TiVo big reveal is voice search on the new Sky Q box

TiVo teased us last year with claims that a major European operator would be launching an intelligent voice search service using its technology, and this week that name has finally been revealed as Sky. The European satellite giant will be updating its Sky Q set top to integrate TiVo voice search functionality, as well as prioritizing how it interacts with social networks.

In May 2016, as we compiled data for our OTT Intelligence report on Recommendations systems, Rovi (as it was then) told us that it had landed one of the top 3 players in Europe for its voice search, and although we guessed it might be Sky, we could not publish it at the time.

In the long term, this looks to us like more than just Sky adding a fun feature to its new set tops. As Sky’s broadband-focused strategy begins to take off in the coming years and it makes increasingly intelligent improvements to its WiFi mesh gateways, the ownership of voice functionality within the connected home could be the key to total ownership of the connected home, or somewhere pretty close to it.

This market is currently being dominated by Amazon’s Echo device with Alexa AI assistant, given its convenient size and cheap price tag, but the pay TV giants will not sit back idly and let the internet behemoths take control.

Sky is adding a dedicated voice search button onto the side of its Ruwido touch remote controls for making search requests, using TiVo’s natural language search technology. The search software is based on a knowledge graph engine and entertainment metadata, which TiVo says can understand conversations and trends. That knowledge graph engine we know comes out of its Veveo acquisition it completed in 2014.

The Veveo Knowledge Graph can crawl the internet looking for entertainment, and it can map relationships, discussions and number of mentions and uses machine learning. So, for instance it will understand that GoT means Game of Thrones. It also takes usage information about choices people make on the internet and maps usage of language to a natural language processor. It can also be used to personalize media during playout.

TiVo keeps its knowledge graph up to date using news crawlers and raw data ingest, and mentions that it includes data produced by behavioral indicators from social networks – presumably to produce search results based on a user’s interests on Facebook. This does not replace the recommendation system at Sky, which uses ThinkAnalytics, although we’re sure that TiVo will be pushing hard to suggest that it would work better with its own DigitalSmiths inherited recommendation technology. We think that’s an unlikely outcome since it can take a long time to integrate a recommendation system with UI and middleware.

Sky has added a clever feature to the voice search system which allows users to recite a well-known line from a certain movie to bring up the content, such as “what’s the name of the movie where the guy says “Say hello to my little friend,” – which will bring up the Scarface gangster movie. Sky has not revealed how many movies can be searched for in this way, but TiVo admits it is not all of them.

We like this feature. Will it become a main feature of the Sky service? It would be good for when subscribers can’t remember the title of a movie, so attempt to search for it based on a one-liner they have remembered from a trailer, for example.

The system also caters for more detailed searches such as “show me the live football matches on TV this weekend” or “are any funny movies showing tonight?”. Users can also combine genres with a specific actor’s name.

Liberty Global’s Virgin Media in the UK is a long-standing customer of TiVo, and Virgin Media only recently launched its 4K version of TiVo on new V6 set top hardware, to challenge the launch of Sky Q. Voice search functionality is lacking on the V6, but it will be interesting to see if Virgin Media takes enough interest in this feature to deploy it in the future.

One way this could come to fruition, and perhaps even top Sky’s TiVo voice system, is if Liberty Global takes a leaf out of the Comcast book, as it was recently hinted to at Cable Congress that a relationship between the two is beginning to blossom from across the pond.

TiVo briefly mentioned that Sky will be more closely integrating social networks as part of the Sky Q set top, but the details of specifically how this ties into search results was not touched upon. The recently revealed voice search strategy from Comcast, on the other hand, integrates content directly from various sources such as YouTube and Netflix alongside its own results.

Comcast puts this OTT aggregation strategy down to the impressive uptake of 13 million of its X1 voice remotes – 8 million of which have been rolled out in the last year, also powered by TiVo. Liberty Global will certainly be taking note.

Sky’s brand director of TV and content products, Luke Bradley-Jones, said: “With Sky Q, we continue to innovate and bring fantastic new features to our customers, who we know are watching more TV than ever before. We want to make it even faster and easier for them to search, discover and watch TV. That’s why we’ve introduced voice search. With the technology delivered by TiVo, we are enabling our customers to use natural, voice-based queries to find new and favorite TV to enjoy.”

TiVo’s SVP and GM of advanced search and recommendations, Matt Berry, added: “with more and more content choices and a great range of entertainment available across TV, TiVo is helping partners like Sky provide the best user experience while driving content consumption. We are pleased to extend our long-standing relationship with Sky. This implementation further reinforces the value of TiVo’s product portfolio in bringing the latest capabilities to pay TV homes across Europe.”