The Art of Content Discovery

  |   Commentary

A Matter of Taste & Tools

By Rhodes Mason


The big topic in the world of TV Everywhere is content discovery.  I can relate because I am a movie and TV geek.  Avatar to Zelig.  Bogart to Willis.  Dexter to Walking Dead. I’m a fan of them all.  I was one of those kids who skipped school to stand in line on the opening day of The Empire Strikes Back. (I did it again for Pink Floyd’s The Wall  – my algebra teacher saw me leaving the theater.) I even went to film school.   I have spent more time with movies and TV than any other type of entertainment

While most consumers may not have watched as much as I have, they still want to find good new content on a regular basis. This is why content discovery is such an important challenge for our industry.  The better job we do helping connect consumers to the content they want, the more we all win.

The IVA team has spent a lot of time this past year thinking about content discovery as part of our overhaul of  Video Detective is the perfect lab for us.  We can try ideas and products there before they are offered to our clients.  So let me use some of our discussions as a jumping off point for talking about the art of content discovery.

Crowd-sourcing    Crowd-sourcing has been a hot concept for a couple of years, and there’s no question that it’s invaluable.  Netflix and Amazon have pioneered the art of making recommendations based on the extensive database of activity of their users.  But there are a lot of steps involved in getting it right. Crowd sourcing works for identifying the obvious choices, but it would be great to see personalized recommendations that will also find the forgotten movie gems I am always seeking.

A Question of Taste   Knowing a consumer’s taste is critical to making great personalized recommendations.    But how do you find out about taste without bogging consumers down with an hour-long questionnaire? Ask just a handful of key questions.  What are their favorite genres, actors/actresses, directors, and all time favorite movies and shows.

It is a safe assumption that if I like a particular director or actor, I will like more of their work.   Knowing a couple of movies or TV shows that are my favorites can guide me to other similar titles based on genres, directors, cast, etc. Your company can leverage Facebook for access to consumer profile and even their friend’s profiles.  This can kick-start your content discovery engine with more titles that your consumers like.

Recommendation Filters   Of course, it’s not enough to just gather the data. What is needed is a relational database that captures this information and matches the data to other titles. With thousands of movies and TV programs available today, there can be a lot of content to wade through. So, you still need to allow the best recommendations to float to the top. A company called The Filter can help improve your recommendations using criteria like

  • Social Media – If consumers allow you to access their Facebook friend’s info, you can use that data to see what movies are most popular among that user’s network.
  • Critic Ratings – Rotten Tomatoes and MRQE aggregate critical ratings and reviews and are a good vehicle for identifying better titles.
  • Social Ratings – Flixster has a huge database of users rating movies.
  • Awards– movies that win awards such as an Oscar, Golden Globe, etc. lends credibility to the film’s credentials – and yours!  Nominations and winners are easily found online in many places – including from IVA.
  • Box Office Gross – Popularity is one of the best barometers of potential interest, and box office gross is a great indicator of popularity. is the industry’s source for weekly grosses.
  • IVA Charts – Our weekly charts of Most Anticipated Movies based on trailer places is a great indicator of potential interest for films that haven’t been released.

Changing Tides   Consumer habits can change.  Documentaries have gotten more popular since Michael Moore and YouTube.  SciFi titles are bigger than ever, and girls play videogames.  So even after you’ve captured your first round of data, you have to update it with “real-time” data.     At VideoDetective we’re using the titles a user chooses to track in their profile the same way Netflicks tracks movies in your queue or the way Amazon tracks your book purchases.

Closing the Sale   Once a consumer gets to a title they are interested in, there are two things that are important to helping them make a final decision:  data and video.

Data about the title will help inform the consumer about the movie.  IVA provides the basics of director, cast, genre, rating, description, etc.   If it’s a foreign title, they might want to know if it’s available dubbed or with sub-titles.  We also work with a variety of top-notch data providers including Rovi, Gracenote, Baseline, and IMDB.  So depending on your target audience you can choose the level of detail you want to provide.

Now, I might be biased here, but trailers have been proven time and again to be one of the most important drivers for consumers to push the play/buy button.  Trailers have been part of movie marketing since the beginning and now in the digital age play even a greater role.   The “try before you buy” proposition is one of the oldest in marketing but is also one of the most trusted.  Today, trailers build buzz, go viral, build anticipation and are clearly the best tool in movie and TV marketing.  Having video at the point-of-purchase is not only logical, it is critical to driving greater consumption.

Availability   Once you connect someone to a title that interests him or her it’s helpful to let them know where to watch it. Movie interest starts at theatrical just as TV programs start at broadcast.  But today much viewing happens at VOD and streaming. So there is value in promoting throughout the life cycle of the content. Lastly, having awards,  box office, or Nielsen data lends credibility to your recommendations.

The last piece of the content discovery engine is the user interface (UI).  Perfecting a UI is truly an art and there is much room for variation.  Great UI is easy to use and visually appealing.  It includes intuitive navigation, speed, and a multitude of other ingredients about which much has been written elsewhere.  For movies and TV, good UI includes using images such as posters, stills, or box art is a powerful way to assist navigation.

With touch screens, voice-activation, motion detection, etc., the tool kit for creating the ultimate UI is changing rapidly.   New battle lines are being drawn.  Consumers try out new apps every week, with some gaining favor while others fall by the wayside.

IVA diverse roster of clients position the same items with different emphasis depending on the target audience.   They bring their own creativity and focus into play making content discovery more robust in the marketplace. That’s a good thing because every consumer is different.

Will we ever have a perfect recommendation engine?  We will have lots of different ones – and that’s even better.