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Why is Content Labeling Taking So Long? EIDR’s Will Kreth Explains.

In my decade as a data consultant, I’ve become a big proponent of content labeling to help facilitate the linking of content across platforms and devices.  First spearheaded by Jane Clarke, CIMM’s CEO and Manager Director in 2009, the labeling initiative for both ads and content promised to result in a type of universal, industry-standard UPC code. But it has taken much longer than I personally expected for the television marketplace. Not only are we are still not there, but it seems like there has been limited progress while the number and diversity of platforms and devices proliferate and the global footprint expands.

So I sat down with Will Kreth, Executive Director, EIDR, to try to understand just what the challenges and obstacles are that are keeping us from what seems to be a no-brainer – a universally accepted labeling protocol so that every creator gets the full credit of all of the views for their content. I wanted to understand what’s going on and why it’s taking so damn long.

To some in the industry, according to Kreth, content labeling can involve metadata or behavioral tagging. But for him, content labeling takes on a much broader definition.

Charlene Weisler: What is your definition of content labeling?

Will Kreth: We think of it as unique identification of content to help the media and entertainment supply chain, to help workflows, and to help the life-cycle of a title. Content identification (through unique, machine-readable IDs) helps all of the different players / actors in the ecosystem – in the existing value chain, and also in the aspirational, as yet to-be-realized value chain.

Weisler: Who is doing it now and who is not doing it now?

Kreth: We have been strong in the film industry – with now 95% to 100% coverage at first theatrical window for all movies from the top six  (now five) Hollywood studios. However, television is a major gap for us – in that we have not cracked the code on the motivations for the networks to look at open standard, unique IDs as a way to improve audience measurement, generate incremental revenue, and/or lower costs significantly.  

Weisler: Why would TV not see it while the film industry does see it?

Kreth: For years and years, television didn’t even operate with external identifiers. Content was shared – the satellite and cable operators and broadcast networks just used internal IDs – then published spreadsheets, Word documents or PDFs of program schedule information for print TV listings and Electronic Program Guides (EPGs). So, television in the traditional world of the last 30 to 40+ years was very linear. Then, On Demand and DVRs came – and the VOD platforms developed by cable had an effort around creating VOD metadata – because they realized that they would be the ones sending the assets files out to the field to local cable head-ends. They had to describe them well so they could be ingested into broadcast automation or play-out systems.

Weisler: How is the television landscape in content IDs structured?

Kreth: The incumbents were the duopoly between Rovi (now TiVo) and TMS (the former Tribune Media Services) which absorbed and then rebranded itself as Gracenote, and now Gracenote is part of Nielsen. The TMS ID has the lion’s share of usage in North American television broadcasting metadata. It’s the unique ID that is the incumbent. It took a lot of years to get there through competition to gain marketshare. Gracenote has become the dominant player in unique IDs in the United States, but not globally. So there is a vertically integrated play that the TMS ID is a part of that is now required by Nielsen. So you now have a unique ID for the majority of U.S. paid TV viewing tied to the ratings system for the majority of U.S. homes. Through hard work and market dominance, the TMS ID (which went from Tribune, then Gracenote and now Nielsen), has achieved somewhat of a winner-take-all-effect. (Notably, Rovi/TiVo is a founding member of EIDR, along with Movie Labs, Cable Labs and Comcast) 

But there are some hold-outs. Some use TiVo IDs, some don’t use IDs because they have decided they are not at the end point of the distribution chain,  and some use IDs from RedBee (formerly FYI Television) or others.  Meanwhile, some sources, like electronic program guides in all of the major set top box manufacturers, had to be standardized. That process took years to get to a certain level of quality and there are still a lot of gaps and mismatched metadata and errors. Also, the digital video recorder pushed a lot of folks towards standardization – because it insisted on the notion that if you are going to record a program – you need to know exactly when it starts and stops and what the program is. From a consumer’s point of view – it would be unacceptable if you got the wrong program at the wrong time. There was no room for guesswork. And that pushed folks towards the effort for standardization around television metadata.

Weisler: What about EIDR today?

Kreth: It’s a different world than just 10, even 5 years ago. There’s greater complexity and new business models beyond just rated linear and on-demand television (or legacy DVRs).  The challenges of multi-platform distribution, streaming, and international OTT businesses are helping convince doubters that the world could  do very well by adopting  EIDR’s open standard to precisely identify the thing itself (content labeling)  no matter where it plays or what device it plays on. Data collection and analytics are no longer a “nice to have” – they are mission critical.   With EIDR’s open ID standard becoming ubiquitous in TV,  costs would go down, innovation would go up, competition would thrive in a world where title level ID metadata is shared as a global standard – and not held in any one company’s proprietary ecosystem.

Weisler: So why is it taking so long?

Kreth: If you are a broadcaster, you would have been working for years and years to get these systems set up, to get the TMS IDs flowing, and to get them into broadcast automation systems. Switching to another title ID or even supporting, side by side, another title ID requires capital or operating expenditures and that are not often in the budget of the major networks. Unlike film – which did not have an existing solution, they had independent data services and when they saw that there could be something like a universal ISBN number for film and TV – they said, ‘sign us up’ and incubated the data model structure at Movie Labs (the research and development arm of the US film industry). So, we have work to do in television. The good news is:  We’re making great inroads with TV broadcasters in Sweden, the Nordics, the UK and EU.  Our motto has always been – “Lots of IDs, Low Cost”. We want to make acquiring and tagging labeling TV (and all video) content with unique EIDR IDs as easy, painless and inexpensive as possible.

With television – we realized we were up against existing workflows and lifecycles of how content was flowing and with all of the vendors, hardware manufacturers, suppliers and operations systems there was no one place to go. We’re starting to hear from vendors in the television industry that they’re ready to support EIDR in their software and toolsets. The world would change in an instant if one of the large US MVPDs said ‘we require EIDR IDs.’  And we see signs that may be happening with at least one of the major US MVPD’s, especially due to the demonstrable need for unique IDs in measuring a multitude of data points and KPIs, on multiple platforms, with a myriad of program titles.

Weisler: Will, knowing what you know, what do you think the timeline is to get more than critical mass for television?

Kreth: There is a project we call EIDR 2020, where we’re pushing to start to see the major US TV distributors and vendors support EIDR alongside their existing workflows or with their existing IDs. With a sunrise period for EIDR IDs ubiquity in 2020 – it starts to create that catalyst, the critical mass to move people off of stasis and inertia and toward embracing and extending their platforms and their toolsets to support EIDR. Next year will be our tenth year – so there will be nothing greater than to see an industry-wide EIDR 2020 sunrise begin in television.