Interest in delivering OTT/VOD services that accommodate greater personalisation of content and advertising closer to the viewer is growing all the time.
More than ever before, the rise of OTT and VOD services has opened the door to giving viewers precisely what they want, when they want it.
From shaping streaming services on the basis of location and demographics, to providing content that is accompanied by advertising that accurately reflect the preferences of the individual consumer, personalisation – even ‘hyper-personalisation’ to use a more recent buzzword – is now the name of the game.
On a purely commercial level, this is no surprise. Along with the globally dominant streaming services like Apple+ and Netflix, there was always bound to be scope for more niche platforms encompassing content ranging from non-mainstream sports to arthouse movies. Moreover, in both tiers, there is recognition of the role increased personalisation can play in long-term subscriber retention.
Luke Durham, CTO of video technology specialist Switch Media, observes the continuing “fragmentation of the marketplace, where more niche players are coming in and even the major services – some of which are starting to fragment – need to achieve greater personalisation.”
Hence, in the case of more bespoke services in particular, there is an impetus to “look at empowering them to provide highly competitive services that satisfy the demographics but without the price points that could be associated with having large encoding clusters.”
Platforms for personalisation
In light of all this, it’s not surprising that – whilst it would be a stretch to describe it as an ‘explosion’ of new offers – there has been a marked increase in technologies and platforms that make it easier for content creators to personalise their services. For Switch Media, one major focus has been on its Live2VOD technology, which facilitates the personalisation of channels – including programmes and adverts – based on viewing location, demographics and behaviour.
“We have been working on the whole server-side ad technology area for a number of years, the aim being to really improve the advertising experience [and enable] a frictionless presentation,” says Durham. Increasingly, those efforts have led in the direction of “personalising the ads that are in the stream”.
With the Live2VOD solution, it is possible to create VOD assets that are driven by metadata information ingested into the platform. Using this method, content creators can select the programme they wish to trim and publish using the web UI.
Designed to capture from feeds across a variety of sources, Live2VOD also allows content to be encoded on the fly using high performance transcoders coordinated by the MediaHQ platforms in priority sequence – thereby ensuring that programmes are processed and published in the most optimal way for each customer.
The solution has, confirms Durham, resonated with customer groups including “broadcasters who are multi-region and international, [but who nonetheless] have a smaller footprint and are offering more niche content.”
Its structure and operation are also giving users the chance to “avoid that heavy kind of infrastructure which is often associated with linear services.”
The utilisation of accurate metadata is also central to another offering, LTN Cue Managed Service, from LTN Global.
This service is designed to overcome “addressable TV advertising limitations” through the provision of a managed linear metadata insertion service, enabling digital ad insertion, linear to VOD workflows, content replacement, regionalisation and distribution rights enforcement across various distribution platforms and technologies.
LTN Cue Managed Service accords with what CTO head of strategy for LTN Global, Alan Young, describes as the “fundamental realisation that if you want to deliver a personalised experience for a viewer then you have to be able to change the content at the edge – close to the viewer. In the case of streaming it is somewhat more straightforward as every viewer gets their own stream. But with traditional TV viewing you basically have to switch the content out on an STB or in the TV itself. And the challenge there is to do it in a way that does not disrupt the viewing experience.”
Utilising the same technology as LTN Connect – a linear channel decoration managed service – LTN Cue Managed Service employs SCTE 35 markers to identify the point of insertion for, and duration of, advertising content. With a straightforward workflow for sending decorated feeds to cable, satellite and virtual MVPDs, LTN Cue Managed Service provides a method for “channel originators to scale up their distribution, viewership and ad revenue,” says Young.
Looking forward, he anticipates that the deepening of stream-related metadata will facilitate even more sophisticated personalisation.
“I think there will be much richer metadata about the programme stream, including the [nature and] context of the programme. There is a lot of potential value to be added there,” asserts Young.
Supporting ‘dynamic’ environments
Harmonic has also been charting the emergence of more tailored streaming services via solutions such as the VOS360 Live Streaming Platform, which allows users to optimise their live video delivery to enhance experiences with flexible and real-time scaling, targeted advertising, and packaging and origin.
Peering into the future, Harmonic VP video customer services Eric Gallier expects that the cloud will facilitate new aspects of personalisation as it becomes more firmly embedded in production and delivery. “If you want to do personalisation you need to have a platform that can scale a lot, and clearly that is something you have when it is cloud-based,” he explains. “Beyond that I think there will be two primary aspects to personalisation: one is on the monetisation side, where advertising will become hyper-targeted. The other is on the content side, where the server will know your content preferences and will [facilitate the delivery of] live channels where content is constructed from VOD assets and reflects entirely the preferences of the viewer.”
Rob Malcolm, chief product officer at Imagine Communications, also emphasises the role that more highly targeted advertising and adaptive audience fulfilment – whereby content creators change the way they think about selling advertising across both linear and non-linear platforms – is likely to play.
He mentions one broadcaster that has recently created one “self-help portal” that allows all advertising content to be addressable for both linear and VOD/OTT. This, says Malcolm, mirrors Imagine Communications’ own emphasis on solutions delivery that seeks to ensure broadcasters “can sell across multiple platforms successfully and against the same attributes, all in a seamless way.”
Like many observers, Malcolm anticipates the increased importance of “algorithms that are AI/ML-driven” in delivering the personalisation of the future. But he stresses that for all the assistance automation can provide, “no AI or ML will solve the fundamentals of advertising, which are that you have to have a very strong demand and very strong supply in order to create a great viewing experience.”
At the moment, he observes that there are “issues with supply and demand across lots of platforms”, and hints that more needs to be done across the industry to “ensure that the great rules of linear that make it great to watch are essentially transferred to digital – and not the other way around.”
All of which suggests that we could be at a relatively formative stage of the online viewing personalisation journey. It will almost certainly take time and at least a few services that don’t quite live up to expectations, but ultimately the combination of classic advertising techniques and more individually tailored content services – supported by new technologies including AI – will put the viewer more firmly in control than ever before.