenote built a custom integration for Media Distillery’s API, removing the need for customers to integrate two sets of APIs and therefore reducing time and complex integration operations. That means earlier launches and earlier revenues for operators, plus improved EPG experiences for subscribers sooner.

So, with the joint offering, only the Gracenote API is needed, as Gracenote data serves as the core of many customers’ metadata platforms. Adding data sets with a single ID and data model makes the deployments easier, faster, and less resource-intensive, which has – as our opening gambit mentioned – already attracted two tier 1 deployments. These are both under NDAs for the time being.

The announcement says the combined offering will automatically update actual program start times in the guide in near real-time to benefit viewers, but didn’t Media Distillery’s EPG Correction do that already, without the Nielsen-owned company’s contribution?

Another factor from the Gracenote side is the way it simplifies program data creation at the country level, with its Global Video Data covering some 85 countries in 35 languages. While Media Distillery might be doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of EPG Correction specifically, Gracenote’s metadata clout is obviously quite a big deal, as well as the company’s reach to springboard Media Distillery into more operator accounts.

We should note that this all sounds heavily operator-specific, but the technology is also targeted towards OTT and broadcast spaces.

Earlier this year, for example, we heard UK broadcaster and streaming service provider ITV declare its use of Media Distillery’s EPG Correction technology (although, strangely, Media Distillery has denied having a customer relationship with ITV). This turned out to be a highly stimulating talk, as ITV’s Director of Digital Products, Steve Forde, left his neighboring Gracenote panelist red-faced by saying that broadcasters like ITV need to own the kind of tools that Gracenote provides, not pay someone else for.

At the time, Gracenote’s Simon Miller, MD of International, half-agreed, acknowledging broadcasters’ demand for control while emphasizing the consistent structure of metadata and how Gracenote works with thousands of sources around the world to ensure things are tagged properly.

It was interesting that Miller described the importance of broadcasters owning and maintain control pf their own metadata as an area that Gracenote is looking at moving into, without explaining how. This week’s partnership with Media Distillery might be interpreted as Gracenote’s first move towards appeasing broadcasters on that front. Either that or an attempt to convince ITV otherwise.