Ooyala, Microsoft AI behind venture to curate the web for your TV

Ooyala told us this week about a new customer – one of the first in a while, which turns out to be ZoneTV, an interesting Canadian start up targeting the transfer of internet video to the TV (not the other way around).

It’s not really been on our radar before, despite a few releases, one in particular about running a Santa tracking service on Comcast’s Xfinity, and it claims a similar deal at DirecTV Now as well as deals at CenturyLink, Telus, Bell Canada and Frontier Communications .

ZoneTV began when former AT&T executive Jeff Weber, who claims to have led the AT&T Mediaroom effort which sprang it into IPTV services back in 2007, thought of the idea of using AI to extract video from the internet and turn it into a TV channel. The focus was on selecting (curating) content that is brand safe, sane, free, and both entertaining and of high quality. Now his service does this in almost real-time, using Microsoft’s AI tools, so that the YouTube generation feels that watching ZoneTV is the equivalent of a “lean back” internet experience.

Initially he launched it solely on Mediaroom, now owned by Ericsson, and has only recently, using Ooyala tools, moved it to an OTT platform for inclusion in any kind of pay TV service.

Initially the Santa Tracker that has got ZoneTV into multiple pay TV environments was a VoD service run through an app, triggered in the TV Guide area of these services.

It had a VoD movie section which included access to a dozen Christmas titles, including Elf, The Polar Express, Home Alone, Jingle All The Way, Jack Frost, and A Christmas Story.

ZoneTV also has a radio section, with Holiday Favorites, Holiday Kids and Smooth Jazz songs, and a read Along area with 15 book titles.

Now ZoneTV is turning all that content, designed for the most part for the Internet, into an app based series of themed TV channels which combine linear, on-demand and customized choices built around 6,000 hours of video.

The content in the specialized channels will be presented in a consumer-friendly manner using the ZoneTV Programming Studio, now integrated into Ooyala’s Flex CMS and with Video Indexer, part of Microsoft Cognitive Services, handling the curation. The entire service sits on Microsoft Azure cloud platform. It also includes content, such as the sport from the UK’s Big Balls Media, which ZoneTV has acquired rights to.

The platform automatically extracts and analyzes metadata to identify video genre and content sentiment, pulls topics from speech and text, translates captions into multiple languages and integrates subscriber analytics. This provides scalability for ZoneTV as it adds additional content, and eliminates most manual processes which slow content curation and often introduce errors.

The collaboration between ZoneTV and Ooyala includes full-featured workflow with operational and creative dashboards to allow editing, content review and metadata entry.

Ooyala says that Vudu, Star India, Sky Sports, ITV Studios, RTL, M6 Group, TV4 and Mediaset are among its OTT customers.