Cox, Comcast execs say users want content recommendation

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Personalized content is the key to delivering a great user experience and content recommendations are a critical part of making that a reality.  At the Cable Show here, top executives from Comcast Cable (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Cox Communications touted their current recommendation engines as well as provided a glimpse into the future.

Collecting data on customers is a hot-button issue for many telecom providers today, but cable subscribers apparently do not have much of a problem with allowing their providers to collect information on them in order to provide recommended content. Len Barlik, Cox Communications executive vice president of product management and development, said that less than 2 percent of Cox customers opt-out of the data collection and of the 98 percent that allow it, 78 percent report that the recommendation engine makes it easier for them to find content.  In addition, 56 percent say that they are watching content that they didn't know was available.

Barlik noted that Cox, which was one of the first to implement recommendations, has also learned that as the recommendation engine gets more data about customer preferences, it's able to make better recommendations.

Likewise, Charlie Herrin, senior vice president of product development and design at Comcast Cable said that his company has been experimenting with personalization on its online portal where it shows its TV Everywhere content.  He said that the key to delivering a great user experience is to give the user information before they ask for it but also to keep things in context.

In addition, Jeff Klugman, EVP and general manager at TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO), which last month started to offer new content recommendations called "What to Watch Now" with its iPad app, said that the key to recommendations is to provide them to only the customers that want them.  He said that some people know what they want when they turn on the TV. Those people don't want personalization or recommendations.

Interestingly, another way MSOs are experimenting with personalization is through their mobile apps.  Herrin said that Comcast has had 12 million downloads of its three mobile apps (the company has an iOS app, a player app and a remote app, which is like a guide to manage the DVR).  He added that of those 12 million downloads, 3 million are using the app every week. "We will continue to put more development into the mobile space," Herrin said. "Users are responding."

Meanwhile, Cox has two apps, one for linear programming and the other that aggregates content such as third-party apps like HBO Go. Barlik said that one reason the company is pursuing these apps is that customers aren't well informed on what types of services and content are available to them.   But he noted that the apps should be personalized and provide "next-level" in recommended content.

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