Taking a strategic approach to uncovering OTT opportunities is the key to future success, discovers Andrew Williams, along with innovative thinking and a willingness to experiment with new tech and audiences.
The last 12 months have seen significant challenges for the big players of SVOD. A return to more normal patterns of behaviour following the pandemic has been compounded by the cost-of-living crisis, spurring new tactics in the effort to retain users.
However, these same changes have generated new opportunities for companies working within OTT. Technology has improved. Audiences are more familiar with the concept of digital experiences that would once have only been considered appealing in-person by many.
But what are these opportunities, and how can those working in OTT identify them within their own fields? This was the subject of a panel discussion at IBC 2022, titled ‘New Opportunities for OTT Streaming’.
Open minds are a key to success
Easel TV CEO Joe Foster has worked in OTT for more than a decade, and suggests an open approach is the best to adopt.
“That’s the beginning of where you start to think about — where does streaming go? And the answer to the question to try not to double guess exactly what will win, but try to create something that will be flexible enough to accommodate where it goes,” said Foster. “Think less about television and start thinking more about virtual entertainment.”
There are no set limits to what this “virtual entertainment” is, or may become, but some examples are already clearly evident.
“You start to see a certain trend going from television, which is what you think you use streaming for, into an environment where it starts to be used for more far more diverse things like theatre, and dramatic kind of directions,” said Foster.
Rejecting conventional thinking
He suggests the opportunities arrive here when rights holders, and the creators of popular media or events, start to look a little wider than the conventional players in digital distribution.
“People may not necessarily not do that multibillion pound deal, but will start to experiment with it. I don’t know if you remember that there was a year ago that the Premier League talked about potentially withholding rights in Singapore, and they might have gone direct to market there,” said Foster.
“I think when they press those buttons and experiment with that, they’ll start to think — wait a minute, this is my audience. I can do this. I think when content owners that have really compelling content start to use our capability, our facilities, then I think you’ll see some really exciting stuff.”
Such opportunities are powered the democratising effect of improvements in technology. “Four or five years ago, the ability to do a pop-up channel of Netflix-level quality — we probably weren’t capable of doing that. Now we are,” said Foster.
Levelling-up the tech
A reduction in latency is one of the key components of this shift, as streaming specialist Castr’s co-founder Gokul Ramkumar explains.
“Generally, before a few years back, the industry standard was around a 20 to 30 second delay. Now everything’s going fast. The world is moving fast. Everyone likes to have everything updated real time in literally real time,” said Ramkumar.
“Low latency features are most useful for sports streaming, live interactions, especially when people are in, let’s say, a metaverse virtual world. Everyone requires a low latency streaming so that they can interact between each other.”
If the metaverse and VR are at one end of the technological spectrum of areas of growing interest in and opportunity for streaming, fitness classes are at the other, but no less important.
“The fitness market seems to be growing a lot lately post pandemic. So, during the pandemic time, there wasn’t much people to move out. They were stuck in the home. Of course, everyone has gained weight including me myself again, a lot of weight,” said Ramkumar. And live fitness classes are yet another showcase for the importance of low-latency streaming.
“Low latency is much more interactive keeps us engaged. And it’s like anything we do with the particular instructor we can get engaged with them and this is where it helps them a lot,” he said.
The new dimension of streamed content
Cristina Garcés has worked at the other end of that technological spectrum. She is CEO of Optiva, which recently created a VR experience for Vodafone, set to go live later this year.
“A lot of telcos are finding ways to monetise the B2C angle in 5G, and virtual worlds is one of the ways, augmented reality is another one,” she said.
“In virtual worlds, it’s very important that you have good latency. Otherwise, if the video does not follow the movement of your head, you get dizzy, really dizzy, really. It’s important to have a good, good network… you really need to have your network up to shape you need to have a lot of edge computing. You need to bring things to the edge and I think that’s going to drive the business in the future,” said Garcés.
One element that all these examples of growth areas for OTT share is that they all have the power to make streamed video feel like an event for the end user, with all the vitality that implies.
“When you start combining like low latency and AR, VR and so on, and you start to say ‘right I can create something truly exciting tonight’,” said Easel TV CEO Joe Foster.
“And you take something like the concept of a physical event, a concert going on, and somebody having the ability say ‘oh, we just sold out of physical tickets. Let’s sell some virtual tickets’. And you can create that virtual event at that moment in time, then it becomes really, really interesting,”
Cristina Garcés suggests there’s any even bigger opportunity in sport than in the concert space.
“More and more we’re going to see mixed event because more and more markets are getting global. And companies such as football are have fans in every country. And it’s kind of it’s going to come through sports,” she said.
“Sports is quite advanced in the sense that they have fans in multiple countries and they need to make these fans feel involved not only during live events, but during events that they cannot attend.”
There is no suggestion that a digital stream is going to replace events held in person, but rather that, as in work, a hybrid approach is the future.
“Being in person in the stadium gives us a feeling of connection” said Ramkumar. “But imagine if the same people from the US travelling to India for a sports event — it seems to be impractical financially when the family sizes is five or six. That’s when you can use virtual reality, which they use to feel the sense of being in the stadium and feel free to watch from the comfort of their home.”
Joe Foster CEO of Easel TV, Cristina Garcés CEO of Optima, and co-founder of Castr Gokul Ramkumar took part in a panel discussion on ‘new opportunities for OTT streaming’ at IBC2022. The panel was chaired by Colin Dixon, Founder of nScreenMedia.
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