In just a few weeks’ time, the great and the good of the global media and entertainment industry will convene at the RAI in Amsterdam for this year’s IBC. With a strapline of “Transforming media. Changing expectations”, further game-changing innovations and new business models will be on show, along with the usual array of informative and influential speakers during the IBC Conference.
Since this newsletter is dedicated to the companies that are to be found in the Content Everywhere zone housed in Hall 5, it seemed an opportune time to ask the exhibitors to reflect back over the period since the previous IBC in September 2022, and highlight some of the key industry trends that are affecting their businesses. Below, you’ll be able to read how companies from Easel TV to Witbe tackled some of the challenges that emerged over the past twelve months and how that feeds into the products and services they are developing to support the Content Everywhere sector.
Michael Lantz, CEO of Accedo, kicks off the discussion with the observation that “without a doubt, the past twelve months have meant a radical change in the business conditions for video providers. With recessionary pressures on advertising spend and inflationary pressures on household budgets for entertainment, it’s clear that revenue growth is slower than previously anticipated. Spending cuts from customers impact the entire industry where belt tightening and strategy revisions are prioritised activities all around the industry.”
Lantz insists that this is in fact a healthy development. “Video providers have to a large extent decided to ‘invent the wheel again’ and have in too many cases built up sizable technology departments to launch bespoke video solutions even when partly or fully off the shelf solutions are a magnitude cheaper, and oftentimes more mature and feature rich than anything which can be built in house. It is clear to us that the industry will gradually evolve to something akin to more mature industries, where only the largest video providers can motivate home grown solutions,” he says.
Venugopal Iyengar, COO, Digital, at Planetcast International, further remarks that the rapidly evolving media landscape, from creation through to distribution and monetisation, “throws a new challenge for all the players almost every month”.
“One thing we are consistently seeing though is that it has become quite cumbersome to navigate the content distribution and monetisation value chain. From new geographies demanding content localisation to new distribution points like over-the-top (OTT) and Free Ad-Supported Streaming TV (FAST) and new monetisation opportunities demanding varied ad management techniques, there is a growing number of components and service providers in the value chain,” he notes.
He adds: “It is for this very challenge that we are introducing our single window, seamless, content supply chain management solution. We are bringing all our existing modules, like content management, post-production and localisation, cloud playout, IP distribution, OTT platform and FAST channel services together under a single supply chain solution.”
FAST, and (still) furious
Iyengar was far from the only Content Everywhere exhibitor to cite FAST as a major theme. Gatis Gailis, CEO of Veset, notes that the shift towards ad-funded services has been well-documented in recent months, “with many broadcasters trying to meet the demands of budget-conscious consumers. Yet the challenge isn’t just maintaining your audience, it’s also how effectively you can monetise the content being served to them. With the rising volume of ad-funded services, competition to attract advertisers is also greater than ever”.
Gailis adds: “FAST has seen some success in the US, yet to succeed in Europe, effective regionalisation is currently a key challenge. Permissions and expectations surrounding the type of advertising that can be shown vary greatly throughout Europe, as does spoken language. To reach audiences across multiple regions, broadcasters face the costs of much greater personalisation…Broadcasters need to embrace new monetisation strategies, and consider more flexible, cloud-based workflows, if they want to keep hold of their audiences and effectively compete for advertisers.”
Hanns Schempp, head of marketing (TV platform) at Zattoo, comments that all industry players “would admit that 2023 has been complex so far. While the expected macro-challenges fully set in, Zattoo launched important features like FAST and DAS with some of our most innovative customers in Germany. We also expanded our full-white label TV-as-a-service offering into new European markets like Sweden.”
Schempp notes that most telcos and Internet service providers “continue to look for much more than feature stacks and short-term price breaks. Instead, they long for understanding how to build or migrate to an award-winning TV platform and integrate subscriber growth from that profitably into their core market endeavours. So, really getting down to this with our customers was a particularly big thing for us this year”.
The AI challenge
Meanwhile, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools is a topic that continues to permeate the industry at all levels.
Joe Foster is the CEO of Easel TV, a company he describes as “on a mission to simplify launching direct-to-consumer (D2C) streaming services”. He says that if IBC2022 was the year of FAST, then IBC2023 will surely see a focus on AI. “Are these disparate things or is there a link?” he asks.
“FAST is an easy route to market for content owners,” Foster says. “Simply hand your content over to a third party and hope for a decent share of advertising revenue. But as more content owners join FAST platforms there is a danger of the volume of content leading to saturation and a decline in ad rates. Whilst a D2C self-managed service is clearly an alternative route, this has traditionally introduced complicated workflow and resource challenges. Easel TV is on a mission to change all that.”
Last year, Easel TV introduced self-build capabilities for creating a D2C service that Foster says overcame many of these challenges, “making the addition of a D2C outlet as easy as creating and managing a third-party FAST outlet. It gives content owners the option to run their own D2C service, with or without multiple third-party FAST services”.
He adds that this “simple editorially driven ‘self-service’ D2C option is something Easel TV has now established as a core competency. As a complement or alternative to the FAST narrative of IBC 2022 it also aligns perfectly with a likely IBC2023 focus on AI”.
Easel TV itself will be demonstrating two new features this year: EAI (Easel TV Artificial Intelligence) assistance and an editorially managed ‘Markets’ functionality, which it says takes service data points to create multiple audience segments.
Foster is not the only executive to mention AI, of course. Tom Dvorak, co-founder and chief commercial officer of XroadMedia, notes that generative AI (GenAI) “has been an obvious trend throughout the last twelve months and is not without its challenges. OTT services are feeling the pressure to adopt GenAI to enhance experiences. However, there are still many questions if it’s helping or hindering in today’s service delivery value chain.”
Dvorak notes that costs and scalability in particular are hurdles to be overcome when it comes to the application of GenAI in the OTT landscape.
“There is no doubt that GenAI will generate many possibilities and opportunities for OTT service providers and more importantly, for end users. We have been working on how best to introduce GenAI and thereby help our customers to deliver innovative user experiences, with easy content discoverability and churn reduction in mind,” he says.
Mathieu Planche, CEO at Witbe, notes that a key challenge this year is “one that remains constant across the industry: scalability. How can video service providers facing a larger marketplace than ever before work faster, lower costs, let their employees retain creativity, and still deliver great results? One of the ways we addressed this was through a technology that has been used at Witbe since 2004: AI.”
According to Planche, “instead of replacing human employees with generative AI bots, we’re focused on using new technological innovations to cover repetitive and time-consuming tasks. This allows valuable human team members to focus on more creative, challenging, and urgent work”.
He highlights Witbe’s Smart Navigate algorithm as an example of how AI can be used to help free service providers from mundane tasks, “letting testing teams allocate their most time-consuming updates to AI. Using technology to better distribute resources is a continual focus for us and should be for the entire industry.”
In terms of other hot topics, live sports as well as consumer choice have certainly been major focus points this year.
Indeed, Paul Pastor, chief business officer and co-founder at Quickplay, observes that there is a significant issue unfolding in sports TV.
As traditional pay-TV revenues have declined, regional sports networks, ESPN and other television brands have felt the pinch of high rights fees and production costs and reduced subscription and advertising revenue. In the US in particular, the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports Group, its aftermath and extensive layoffs at ESPN have dramatically rocked the industry,” Pastor says.
He adds: “The companies that are succeeding are those who have implemented new cloud-based platforms that enable expansion into new D2C markets, data-driven personalisation of viewer experiences across any device, introduction of new monetisation models, access to AI gardens, and more.”
He highlights how media companies such as YES Network, MSG Networks, Rogers Sports & Media’s Sportsnet and others have used the Quickplay platform to “build flexible, scalable, futureproof services. One provider already has begun using the platform for dynamic ad insertion, increasing engagement and generating significant additional revenue to drive bottom line success”.
Lucy Norris, EVP broadcast technology and customer success at Synamedia, also notes that with consumer belts tightening and high rates of churn, “we’ve seen a growing appetite for new applications and monetisation techniques, taking advantage of AI, business insights, targeted advertising, and augmenting the viewing experience, all with a close eye on costs”.
“The last year has seen opportunities for new streamers as well as continual pressure on existing players to innovate to keep viewers hooked. The crunch point is live sports streaming where investments are huge and viewers have high expectations,” she says.
She highlights the company’s recent developments, such as Synamedia Iris, its addressable TV advertising platform that now supports programmatic campaigns for streaming delivery; and Gravity, its cloud service platform offering centralised management of devices and services. “We continue to focus on the ultra-low latency and instant scalability required for sports streaming and related applications”, she adds.
According to Martin Prins, head of product of Media Distillery, competing for viewers’ attention is currently the biggest industry challenge.
“The recent discovery that viewers are willing to subscribe to a maximum of three video services has intensified the competition for viewer attention, making efficient content discovery, playback, and short-form consumption crucial,” he says.
He highlights how Media Distillery’s Topic Distillery uses “advanced algorithms to identify topics within broadcast programmes and provide automatic chaptering. This enables viewers to quickly access their favourite topics or discover related content about their preferred sports club, in both short and long formats. These features significantly enhance user engagement”.
He adds: “With the launch of Ad Break Distillery this year, we can easily detect ad breaks. This enables our customers to offer premium ad-free replay TV, resulting in higher NPS and generating additional revenue streams. Ultimately, wider choice and flexibility can benefit users with different needs and interests.”
Rick Young, SVP, head of global products at LTN, makes the important point that the growing transition toward IP transmission has been a key focus this year.
“IP is changing the game as it delivers unforeseen innovation, flexibility, and scalability. But we are finding that some of the current IP solutions are not cutting it and organisations are unable to catch-up with ever-evolving consumer demands. Getting it right will be the key to unlocking new monetisation opportunities and the required live channel customisation and versioning, through a platform that makes it possible to deliver high reliability, scale, and low latency,” he says.
Young adds: “The industry is moving away from simple point products that are focused on transport only to broadly focused solutions that enable content and business policy management within the transmission network (versus the traditional, static method of relying on limited black box edge devices).”
He also points out that LTN has been busy in this space for some time, “and has developed solutions like Wave and Arc solutions that enable media companies to leverage the power of IP and distribute multiple versions of content to any destination worldwide reliably.”
Meanwhile, Simon Parkinson, managing director of Dot Group, addresses the same question that he says faces IBC visitors every year: how do we do more with less?
“Over the past year, Dot Group’s biggest challenge as data experts has been meeting industry demand for affordable data transfer solutions. Solutions that are easier to onboard and less expensive up front,” he says. In response,” he adds, Dot Group launched DataSprint, a file transfer solution powered by IBM Aspera technology that delivers files of any size to any location with transfer speeds of up to 20Gbps.
Chris Ambrozic, vice president and GM of discovery at Xperi, was the only Content Everywhere executive to mention what is often called the fifth screen: the computers and displays inside vehicles.
“Xperi sits at the intersection of car makers, media-tech, user experience and content owners, and our solutions have been integrated into cars for more than 20 years. This year is different. The 2024 models will hit showrooms this summer and major auto manufacturers are bringing video to the dashboard. Video may be new for automotive, but one thing is clear: auto manufacturers are investing in video with bigger and better screens and expanded content options,” he says.
Ambrozic adds: “The vehicle is even more important now than it was prior to the pandemic. It offers a third space — outside of work and outside the home — where users access and consume content from all the services they subscribe to. In the car, nearly 70% of drivers want their vehicle to know them and personalise everything from the music to interior lighting and temperature. Personalisation is absolutely crucial to delivering what users are looking for and expect, whether in the comfort of their living rooms or in the comfort of their connected car.”
In conclusion, there’s a lot going on in Content Everywhere. The final word goes to Ajey Anand, CEO of Norigin Media, who provided an example of how the company solved Swedish broadcaster TV4 Play’s need to enhance audience engagement on connected TV apps across a range of devices from Android TV, Apple TV, Samsung Tizen, and LG WebOS.
“The challenge was to increase interactivity and create seamless consumer journeys while streaming OTT content, just using one screen, and without relying on a second-screen device,” says Anand. The solution was to engineer seamless navigation within CTV apps, where the remote control replaced a second-screen mobile device.
According to Norigin, during the Swedish version of American Idol, this “not only transformed the interactive experience for the audience but also revolutionised how interactivity was integrated into various shows. Keeping sustainability in mind, the same experiences were used across a range of consumer engagement for surveys, reviews, and polling across both live and VoD content”, the company says.
- The next Content Everywhere newsletter will focus on what you expect to see at IBC2023! I’m looking for your top three hopes or expectations for the event in September 2023. Please send all contributions to Anne Morris by 21 August 2023.