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I Want To Change TV: Mitch Berman, CEO of ZillionTV (Part 5)

Posted on Sunday, Mar 8th 2009

SM: The one thing I see in what you have talked about is the user experience. The user interaction with Netflix is fragmented. You are saying that you have cut out the computer and are allowing the entire experience to happen via a remote control.

MB: That is one of the key differentiating factors between ZillionTV and everyone else, including cable operators and independent set-top boxes.

SM: They all have a different dynamic in regards to the user experience.

MB: They are different, but we believe nobody does it the way we do. That is intellectual property embedded within our service. There is a motion sensing capability and the ability to search on television, which is unique to ZillionTV. There are no grid guides.

SM: What is so big about being able to search on television?

MB: As the channel universe has expanded on TV, consumers have become frustrated trying to find what they want to watch, easily. In ZillionTV’s world, we do not do channels. We do destinations. Moreover, we enable consumers to search easily and quickly by title, genre, actor and more. Again, this is unique to ZillionTV on the TV set.

SM: Understood, but by going to a stored database model as opposed to a scheduled programming model, you are by definition bypassing that. You have to have a search. Today, with where we are in the history of technology, a search on a database is not rocket science. That is a toy.

MB: I would disagree. It is one of the holy grails that the competitors you have mentioned are working on feverishly. The ability to give consumers the ability to search through thousands of human interests is critical to the success of a TV service.

Remember, we need to divorce television from the PC and Internet. Internet searches are a huge business. Yahoo! and Google cut their teeth on that. In the TV world, everyone is relegated to grid guides. Being able to find what you want and get that experience personalized is everything that ZillionTV is about.

SM: Grid guides as a concept came from scheduled programming. If you are not doing scheduled programming, how is your search capability different from any other data repository search?

MB: You should go and see how people can search for titles on TV now. They can’t.

SM: I just don’t see that as a long-term differentiator and how you are going to be positioned.

MB: Search is just one aspect. ZillionTV is about delivering a personalized, multidimensional experience. ZillionTV has the ability to do commerce, watch programming supported by personalized ads, and select programs tailored to your interests. Or, because of the intelligence we have behind this, we can send you movies, television shows, sporting events and other programming specific to you.

SM: Netflix and Amazon do that as well.

MB: They don’t. Not on television.

SM: Not on television, but they are using recommendation engines. If they have a recommendation engine underneath, moving that to the television is easy.

MB: With all due respect, if it were easy to get to a TV set, many would have already done so. Moreover, this is not about a PC environment, it’s about a television environment.

SM: Who cares? It is software. Behind the scenes and screen it is software. You are in the domain of digital.

MB: I want you to find me a television service that allows you to do what you just said. TV recommendations via intelligent software for TV does not exist. It is a key differentiator that one day will be available. But for now, it is elusive.

To give TV viewers an experience that allows them to sit back, relax and get a personalized service specific to their interests, automatically, is going to be a powerful application available one day.

SM: Personalization from a computer science point of view is an incredibly different problem. Amazon and Netflix do that on a PC and they are some of the best out there. The point is that what they are doing on a PC is driven by software and is thus easily transported to the TV environment.

MB: Again, I disagree with your portrayal of “easy.” We have a whole team of human beings down here working on that problem. It is the holy grail of our industry.

SM: The science behind the problem is difficult. If you are saying that you have solved it with a new recommendation engine that is better than anything else out there, then that is IP that can differentiate. Until I see it in action I am not going to buy it.

MB: Again, one day a proficient recommendation engine for TV will be available. Right now, it is elusive. We are working with our partners, such as Visa, who have terrific tools and experience melding consumer behavior into predictive behavior.

SM: They have bought your hypothesis. You have not delivered that yet.

MB: We are doing it now in trials rolling out across the country. Right now we are in the “prove it” mode.

This segment is part 5 in the series : I Want To Change TV: Mitch Berman, CEO of ZillionTV
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