In late December, Tribune announced its plans to acquire Gracenote from Sony for $170 million in cash and to combine the company with its Tribune Media Services business. More specifically, Gracenote will be part of a recently formed business unit called Tribune Digital Ventures, which is headed up by president Shashi Seth. Now that the deal has closed, we spoke with Seth about what we can expect from Tribune and Gracenote as they begin working more closely together.
Seth has been leading the the Silicon Valley-based Digital Ventures unit since joining about nine months ago. Prior to that, he had held various roles at technology companies like Yahoo, AOL, Google, YouTube, and eBay. Most recently he had served as SVP of Yahoo’s Connections Business Unit, and had previously held the role of SVP of Search and Marketplaces.
But since joining Tribune, Seth and his team have been looking for ways that it can leverage the metadata and other information services it provides to traditional media companies, and to extend that out to a whole new world of digital content distributors.
Thanks to all the new connected devices out there, as well as the growing number of streaming media services that have popped up over recent years, Tribune is seeking to tackle a whole new customer base. At the same time, more of its traditional TV and movie customers are in need of digital help as well.
The acquisition of Gracenote is the first big move that Tribune Digital Ventures has made since being founded, and it’s designed to go a long way toward strengthening the unit’s ability to serve music, international, and other types of new clients.
“Tribune Media Services does great business in the TV and movie space,” Seth told me in a phone interview. “By adding music to it with Gracenote, we see great synergies between the two businesses.”
Music is the obvious big new category that the acquisition of Gracenote provides, thanks to a decade and a half of experience providing content recognition and metadata services to some of the biggest digital music storefronts and streaming media services. Gracenote powers information retrieval for services like iTunes, Rhapsody, Spotify, and Xbox Music, providing the technology for more than half a billion information lookups from end users every single day.
But Gracenote has also been expanding its footprint to serve other types of businesses. It’s been working with auto manufacturers, for instance, to power information retrieval for digital music services that are being sent via satellite or streamed into the car. And it recently has been showing off ways in which it can help brands provide targeted advertising to consumers.
One other interesting application could come from making personalized recommendations of movies and TV shows available to consumers. Earlier this year it launched Gracenote Rhythm, an API that could be used by partnering developers to build music recommendations into their apps.
Seth says the same type of technology could be applied in the TV space, where client guide are in vast need of an overhaul. Most cable providers have been operating with the same old “grid” system for navigating through channels and shows, and finding something to watch.
But the act of discovering new TV shows is pretty broken in that system, especially when you consider how easy services like Spotify or Pandora have made the act of learning about new musical artists or songs.
The challenge for many video distributors, Seth noted, is all about how they “get the right content in front of the right user at the right time.” With new devices like tablets and smartphones, as well as relatively new streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and others, it’s not that users are watching less content — it’s that they’re not just consuming it on the TV.
“It’s not that they’re not consuming content,” Seth said. “It’s that they’re consuming it at different times. They’re watching TV shows, but not necessarily on TV… More and more content is being consumed, but it’s happening in different places and at different times.”
Of course, a lot of that will depend on Tribune’s ability to execute on its plan and make these services attractive to its customers. But with Gracenote on board, Seth is fairly confident that Tribune will be able to continue to grow its digital business with online content providers as well as its existing customer base.
“This is a really important first step in a series of steps for Tribune and Tribune Digital Ventures for building a successful mobile and internet portfolio,” Seth said.