Using MyDTV's TV Agent service, Time Warner Cable's Desert Cities, Calif., system, showed a 35% drop in digital churn and a 40% increase in PPV usage during a trial run.
The trial base was small — only several hundred homes — and Time Warner has made no commitment for a wider rollout of the service.
But the results give the fledgling company a shot in the arm and impressed the judges at Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing enough to win MyDTV a retention case-study competition award at next week's CTAM Summit in Seattle.
The MyDTV product suite comprises three elements: TV Agent, Content IQ and PromoLogic.
The core product is TV Agent, which uses an on-screen crawl to alert subscribers to programming in which they may be interested. It solves the dilemma programmers face in getting their content exposed to the right audience, while aiding consumers in the task of wading through hundreds of channels to figure out what to watch.
"TV Agent's ability to put the subscriber in control of easily selecting programming and segment data that they value is the key reason that churn significantly decreased and PPV upsell dramatically improved," said MyDTV CEO Bow Rodgers. "TV Agent is where our technical superiority and effort is."
TV Agent captures metadata-type information from programmers on topics or people contained in their programs. For Bloomberg TV, for instance, TV Agent will log the time that a certain news segment airs within a given hour, how long the segment runs and who will appear on camera.
Bloomberg supplies that information via data stream, along with the video feed it delivers to a cable operator's headend.
For example, a viewer who set a preference for Iraq news would see an on-screen notice about an Iraq report on Bloomberg prior to its airing, no matter which channel they were watching.
"We see that granularity and take that traffic information and turn it into a common form of metadata that we can use in a variety of distribution systems," Rodgers said.
MyDTV collects that information from various cable networks and stores it on a server in a cable operator's headend.
"On the receiving end is the Content IQ software," Rodgers said. The software resides in the set-top box, along with a graphical user interface.
Subscribers initially set up a "default tree" on the main MyDTV menu screen, using their remote control to indicate their level of interest in certain news topics, sports teams, Hollywood actors or actresses, etc.
The MyDTV categories in the Time Warner test included headlines, public affairs, business, technology, entertainment, weather and sports. Consumers could enter hundreds of topic areas or keywords under those categories and TV Agent would scan the program listings.
"That helps us with conflict resolution," Rodgers said. "We did this because we wanted not to overwhelm anybody and we wanted to give them a variety of choices to test," he said.
Different members of any household could also have their own unique preference list.
In Desert Cities, MyDTV scanned content from Bloomberg, Court TV, TechTV, the local ABC affiliate, plus a few other programmers. It also scanned movie titles across various basic, pay and PPV services, gathering data from Tribune Media Services.
Rodgers said he's had conversations with other programmers, including executives from NBC and ESPN.
"We have debates about, are we taking someone to your program or away from your program?" he said.
For instance, if consumers know when a specific SportsCenter
segment is coming up, would they be less inclined to watch the whole show, waiting for what they want? Conversely, if consumers are watching another network, could the reminder send them to ESPN, which they might not otherwise be watching?
Rodgers said MyDTV is in discussions with QVC because the home-shopping network knows some consumers may not want to sit through certain programs before getting to the items they are interested in purchasing.
The notices that flash on-screen can be set up for delivery up to 10 minutes in advance, he said.
In the Time Warner test, the TV Agent content was broadcast out-of-band through the Scientific-Atlanta Inc. headend system to each home. The Content IQ agent in each set-top then decided which programs to display, based on the preferences that each home filled out.
MyDTV also controls the number of alerts given to consumers. Rodgers said the tests show most people like between four and five content alerts each hour; these are refreshed on an hourly basis.
The third element in MyDTV's package, the PromoLogic tool, helps programmers by providing a pop-up advertising opportunity to push people to their programs.
As part of the test in Desert Cities, MyDTV commissioned Horowitz Associates Inc. to survey MyDTV users. Among the findings: 55% of the people using MyDTV said they would pay between 50 cents and $1 per month for the service.
Another 70% said the information MyDTV delivered, based on their preferences, was very or extremely accurate. "That was very, very encouraging," Rodgers said.
In other findings: 90% of users saw an alert for a program or topic they set at least once; 84% switched to a channel or program after an alert; 47% of users said they'd like to see TV Agent as a permanent part of their digital-cable service; and 43% said it added value to digital service.
Not all the channels were scanned in Desert Cities, including some of cable's more popular channels, such as ESPN, Cable News Network and MTV: Music Television. But the local TV station provided local and national sports news, so San Diego Padres fans could get highlights from the ABC affiliate, versus ESPN.
And since Desert Cities is home to an older demographic base, users may not have missed being unable to find Matchbox 20 on MTV.
"We gave them more than enough to chew on," Rodgers said, "It only gets better from here."
Next up: Rodgers said Time Warner plans to test MyDTV in its Charlotte, N.C., lab, to provide a more rigorous workout for the service in conjunction with other services, such as VOD. From there, he hopes the Desert Cities test will serve as a precursor to full-fledged MSO deployments.