IPTV Analytics and Its Impact On Privacy

I don’t think anybody can deny that IPTV is the future, in few years the current paradigm of TV watching experience will be extinct. Already most people are used to being able to scroll backwards and forwards through content TV seems outdated. Which explains the rise of content services such as Hulu and Netflix. DVRs such as Tivo aim to provide that, stripping content from delivery, the content which you can consume in any order you choose rather than having to consume it based on a schedule someone in the  network believed it’d work with most people. Its no surprise that all the major IT companies Google/Amazon/Apple and even Seagate are tapping into DVR/IPTV on some capacity or another.


When I first booted up my new Samsung smart TV, I was shown a message that said, the more you watch this TV the more content it’ll be able to recommend for you. Instantly I wondered about where all this analytical data is stored and who has access to it.


TVs are slowly transforming into two way devices that pick content and consume it based on the viewers choices rather than just projecting pre-scheduled content. Basically its becoming closer to the internet browser metaphor, the analytical information associated with these choices provide a whole new angle on how user consume media. Classically the only way TV networks had to measure the viewership of any particular show was through surveys, with IPTV they can just resort to analytics that record every remote click the viewer presses, harvesting this information provides highly granular viewership data unlike any they’ve ever had.


Netflix Watching the viewers as House of Cards new season goes live

Netflix Watching the viewers as House of Cards new season goes live

The smash hit “House of Cards” an award winning highly addictive series was produced by NetFlix. Big Data analytics approach was used to make most decisions related to the show, from picking the actors, to the director even as far as picking the premise of the entire show. They knew were able to predict the potential viewership well before producing it. The same way they are able to suggest to their users shows they will most probably like.  Even after production, they are able to monitor who watched it at what pace and which parts do people usually skip or replay.


Basically as you watch TV, the IPTV provider is watching you. It learns your TV watching habits,  which channels you spend more time watching, which shows you like, and which ads you skip through. Similar to an internet browser, with one big difference, you can’t turn off the cookies and surf in private mode, you cant turn it off. The Set Top Box is provided by the network and its tamper proof, if you are using it its in constant contact with some server in some data center collecting data on your usage habits, perhaps even using it to provide you with context aware ads much like Google’s adsense.


So does my telecom/Cable company knows that I secretly like to watch #RichKids of Beverly Hills ?


It gets even more interesting when you realize that most telecom providers are heading towards IPTV, Telecoms already know a lot about you. Your usage trends, where you go, whom you call and even sometimes which websites you visit. Most telecos have extensive profiles on each of their users, and they use such data to build promos and offers. Imagine how powerful they’ll be if they know your TV watching experience as well. With everybody worried about privacy in the age of social networks and mobile they seem to be oblivious to the new threat to privacy sitting innocently in each living room in the planet.


The telescreen is always watching

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, each home was equipped with a Telescreen, Playing propaganda and constantly watched the viewers.


The silver lining of all of this is how instead of watching irrelevant ads, perhaps someday the ads you see in TV will be compatible to your needs. Content production will be quite different in the future, with shows tailored to the customers viewing habits rather than surveys. Increasing the synergy between production and consumption, bringing theater’s main advantage -being able to get instant feedback to the production-to TV. Maybe soon you’ll be able to rate each episode as you watch it and your set top box would curate and serve content  based on these selections and ratings. That comes at a cost of course, the complete loss of privacy and being watched by our TVs.


As an after thought, think of what politicians can do with such a technology, receiving instant feedback to the talk shows they appear on, and whether people keep watching or flip to another channel.



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