Zone-ify is the latest FAST service vying for online video viewers attention. It uses a combination of expert human programmers and AI to deliver both lean-back and lean-forward viewing experiences.
The latest entry in the free ad-supported TV (FAST) category is an “old” hand at delivering customized linear experiences. Zone-TV provides a set of web-constructed linear channels for inclusion with pay TV systems. Customers like Comcast and DirecTV have been delivering them to their video customers for nearly two years. The approach pairs human expert channel programmers with AI to create a uniquely personalized experience that gets better the more you watch.
Personalized linear TV delivered direct-to-consumer
Now Zone-TV is bringing the experience direct-to-consumer (DTC) with the new Zone-ify app. According to Jeff Weber, Zone-TV CEO, the free service provides 13 themed channels, including foodies, brainiac, mancave, and inform. The 13th channel – my-zone – delivers content preferred by the viewer across the other 12 channels.
Selecting one of the themes takes a user to a list of “stories” that fit within the theme. Mr. Weber says:
“We view the stories as more than just a themed playlist. We want to turn that into a story end-to-end.”
Human curators working with zone-tv Studio[i] create the playlist of each story. What’s more, Mr. Weber says Zone-TV Studios is producing introductions and final comments for each of the video segments to help weave each into the fabric of the story being told. AI is used to surface stories the service thinks are most appropriate for viewer high up in the interface.
The service can provide advertisers the ability to uniquely targete viewers. The company uses server-side ad insertion for smooth playback and to minimize ad-blocking.
The Zone-ify button
Zone-TV isn’t only using AI to help draw attention to a story a user might like. The company is using it to power what it calls the “zone-ify” button. While viewers are watching a video, they can touch the screen, and the Zone-ify button appears. Pressing the button instantly creates a customized playlist drawing upon the themes, style, and subject matter of the video they are watching at that moment. A user’s past viewing history also influences the playlist.
To deliver the zone-ify functionality Zone-TV is working with Microsoft for its A.I. and Programming Studio suites. As well, the solution uses Microsoft Azure Video Indexer to enhance metadata about a video. It captures intangible concepts such
as style, mood, and theme. It also analyzes voice and video tracks to add more detailed information about the subject matter.
Zone-TV is also using Microsoft AI to continually refine a user’s past viewing history by monitoring both passive and active actions. The system monitors passive statistics like video completions and active information like when a user skips or likes a video. It uses that information to suggest what video to play next.
Zone-ify delivers lean-back and lean-forward experiences
While on-demand viewing allows us to choose what we want to watch, often we prefer to sit back and relax and let someone else do the programming. According to Mr. Weber, the Zone-ify app supports both viewing experiences:
“As a viewer, you can completely sit back, and we have a curated channel for you, or you can engage, and zone-ify and really start to make it personalized and take control of what you’re watching.”
Users can get the Zone-ify experience today on their iOS and Android devices. Mr. Weber says connected TV and pay TV support is coming soon.
Why it matters
Linear video delivery frees users from the tyranny of choice but also removes the possibility of a more customized experience.
New services are appearing that blend the best of the linear TV approach with more personalized experiences.
[i] Zone-tv Studio is a cloud-based video curation and programming platform that uses proprietary software and machine learning algorithms developed by zone·tv.