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30 April 2020

ThinkAnalytics closer to AT&T scalp as sabbatical brings in DirecTV, HBO

A pleasant surprise arrived from the recommendation software sector this week, with ThinkAnalytics delivering the news that revenues have grown 30% over the past year on the back of two mega customer deals – HBO and DirecTV.

ThinkAnalytics often likes to sneak out a rare performance indicator, despite not being publicly listed. Despite delivering the news during Q1 2020 results season, this revenue increase was for the year period ending December 2019, so any impact on business during the harsh first quarter is not reflected here, although ThinkAnalytics’ services were likely in exceptionally high demand during this period.

Naturally, we were immediately in touch with ThinkAnalytics to scrape the barrel for details on word of its flagship personalization platform and ThinkInsight technology gaining momentum in the US market. The UK vendor was not at liberty to divulge much information on the intricacies of its contracts at these two AT&T-owned beasts, and it wasn’t until receiving the US version of the press release that it became clear the deals are for HBO Latin America and DirecTV Latin America.

Not quite the crown jewels but, nevertheless, this is most serendipitous. Almost exactly a year ago, in early May 2019, Faultline wrote, “For us, AT&T has always represented a sizable hole in the customer list of market frontrunner ThinkAnalytics” – and while the company has not explicitly landed AT&T as a customer, it has nudged in through two doors within the US operator’s complex web of operations. Higher powers within AT&T and WarnerMedia will now begin to take note of what ThinkAnalytics can do.

For years, Israeli discovery software firm Jinni powered video recommendations across AT&T’s website delivery. However, the rise of in-app video viewing squeezed Jinni out of favor eventually at the US operator and we have spent the past few years trying to ascertain evidence of a replacement recommendation system sliding in at AT&T. It was assumed that most discovery software had been brought in-house following the Time Warner deal, to harmonize video data across platforms.

ThinkAnalytics’ contracts at HBO and DirecTV in Latin America are therefore the closest evidence of a switch out we have seen. However, ThinkAnalytics Founder and CTO Peter Docherty explained that it wasn’t Jinni at DirecTV, but another recent vendor.

“Many of the large streamers do have their own solutions and initiatives as some were burnt by recommendations engine vendors that failed to deliver in terms of breadth of product, reliability and especially scalability. This is why it has taken us time to crack some of these larger players as you do get tarred with the same brush. However, ThinkAnalytics has always prided itself in having many large scale operators stemming right back to our first customers like Sky and Virgin, now LGI, running multi million subscriber deployments,” Docherty explained to Faultline.

We don’t know much about DirecTV LatAm’s technology stack, other than it being a stronghold for French firm Wyplay, which has supplied its Frog middleware for a number of years and we suspect has since been upgraded to Android TV Operator Tier.

In the case of HBO Max, we have no word of any third-party software suppliers supporting the personalization exploits ahead of the new OTT video platform’s launch later this month. However, we get the impression AT&T is using HBO Max as a miscellaneous training exercise – rather than a well-oiled data harvesting machine that we associate ThinkAnalytics with.

For example, AT&T recently described Recommended by Humans, an HBO Max feature that is an insult to every content recommendation algorithm ever written. This is aimed at attracting younger viewers, offering content suggestions from real-life social media influencers via short-form videos. To quell concerns that the system is not nearly as dumb as the “influencers” presenting the recommendations, analytics will still be heavily involved.

Another forthcoming HBO Max feature is called Co-Viewing. AT&T says content recommendations are skewed when a subscriber is watching with friends or family members, an apparent problem HBO Max is solving with a shared homepage. This segregates content from the main personal homepage, tailored for the tastes of the group as a whole. Neat but not revolutionary.

ThinkAnalytics is targeting big things this year – expecting upgrades to the ThinkInsight system at the majority of its customer base. Beyond the vendor’s famous content recommendation capabilities, ThinkInsight is a real-time dashboard and analytics platform designed to guide service providers in sculpting the UX and content upselling, as well as its bread and butter of more poignant title recommendations.

Like Jinni, ThinkAnalytics gained a reputation for making more compelling and sometimes unexpected recommendations, fine tuning its engine with techniques considered more subtle and advanced than collaborative filtering.

That said, ThinkAnalytics has been busy expanding its range of AI and machine learning algorithms and techniques, as well as metadata enrichment capabilities and of course human curation which is still required, through its growing team of data and information scientists.

Other recent wins include BBC, Deutsche Telecom, Italian public broadcaster RAI and Sky New Zealand – driving ThinkAnalytics to delivering over 6 billion recommendations each day to more than 350 million users in 43 languages. That’s a sizable uptick of 100 million users over the last time we heard some six or seven months ago.