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By Lisa Richwine and Jessica Toonkel
Dec 11 Hulu, Dish Network Corp's Sling
and other streaming services battling for customers who are
ditching cable are working to make new live TV services more
personalized for each user, an effort to help viewers navigate a
sea of movies, news and television shows.
Butting heads with AT&T and Sony Corp, which
also have started to provide live TV over the internet from
channels found on cable television, the upstarts are culling
up-to-the-minute data on viewing habits, device usage and even
current events to show viewers what they want - maybe before
they know themselves.
The company that creates the most user-friendly and
personalized service will have a vital edge in the race to win
millions of viewers who are dropping cable and satellite
packages and their often clunky channel guides, analysts said.
"Given the amount of choice you have today, it is amazing
that no one has built a better recommendation engine for
(traditional) TV," said Michael Nathanson, an analyst with
The stakes are high. Over the past six years, the amount of
time people aged 18 to 24, part of advertisers' most coveted
demographic, spent watching traditional TV declined 42 percent,
according to a presentation earlier this month by Business
Insider Chief Executive Henry Blodget at the Ignition 2016
On-demand services from companies such as Netflix Inc
and Hulu already mine troves of user data to suggest
movies and TV shows based on a customer's preferences, but the
new live streaming options can respond to real-time viewing
For the live service it will launch next year, Hulu plans to
tap into the general "zeitgeist" around specific topics to
provide recommendations, said Ben Smith, a senior vice president
at Hulu, which is owned by media companies Walt Disney Co
, Comcast Corp, 21st Century Fox, and
Time Warner Inc.
A viewer who has watched a steady flow of news about
politics, for example, may see recommendations for related yet
escapist content like political action movie "Air Force One,"
"We think there is something really interesting about
capturing viewers' moods," Smith told Reuters.
There is evidence that recommendations play a large role in
audiences' decision-making. Seventy-five percent of all viewing
on Hulu's on-demand service is driven by recommended
programming, Barclays analysts said in a research note.
Dish's Sling TV will focus next year on making sure what a
viewer sees is contextually relevant to the device they use,
said Ben Weinberger, Sling's chief product officer.
For example, a viewer who watches news in the mornings on a
tablet would see news content recommendations at that time on
that device. But that same viewer may catch up on the previous
night's episode of a favorite series on their mobile phone in
the afternoon, where Sling will direct them.
"It means giving you the right content at the right time of
day on the right device," Weinberger said.
AT&T, which launched its DirectTV Now service in November,
is also using data to customize content recommendations for each
user as well as the advertisements they see, executives told
Next year, DirecTV Now will have the technology to insert
targeted ads into TV networks' streams that are designed to be
more relevant to viewers, said Rick Welday, president of AT&T's
Traditional pay TV providers also have revamped channel
guides. Comcast Cable's X1 operating system, for example,
responds to voice commands such as "what should I watch?," which
provides personalized recommendations.
A smooth viewing experience is especially key for streaming
providers because viewers can cancel and switch to competitors
in a few minutes online.
One advantage for online services is they can tweak their
features remotely. Sony is working to add a voice command to
reach its PlayStation Vue live TV package from the gaming
console and on further personalizing search capabilities,
"There are several updates for consumers every year for
every device," said PlayStation Vue product head Dan Myers said.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Jessica Toonkel
in New York, additional reporting by Tim Baysinger in New York;
Editing by Bernard Orr)