June 6th, 2006 | Published in Google Research
Euro ITV (the interactive television conference) took place in Athens last week. The presentations included a diverse collection of user studies, new application areas, and exploratory business models. One of the main themes was the integration of multiple information sources. For example, during a time-out in a live sporting event, some viewers may enjoy reviewing highlight footage, while others may prefer to view a parallel program to view player profiles and statistics before being automatically returned to the soccer match once the event was back underway.
Other papers explored the idea of selecting and recommending videos. When many videos are available, such as through IPTV or digital cable, we see a heavy-tailed distribution of content accesses (much like that on the internet). There are a small number of popular channels but the combined viewings from thousands of "niche" channels outweigh the popular channels. As on the web, the problem that arises from this situation is one of discovery. A TV guide type resource is not practical; methods like collaborative-filtering can help. Nonetheless, new ideas and interfaces are needed.
We also presented our work at the conference. Our paper [pdf] (which received the best paper award :) focused on using broadcast viewing to automatically present relevant information on a web browser. We showed how to sample the ambient sound emitted from a TV and automatically determine what is being watched from a small signature of the sound -- all with complete privacy and minuscule effort. The system could keep up with users while they channel surf, presenting them with a real-time forum about a live political debate one minute and an ad-hoc chat room for a sporting event in the next. And, all of this would be done without users ever having to type or to even know the name of the program or channel being viewed. Taking this further, we could collect snippets from the web describing the actors appearing in a movie or present maps of locales within the movie as it takes place (no matter if users are watching it as a live broadcast or as a recoded broadcast).