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April 15, 2013

Veveo's Sam Vasisht on Talking to Your TVs


Veveo's new interface allows users to communicate to devices using natural language.

Think we’ll all be talking to our TVs soon? Sam Vasisht, chief marketing officer for Veveo, certainly thinks so. The company provides semantic search capabilities for a number of MVPDs (FiOS, DirecTV, Comcast and Cablevision) and is currently in technology trials with some for its “Conversational Platform,” which allows users to communicate to devices using natural language. As you can see via the demo above, the application uses personalization preferences to anticipate your next request and make suggestions about additional TV programs. CableFAX spoke with Vasisht about the process of working with MVPDs and when he thinks we’ll be chatting to—not just about—our televisions.

 
You’re in trials with cable operators right now with your Conversational Platform solution. When are you anticipating that it will be available?
 
We’re hoping that it will happen in 2013, because from our point of view, the technology is ready for the market. It’s really the question of the MVPDs having the budget and commitment to roll this out. It has to make it in their cut of priorities. I think there’s a lot of interest, a lot of motivation to do this—but obviously we don’t control their schedules. We have reason to believe it will happen in 2013 but it’s not really something that we can guarantee.
 
What are the biggest challenges you have in trying to convince MVPDs to make use of your product?
 
There are a couple of things. I think that the technology is very new, so it’s a very steep learning curve for everybody who’s looking at this—to understand exactly how it works and be comfortable with it. There’s obviously a lot of skepticism because companies like Apple and Nuance and others are trying to take a stab at this, and we’re demonstrating something that’s above what anybody else [is doing]. The other thing is, it’s a very cool feature, but it’s unlike many other things that MVPDs roll out where there are tried and true metrics of measuring success. I don’t expect that they have figured out how to quantify it for success. [For example,] is there a usability feature? Is it something that’s going to drive our RPU, is it going to drive greater consumption of content, greater purchase of content, etc.? I’m sure these kinds of discussions are happening behind doors. But knowing how operators make decisions I’m sure that that’s part of the learning curve they need to go through.
 
There are other pressures coming on. I’m sure a lot of this would be driven by the rumors about Apple TV. When we first took this to market the positive response that we got was a little bit surprising to us, because we hadn’t really done any market testing. We built this because we had the technologies to build it. I was really surprised about how much interest there was and how many of the operators were already thinking about voice as an interface. We think this was largely driven by the rumors of Apple TV. But I think there’s a positive pressure on that account, knowing that everybody else is doing it and nobody want to get left behind. So those are the things that are driving it forward, but obviously they have to through the business and technology processes for this to make it as an end-user product.
 
Is this only for handheld devices?
 
The demo [above] is a technology showcase using an app for Apple devices. We actually have it for Android as well now. You’re seeing an app because that’s how to showcase the technology. The solution will actually be on all platforms—tablets, phones, set-top boxes, game consoles. The technology is there—it’s really how operators want to implement it. So for example there are some operators that are building microphones and speakers and acoustics onto set-top boxes so that you can talk to the set-top box from 30 feet away. There are some other folks that are looking at this and saying, I don’t want to do that, it’s going to be very challenging to try to do a thing that experiences voice, so maybe the person talks into their smartphone or tablet and that is then communicated directly to the cloud and the signal is sent back to the set-top box. There are multiple implementations, whether it ends up being on all 3 platforms for every operator or on [a combination]. But I think the first implementations, it seems to me, will be using the tablet and smartphone.
 
Will you work with over-the-top providers as well?
 
It certainly can be an application that just does over the top content—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. That can be the extent of the library that we tap into. In that case, [we] would have to work with all these different service providers to make sure that the content is accessible. That’s fine. But that has not been traditionally our business. It’s been with cable operators. For us, we have those relationships, and we can go there. We also have a very healthy revenue stream coming from these operators.
 
I think with building an app that uses over-the-top content, we haven’t seen there to be a profitable or revenue-based model for that. There are a number of universal search apps for over-the-top content such as Fanhattan and a few others. We haven’t seen a viable business model there particularly for a company like ours, that is self-funded. That said, we are in the process of [creating] an app that will be exactly what you’re describing, but it’s going to be a free app that’s available as more of a showcase. It’s something for us to sync the market with rather than something we expect to generate business out of. We’ll be looking to launch that somewhere in the June or July timeframe. We will have to make an agreement with some of the over-the-top companies but it will not use cable operators’ content (unless they want to). But it will be a free download in the Apple store to basically experience the voice functionality. But over-the-top, we don’t see a direct line of sight to monetizing this technology. The ecosystem of customers is very small there. You have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and maybe a couple of others, whereas in cable and pay TV industry you have a few, but still a much larger number of potential customers.
 
In your opinion, do you think people will be talking to their TVs soon? If so, what’s the timeframe?
 
I think if the technology works well and it works as promised, across the board—I’m not talking about our technology—voice is a very appealing interface. Google Glass, for example, is going to be for an early voice phase—that’s the only way you’re going to be able to interact with it. So I think that we’ll get used to the idea that you can talk to your device and it’s going to respond to you. Our technology can do that today. As far as the overall timeframe, I think we’re going to see an inflection point in the industry this year, in 2013 itself—just even where voice has been the last couple of years. Improvements are going to be made to things like Siri, Google Now. I think we’re going to see it go to a more mainstream mass adoption than just the few assorted cases of mobile assistance and others used today.
 
 
 
 







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