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Netflix-Style Recommendations... From A Cable Provider?

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em: Cox Cable's new Contour app and DVR plug-in gives viewers personalized, Netflix-style recommendations for television viewing on demand.

Cox Cable is trying out something television viewers have been requesting for a long time: Netflix-style recommendations for TV viewing on demand. The new Contour program for cable sets, DVRs, and tablets creates individual accounts and log-ins for each household member, analyzes their viewing habits, and ports recommends for on-demand television shows to watch directly into the channel guide. A separate app version gives viewers recommendations on shows to watch on iPad—offering a potential weapon against Hulu and Netflix to retain current subscribers. One big selling point for Contour is that its analytics take time of day into account. Do you prefer to watch bad movies late at night? Contour knows.

Cable and satellite subscribers don't need to be reminded that on-demand is broken. Because giants like Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner enjoy quasi-monopoly status, they have little incentive to improve the awful user interface and counterintuitive navigation of television on demand. Although America's cable carriers offer a rich and deep content library for viewers to access, the actual process of calling up content is so difficult that viewers simply give up. And once they give up, they watch Netflix and Hulu more.

In the face of competition from Roku and others, cable companies are stepping up their game. Contour is one example of this—as Ad Age's Jeanine Poggi notes, it's all about customization to retain profits.