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16 June 2022

Xperi CEO cuts lost figure in data privacy debate with VideoAmp

Were it not for a small TiVo logo etched into the virtual background behind the head of CEO Jon Kirchner during Xperi’s recent Media Day executive panel session, you wouldn’t even know the company was still associated with TiVo.

Of course, that TiVo logo won’t be shielded under the Xperi umbrella for much longer. The US firm is now more than three months into the separation process that aims to scale its products business independently of licensing operations. The longing for Xperi to distance itself from TiVo was palpable during the event, with Kirchner failing to mention the veteran video technology division once by name – surely an insult to everything TiVo has achieved.

Kirchner didn’t even nibble at the baited attempts of former TiVo employee Jonathan Steuer, now EVP of TV Strategy and Currency at advertising data expert VideoAmp, who referenced stark lessons from his time at TiVo that are transferrable to today’s divisive data privacy world – with consumer trust forming the thrust of discussions during Xperi’s Media Day.

Steuer spoke a lot of sense. The same cannot be said for Kirchner, whose endless connected car analogies were lost in a conversation centered around the underlying data that makes streaming media tick – from advertising to recommendations. We acknowledge that more cars will be fitted with more TVs in the future, but this wasn’t the time or place for self-driving dreams.

The two executives clashed on consumer privacy apathy. Kirchner takes the view that consumers didn’t care that much about data privacy at the beginning of the internet revolution, and while that has progressed slightly, he suggests it has largely been left to the industry itself to progress and create more privacy-conscious consumer experiences based on more intelligent data.

Steuer disagrees with the conventional wisdom that privacy is dead. “I think that’s wrong, people do care. I remember my TiVo days about how data was shared and it’s nice to see that percolate through the ecosystem – where people are doing a better job to transition to a streaming world than the display advertising ecosystem did,” said Steuer.

Instead of feeding the audience examples of how Xperi has been actively addressing data privacy in its consumer-facing operations, Kirchner waxed lyrical about how the industry has a ton of work to do with unifying audiences – and how it’s still “early innings” in the broader understanding of how audiences work.

While Steuer is under no illusions that the video streaming industry is a long way from nailing anything close to comprehensive consumer trust, we learned about VideoAmp’s work on trying to assemble datasets that help understand the evolving ecosystem to create better ad experiences.

VideoAmp’s core belief – which really goes without saying for an ad tech firm – is that subscription dollars alone are not enough to support the future of content experiences for everyone.

What’s clear, to summarize some of Steuer’s reflections, is that the environment is changing from what was initially a digital data landgrab around the first wave of internet advertising, to one of consent and permission-based frameworks, as well as constructs like digital clean rooms which are allowing companies to share data and answer very specific questions without violating consumer privacy rights.

It may seem counterintuitive that by sharing more consumer data between organizations like VideoAmp on the ad data side, with Xperi on the consumer product side, and with Hotwire Communications on the service provider side (unfortunately Hotwire was a lost voice during the panel). Yet by collaborating on privacy data sharing in a way that still maintains consumer trust and transparency, the industry can thrive.

For instance, if lots of different companies have various datasets from a number of streaming services, then you can have a computational environment run a query across all those environments and join these together for the purpose of answering one question.

Steuer gives the example of whether you have sent an ad to the same household too many times? Or is this TV genre popular across all these particular streaming services such that your content recommendation tool can do a better job?

VideoAmp is also using these evolving datasets to roll out features such as suppressing certain ads for viewers which have already seen those ads, across both linear TV and streaming services.

Restoring the cynical cap, Steuer warned, “Figuring out how to use data is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I learned from my TiVo days that preprocessing, cleaning and commingling set top or smart TV data is really hard – to get to the point where you can answer questions where it’s actually useful for businesses.”

This quote pretty much epitomizes where the industry is at – and why vendors like VideoAmp are being so successful in carefully guiding the $billions of ad dollars from linear TV to streaming.

We enjoyed Steuer’s selfless shoutouts to start-ups that VideoAmp is currently working with to bridge the accountability gap. A privacy enablement platform provider called Qonsent is trying to push in the direction of having active conversations, rather than relying on a set of assumptions, by having consumers fill in profiles about themselves and then agree on what data can be sold to which marketers, in return for actual benefits.

“Hopefully consumers are willing to engage in that conversation,” said Steuer, although we feel only a small subset of privacy-savvy consumers will take time out to fill in yet another online form. Most just want an instant experience, although legislative pressure could help with this effort to move towards an opt-in/consensual environment (more like Europe’s GDPR laws) to provide more trusted ad experiences.

That said, many consumers would be horrified at the extent what goes on behind the scenes, such as data matching and wholesale shipping of data from one place to another.

Blockgraph, a decentralized media network, is another emerging vendor VideoAmp is impressed with – working with MVPDs to look at privacy-enabled sharing data.

“We are finally getting to world where, with crypto and other tools, we can move past the creepy data world to a sharing responsibly world,” added Steuer. The blockchain discussion is one for another day.

A final word from Xperi. Kirchner noted that Xperi is investing significantly in edge computing and machine learning to help address privacy issues (again without any examples).

“We are absolutely at the beginning of a massive move to edge-based computing, as it’s the only way you’re going to be able to manage a lot of these attendant issues in effective and more efficient ways,” commented Kirchner.