There’s more to avoiding churn and satisfying viewers than simply creating good content. As linear TV increasingly takes on the character of a legacy format, the medium through which video is consumed becomes almost as crucial a component as the content itself, writes Andrew Williams.
Several ways to personalise and enhance the viewer’s experience were discussed at an IBC panel, as well ways to avoid the more bandwidth-hogging of these from adding dramatically to a broadcaster’s costs.
The path to personalisation
Sport is a natural proving ground for personalisation techniques, and these techniques are the future, said Damien Reed, 24i’s SVP of Data Products.
“The five-year vision is absolutely around increased personalisation,” said Reed. However, some of the most effective forms of it can be quite simple.
“In a previous life I was running Now TV’s sports products… they have a range of really premium sports content, and we had a problem. People were coming to the service, watching one or two items of sport and they wouldn’t come back,” he said.
“We did some very simple personalisation. We knew If you’d been on the service two times and you’d watched a Liverpool football match, you are probably a Liverpool fan. So we would send a mail out an hour before the next Liverpool match saying, Liverpool are on, would you like to engage with the service. You went to the app or the TV experience and there was the Liverpool match right at the top… I can’t tell you the effect it had on usage.”
The root of effective personalisation is that: “You have to make sure the right content is in front of the right users,” emphasised Reed.
However, he also suggested an effective but rudimentary approach should not just be adopted and called a roaring success. “You have to try to drive them into new sports,” Reed said. “You can’t give them the same old cricket match again and again.”
There’s also a generational divide in how people approach content, one that brings its own challenges that should help shape future strategy.
“There are some subtleties with younger audiences. We find they tend to want short form content much more, and they are actually even more intolerant of putting other stuff on their journey. They want to get to the right content even quicker than you or I would,” he commented.
Viewer control over content
Chistof Haslauer, CEO, NativeWaves offered one vision of how this can play out, again using football to demonstrate. The NativeWaves platform lets the user select from a large array of camera angles during a match, turning the viewer into the director or, perhaps more apt, an explorer of the pitch.
It’s an approach inspired in part by gaming, and the agency it offers.
“What we see in traditional broadcast is just one feed, and everyone gets the same content. We really want to change that perspective,” said Haslauer. “What we try to do is give people the choice.”
This might be compared to the BBC’s “red button” Digital TV experience, which offers secondary content during programming, but taken generations further. The viewer can choose the camera used for on-demand replays. This camera-hopping platform can also become a companion to the live TV experience, sync’ing the two using the audio track as a guide.
Further information, like “social media, betting and e-commerce” can be incorporated too. The digital content platform becomes a nerve centre of information that gives the viewer a sense of control and ownership not possible elsewhere. However, it’s all optional, and Haslauer acknowledges the classic “lean-back” experience is exactly what people will want a significant proportion of the time.
NativeWaves’s platform is designed to “switch between the lean-back experience, and into this active and engaged move seamlessly and quickly, and then to be able to do that in one single user experience that we then give to the end consumer,” said Haslauer.
This particular vision of a form of manual personalisation for the viewer will also need to morph alongside the content represented. “Every sport is different, in how it’s produced and how the user watches it in different situations,” said Haslauer. However, from the multi-angle presentation to the integration of secondary sources like social media, it does not take too much imagination to picture how these features could be used elsewhere, in and out of sports broadcasting.
One element that will connect most of these forms of experience personalisation is not so positive — increased bandwidth demand. “How do we help bridge that gap in this personalisation technology when we keep eating up more and yet aren’t able to provide to everyone a simple bandwidth flow?” asked panel moderator David Grindle, Executive Director of SMPTE.
Ever-spiralling data demand is tempered by ever-evolving efficiency savings in broadcast technology, as demonstrated by Silicon Valley’s VisualOn, which optimises the encoding of video platforms’ streams. Its latest product VisualOn Optimizer analyses content to calculate the best encoder settings per scene, for the most efficient results.
It’s a necessary next-level step because of the industry’s trajectory. “Bandwidth requirements will continue to rapidly increase into the near future,” said VisualOn CEO Yang Chai. “Even with improvements to infrastructure, bandwidth continues to be a major cost component for the operators. In this very competitive market it’s important for them to save every penny they can.”
The benefits go beyond money-saving on the broadcaster’s end too. It means reduced bandwidth use for the viewer, decreases storage requirements and ultimately lowers the carbon footprint of the broad operation as a whole.
“It’s very easy to integrate with an existing workflow,” said Yang Chai. Serious attention in this area is going to be needed for broadcasters are to find success in increasing engagement through personalisation, however. VisualOn cites bitrate reductions of up to 46% without significant loss of quality, and its Optimizer system can work in real time as well as with VOD-style content. This means it can slip into existing workflows without disruption, at least in theory.
VisualON CEO Yang Chai, 24i SVP of Data Products Damien Reed and NativeWaves CEO Christof Haslauer met at IBC2022 to discuss personalisation and engagement at IBC2022 in a panel chaired by David Grindle, Executive Director of SMPTE.