Set-top boxes

Comcast Digs Deeper Into Big Data

Making a key big data move, Comcast has quietly scooped up a small video metadata specialist to delve deeper into the programming that it delivers, improving the viewing experience for subscribers while opening up possible new advertising revenue opportunities for the giant US MSO.

As reported first by Multichannel News and later confirmed by Comcast, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) bought the ten-year-old metadata firm, Watchwith, late last year. Terms of the deal, which closed last month, were not disclosed. But a Comcast spokesman did say that Watchwith will be folded into its growing Comcast Metadata Products & Social Services (COMPASS) division and that all of its staffers will be staying on.

Based in San Francisco, Watchwith is a 15-employee firm that specializes in tracking video information on a scene-by-scene basis. Its technology enables producers and editors to tag their video programs manually to gather "frame-level" data on those programs. The Watchwith system also offers media-analysis technology that enables content and service providers to tag programs automatically using computer vision and machine learning methods.

Comcast has already relied on Watchwith technology to add new features to its X1 IP video platform. For one thing, the cable operator uses the firm's metadata in XI's "auto-extend" feature, which automatically extends the length of DVR recordings, especially sports events, that run longer than the original scheduled air time. Watchwith technology also powers a new sports highlights feature on X1 that automatically creates metadata tags so that viewers can skip directly to key plays in a sporting event recorded on their DVRs.

Thanks to such capabilities, Watchwith offers some promising new ad possibilities for both service and content providers. Last year the company introduced an in-program "contextual" ad platform for IP-capable set-tops like Comcast's X1, as well as smart TVs and mobile devices. That platform allows programmers to offer interactive ad avails within shows at pre-set cue points, going beyond the more disruptive pre-roll and interstitial ad spots that are now available. It also bought Arris's Media Analysis Framework (MAF), a cloud-based machine learning and automated metadata-generation platform that ties into Watchwith’s own digital advertising platform. (See Arris Ends Dream of Set-Top Software Riches.)

Unlike with The Nielsen Co. 's recent purchase of metadata specialist Gracenote, Watchwith's intriguing advertising potential is not expected to be Comcast's initial emphasis, however. The MSO indicated it's much more focused on using the new metadata technology to improve the customer viewing experience.

Previously, Watchwith raised $15 million from such major investors as Rogers Venture Partners, Samsung, Arris and Gracenote.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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