Can AI Make Cable Smarter?

We've all heard about them and many of us have made them: complaints about cable customer service. Stung by years of criticism for poor service, the cable industry now is shifting its focus to a more modern definition, recasting the notion of customer care in the form of customer experience.

The key to enabling this new model is through artificial intelligence (AI), according to a new Heavy Reading report, "I Cable Robot: Can Artificial Intelligence Make Cable Smarter?. The report discusses cable's growing use of AI to improve service, including network management, daily operations and customer experience.

Rather than just focusing on better service appointment times and customer service calls, U.S. cable providers are evolving to automated operations that enable technicians to proactively manage network functions and give customers greater ability to self-manage their services, the report says. Cable operations are awash in data that serves as the oil to lubricate the machine.

"I think AI is going to change the customer experience profoundly," said Dave Watson, president and CEO, Comcast, during the 2017 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, where AI was a primary topic. Comcast is culling through its big data to enhance network performance, customer care operations and its X1 platform that increasingly is relying on AI-supported voice commands.

A comprehensive AI system will collect and aggregate data, detect patterns and responses, anticipate trends and behaviors and automatically take appropriate actions.

"AI is an overarching term that encapsulates all attempts to instrumentalize technology with the ability to think and act independently, much like humans do. It refers not only to the software and algorithms that render this capability but the hardware and control systems as well," said Sanjay Dorairaj, senior director of Comcast Innovation Labs, during SCTE.

The report includes recent cable provider initiatives for customer care, use cases for data-driven disciplines and a chart of technology suppliers that provide data management products for cable. Cable providers are applying AI disciplines in various ways, including:

  • Machine learning and proactive network maintenance (PNM) to detect and resolve service issues before they affect customers

  • Algorithms to provide anonymous insight into customer preferences, including when they might buy and when they might churn

  • Autonomous customer care to give customers tools to self-manage services, such as WiFi, and self-provision new applications

  • Virtualization and automation to provide greater visibility into the network and alert technicians and customers to potential issues

In early implementations of AI tools, providers are experiencing a reduction in truck rolls and service calls. Comcast has said X1 is increasing customer retention, usage and satisfaction.

The trick is to aggregate data, integrate it across various operating units and turn it into meaningful actions so that managers aren't drowning in a sea of numbers. Many of the speakers at SCTE said more techniques are needed to share data so that all operating units have visibility across the cable enterprise and managers don't end up in a situation described by CableLabs architect Karthik Sundaresan: "Lots of data, no knowledge."

AI will truly pay off when data becomes actionable, customers can control their experience and the network becomes proactive, Heavy Reading believes. But managers and technicians need to be careful about implementing AI so that they don't create new layers of frustration for customers. AI is only as good as the people who employ it.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading

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kq4ym 1/16/2018 | 12:03:31 PM
Re: No value in packages Whether AI will in fact make Cable smarter and how soon is an interesting question. Direct Tv is certainly hitting cable hard in their advertisements pointing out customer dissatisfacton with cable big time. But perhaps getting "Autonomous customer care to give customers tools to self-manage services, such as WiFi, and self-provision new applications," may indeed lead the way for customer sastisfaction to regain a foothold here?
Joe Stanganelli 12/30/2017 | 5:28:34 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference @light: The funny thing here is that the antitrust concerns re: Comcast+NBC and similar situations actually stand to hurt both the industry at large and consumers in this way by potentially tying cable providers' hands in terms of how they can provide/create content.

With the 2015 Internet Order going by the wayside, expect an upsurge in zero-rating services -- and the new, original content to go with those services.
Joe Stanganelli 12/30/2017 | 5:26:31 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference Comcast offers the same suggestions, though.

More to the point, do the suggestions that Comcast, Netflix, etc. offer actually have any foundation in reality anymore? I remember when Netflix's prediction model was uncanny. Now, Netflix instead shows me the shows and movies it wants me to watch rather than ones it actually thinks I'll like.
Joe Stanganelli 12/30/2017 | 5:25:24 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference The real difference is in what those contracts look like. Netflix offers more money upfront and little to nothing on the backend -- going completely against the traditional model.
lightreceding 12/30/2017 | 3:03:06 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference Comcast didn't change the model for the consumer by buying NBC, they just got in on NBC's part of the revenue stream. I could get NBC content by buying a bundle before and after the acquisition. With NetFlix I get new original content without buying a channel bundle. They bypass the likes of NBC and go straight to independent producers. The point of the article was about using AI to aid in offering targeted content. NetFlix understands this. They make suggestions based on what I have watched. I have AT&T Uverse. They don't do any such thing and even if they did at this point it likely would involve them suggesting a premium channel, which I don't want. While they do have some on-demand content I find it limited and expensive and I've never bought any. So in my experience the cable companies are so far behind that I don't see them catching up.
brooks7 12/30/2017 | 1:25:39 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference What do you think NBC does?

lightreceding 12/29/2017 | 7:57:14 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference No, I mean how NetFlix goes directly to the producers of new content and buys the content and syndicates a TV series as their own. They buy content that might otherwise have been sold to the likes of NBC. Comcast and AT&T are just buying up old companies like when TimeWarner bought AOL. Their model is backwards looking.
brooks7 12/29/2017 | 7:06:00 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference You mean the way Cmomcast owns NBC-Universal and the way that AT&T tried to buy Time-Warner?


lightreceding 12/29/2017 | 2:03:05 PM
Re: AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference Furthermore if the cable companies had any brains they would have done what NetFlix did and got the rights to original content and undermined monoploy practices of their content providers.
lightreceding 12/29/2017 | 1:50:23 PM
AI won't help Comcast with viewer preference Comcast and other cable providers are forced to buy packages of content from their content suppliers and this drives there bundling practices that everyone hates. AI won't help them with this problem since their business model is based on spreading the cost across content that you want by forcing you to buy content that you don't want.

NetFlix and Amazon already to a good job of using AI to tell us what else other people watched and in suggesting what else we might want to watch. I'd rather watch last season of a TV series on NetFlix at $10 a month than this season on cable for $100 a month. At least I won't be forced to buy a bundle of channels and to set my DVD and to have to deal with ads.
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