Zone·tv makes television viewing a more personalized experience with AI and Azure


Zone·tv™ believes that everyone should always be able to find something good to watch on TV. The Toronto, Canada–based company uses artificial intelligence (AI) and human curation to create Dynamic Channels—customized and personalized video channels that draw content from a variety of sources and learn viewers’ tastes over time. To better understand assets and increase personalization, zone·tv uses Video Indexer, part of Microsoft Azure Media Services. The company also uses Azure and Ooyala Flex Media Platform for ingesting, processing, and storing content and managing workflows—all feeding into zone·tv’s proprietary AI and Zone·tv Studio for personalized entertainment delivery to consumer endpoints.
Viewers have endless ways to consume video content today, with streaming video on demand (SVoD) services just a few keystrokes, clicks, or taps away. But even with all the advances in video technology, zone·tv™ believes there is room for improvement. “We use artificial intelligence, including machine learning algorithms, along with human curation and proprietary tools to deliver the best possible entertainment experience—one that is personalized to the likes and tastes of the viewer,” explains Doug Edwards, Founder and Executive Chairman at zone·tv. “For example, our Dynamic Channels tune themselves over time—viewers don’t even need to think about it or do anything, and they’ll see more and more shows that will engage and delight them.”

From Santa to SVoD to smart TV

In the six years since its founding, zone·tv has offered a variety of video products, including interactive event-based popup channels like the globally popular Santa Tracker, which gets millions of viewers during the holiday season. The company is also one of the largest curators and aggregators of SVoD in North America, supplying content to some of the biggest names in the home video industry.
Zone·tv initially built the majority of its architecture on another cloud platform but switched to Microsoft Azure because of the powerful services available. When the company started delving into artificial intelligence (AI), it saw great potential in using Azure Media Services, specifically Video Indexer—a cloud application built using Azure Media Analytics, and Azure Search—to further differentiate its services. Zone·tv also uses Media Services for full content delivery capabilities.
To fine-tune its programming choices for viewers, zone·tv needs to thoroughly understand the content of its video assets. The company does this using Video Indexer, running in its own Azure instance. “We use Video Indexer to enhance content metadata,” says John Hargrave, Chief Operating Officer at zone·tv. “We automatically extract searchable descriptive information about the content, including faces, speakers, brands, text, objects, activities, and many more attributes, that feeds into Azure Machine Learning Studio and our machine learning algorithms for matching content to consumers.”
An important part of the zone·tv technology stack is the Flex Media Platform end-to-end workflow integration and orchestration solution from Microsoft Partner Network member Ooyala. Ooyala Flex Media Platform runs on Azure, and zone·tv uses the platform to convert its video assets into numerous formats for distribution on a wide variety of networks and devices. “By combining Ooyala Flex Media Platform with Video Indexer in conjunction with Zone·tv Studio, we create a customized viewing experience that we think is unique in the industry,” says Hargrave. “The content for our Dynamic Channels comes from a variety of sources, but to the viewer it feels like single-source linear television.”

Future plans for even better video experiences

Zone·tv has gone all in on Azure—pretty much everything the company does, from content ingestion to processing, storage, and distribution, uses Azure as a base platform. And the company feels its relationship with Microsoft will only grow stronger. “We believe that Microsoft offers highly advanced capabilities in the media space,” says Edwards. “And we’re confident that the tools will only get stronger over time. We’re currently looking at ways we can use new Microsoft capabilities to further personalize content.”
Looking to expand its offerings, zone·tv has announced its Zone·tv Studio software suite, an AI-powered cloud platform that content owners and distributors can use to create their own customized channels. “Pay TV operators can use Zone·tv Studio to strike unique programming deals or have exclusive rights over content that they want to deliver through their own on-demand services or linear television channels,” says Edwards. “With Azure, Ooyala Flex Media Platform, and Zone·tv Studio, we’re building solutions that can compete with the biggest players in the industry and take video customization and programming intelligence to an exciting new level.”

Original Publication: Microsoft