Written by Jason Friedlander , April 2017
Television has long set the standard for quality in-home video experiences. Thus, as consumers embraced the anywhere, anytime viewing capabilities afforded by streaming video — first on their computers and then on their smartphones, tablets and connected TVs — they applied a similar standard to the over-the-top (OTT) services. Their expectation, just as it had been with television, is that they should be able to enjoy the same quality of experience they find when they turn on the television, tune into a favorite channel, and see great images and hear excellent audio, all presented seamlessly.
Indeed, the future of OTT will meet this expectation and exceed it, offering a seamless, personalized streaming experience for each media consumer. In this amazing world, programming, advertising and even delivery will be tailored to the habits and preferences of each individual consumer. Built on waves of innovation in video streaming, OTT services of the future will provide an engaging viewing experience unlike anything we know today.
Already, the industry has established the technology to deliver video online and to match the reliability and quality of the television experience online. Now the industry is transforming the one-size-fits-all television experience into a 1 to 1, personalized online experience. Underlying this new personalized experience is a wealth of consumer engagement data.
By moving into the OTT realm and offering services directly to customers, rather than sticking with the linear world’s model of distributing content via multi-video program providers (MVPDs), broadcasters now have access to much greater insights into customer engagement. Details from customer relationship management (CRM), billing and accounting systems allow them to generate a profile of every viewer on an individual level, and advances in data aggregation and analysis enable them to capture critical viewing statistics with regard to what viewers watch, when, where, for how long, and on which devices. Combined with real-time data on network conditions, this intelligence can empower broadcasters to provide TV-like experiences for every viewer on every device.
How exactly will this work? It requires a platform that supports the viewing experience from end to end, from the moment a viewer presses “play” to the moment that she or he closes the OTT application. Only by spanning the entire video life cycle in this way can a service provider leverage the actionable information necessary to deliver a seamless TV-like video experience. Central to this revolutionary model for content delivery is one-to-one session management, which is the means by which viewer and usage data are used to facilitate a personalized viewing experience. In fact, this is the true key to audience engagement.
As soon as playback is triggered by the viewer, a custom playlist (manifest) is created. This combination of content and advertising is engineered not only to be interesting to viewer, but also to be delivered at the optimal bit rate and in the ideal format for the viewer’s device.
Viewers want video streaming services to offer up the content they want as quickly as possible. With insights into consumer history and preferences, as well as tools such as a recommendation engine, it is possible to enable faster, more efficient discovery by the viewer.
The broadcaster doesn’t have much time to capture the viewer’s interest. By improving the appeal of content through data-driven presentation of select programming and by minimizing the screens needed to play content, the broadcaster can significantly increase the likelihood that viewers will find content that keeps them engaged.
At the streaming level, factors ranging from IP address, device and operating system are combined with data about viewing rights and current internet speed to guide creation and updating of the individualized manifest. Real-time feedback driven by the viewer’s actions and choices also influence updating of the manifest. To ensure that stream quality remains high, decisions about optimal bit rate are made at the individual stream level and at the CDN edge node. Minimizing problems, such as buffering, latency and poor video resolution has a huge effect on how long a viewer watches. The integration of real-time health status and alerts with monitoring, management and failover tools further guarantee the quality and continuity of the viewing experience.
When the broadcaster is able to offer customers the personalized viewing experience they want, a number of other important things happen. The increase in viewer engagement has the effect of reducing time spent browsing content. Viewers not only spend more of their time watching, staying longer on a particular website or app, but also become more loyal, returning more frequently for additional viewing sessions. All of these gains ranslate to more valuable advertising.
If the broadcaster already leverages viewer insights to build a personalized ad playlist and then integrates those ads seamlessly with other content, it can easily segment and manage the OTT streaming audience to sell targeted online ad spots. Ad decisioning systems can map personalized data to available pre-sold inventory or even go out to auction on a programmatic exchange, and the ads identified for the viewer’s manifest then can be stitched into the video stream. When server-side ad insertion is employed, the broadcaster can more easily get around the problem of ad blockers that threaten overall ad revenues. Because the ads incorporated into the manifest addressing the known interests of the individual viewer, these spots are especially valuable. In addition to drawing more attention, they also enable better accountability.
As broadcasters evolve into online video service providers, they take on a host of new technical challenges. Success in the OTT realm demands more than a simple simulcast of a linear broadcast channel. It requires personalization, based on an intimate knowledge of individual viewers’ habits. It necessitates precise video delivery, with tight control over every aspect of the video life cycle. From aggregating and analyzing the data that supports delivery of personalized experiences to ensuring that content actually reaches each viewer at the best possible quality, it’s an immense undertaking. To make the most of this new model while minimizing the time and cost of providing OTT services, broadcasters are partnering with experienced online video service platforms.
Such a partnership is valuable not only because it allows broadcasters to launch sophisticated and engaging OTT services quickly, taking advantage of a proven platform, but also because it offers room for growth. Personalization of services on a large scale can mean streaming tens of millions of concurrent streams and handling tens of thousands of session starts per second. An experienced partner with control over the entire delivery chain, from data aggregation and manifest creation to delivery via its own CDN, can offer both the technical expertise and the robust infrastructure necessary to handle increasing interest in the timely, in-demand content broadcasters
can provide. Although establishing and maintaining a one-to-one relationship with every viewer will demand remarkable agility, it is the wave of the future for video streaming services.
Thanks to earlier waves of innovation and implementation, broadcasters today can take advantage of reliable, robust online video services to make the leap into this new world of content delivery. In so doing, they can leverage their content far more broadly and far more effectively, in turn offering customers the rich TV-like viewing experiences they crave, giving advertisers the target audiences they want, and adding to their own brand recognition and bottom line.
Jason is Director, Marketing Communications, Verizon Digital Media Services