Start-Up Alley

Start-up: Media Distillery, the Netherlands, 2014

Media Distillery offers a suite of AI-based products to help with search, recommendations, a better UI and easier monetisation
“The younger generation don’t care what content appears in which TV programme, or what channel it’s on. They just want to access information about subjects that interest them and consume it in bite-sized video chunks,” says Roland Sars, chief executive of Media Distillery. 

High spirits: Media Distillery’s CEO Roland Sars joined the team in 2016

Helping to deliver a personalised, broadcast-quality version of YouTube to TV platforms (which some refer to as ‘linear on demand’ , aka LoD) is a key use case for this Dutch start-up’s suite of AI-based tools .

Founded over five years ago by Geert Vos and Joost de Wit, the firm started life as a spin-off of Netherlands-based research giant TNO. 

The company initially used its AI-based technology to search for brands on television and radio adverts for media monitoring purposes, although Sars notes that while the monitoring industry was growing, the advertising industry itself remained fairly static. 

Fuelled by investment it received from two Dutch venture capitalists in 2016, the firm started to scope other use cases and soon hit upon a TV market that was being disrupted by online video players – all offering smarter search functions, seamless UIs, and better all-round user experiences. 

Says Sars: “Operators like Sky, BT, TalkTalk, Virgin broadcast, have a tremendous amount of content but their knowledge about what they’re distributing to each household is very limited. 

“To stay relevant in the video market in the era of Netflix and to keep up with consumers’ viewing habits you need to enhance the UX by garnering better search results and recommendations.”

To address this, Media Distillery offers a suite of AI-based products to help with search, recommendations, a better UI and easier monetisation. It claims to offer a wide combination of machine learning methodologies to recognise every visual and audio aspect inside video, including face, speech, object, logo and text. 

Facetime: Searches and recommendations are tailored with far more detail, including face speech and text

According to Sars, this level of detail yields more relevant search results for TV viewers. “You might be searching for a Formula One driver but get zero results when you search his name because it’s not in a TV show’s title. Our tech allows you to get inside the video and start looking at faces, text, screen logos.”

Sars claims that applying Media Distillery’s tools to analyse viewing habits leads to better recommendations. 

“We’ll know you watched ten minutes of the Graham Norton Show when a particular actor was on it and so rather than recommend more or similar chat shows, it will recommend content featuring that actor.” 

He adds that search tools offered by rival firms will always be limited because generally they deliver the metadata before content is broadcast – whereas Media Distillery is able to add to it and update in real time. 

It’s this feature that has led to a linear on demand venture – announced in December 2019 – with Android TV provider 3SS and personalised content discovery specialists XroadMedia.

Our tech allows you to get inside the video and start looking at faces, text and screen logos

The three firms are collaborating to offer Android TV users an experience that collects and curates video assets from a diverse range of sources and assembles them as a personalised linear experience.

Sars adds that other use cases for the company’s tools include targeted ad options, by charting time stamps on the EPG to create a map of a subscriber’s viewing patterns and preferences. There is also an EPG time correction tool, and a tool that extracts thumbnails from video content for EPG purposes so the same stock images of a TV show are not used over and over again. 

Media Distillery’s software runs in the cloud, and last September the company launched its global cloud-based AI platform to service an enhanced on-demand experience for broadcasters and TV operators. Launch clients include satellite operator Eutelsat. 

To support this service, Media Distillery has invested in an extensive server farm that currently serves four territories. While Sars admits this purchase makes the firm “pretty infrastructure heavy” he adds that it also means the company is able to offer broadcasters a turnkey product on one central platform that is ready to go and easily scalable. It’s this ease of use, as well as the detailed level of metadata extraction, that impressed the judges at the IABM (International Association of Broadcast Manufacturers) ‘Dragon’s Den’ competition at the IABM International Business Conference in December.

“We know that content is king but in this environment metadata is the emperor – people have limited attention spans and if the UX isn’t good enough, they’ll just go elsewhere,” concludes Sars.

This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of FEED magazine.

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