Understanding where significant audiences are located allows content providers to create, optimise and deliver higher-value content.

Navigating location-based content delivery and streaming

By Kiriki Delany, President, StreamGuys

Content is increasingly being targeted at end-users based on their location. Is your audience currently at home, or travelling in a car? Are they local, or outside of the country? Geography-based user demographics play an important role in streaming media, enabling the provider to make decisions and deliver content based on the individual’s location.

Rich media such as news, weather and public service alerts can all greatly benefit from geographic targeting. Broadcasters delivering local news reports need to target the content based on audience location. A traffic report is only relevant to a listener when it is about the region they are in. Traditional over-the-air broadcasts do not need to worry about delivering irrelevant reporting to users globally, but Internet broadcasters do. How do you keep your content relevant to the global marketplace?

It is very important for content providers to know their audience. Analytics, in the form of real-time tracking, log-based reporting and user registration, can provide key information about the location of users. Understanding where significant audiences are located allows content providers to create, optimise and deliver higher-value content. The Internet allows broadcasters to offer content globally, and geographic data allows them to serve local markets — not just one local market, but every local market simultaneously.

High-value revenue opportunities often use geo-targeting. Ad insertion can particularly leverage location services. Local and national advertising campaigns can be dynamically inserted into content based on users’ location data, helping content providers attract local, national and worldwide advertisers based on their performance within different regions. Programmatic advertising almost always leverages location information, in addition to other demographic data, to target relevant advertising on a large scale.

Geo-targeting versus geo-blocking

 Before continuing, let us go over some terminology. “Geo-fencing” is the function of defining virtual borders upon which location decisions will be based. A geo-fence could, for example, be a set of cities which allow (“geo-targeting”) or prohibit (“geo-blocking”) access to content. What if you want to target the suburban areas of San Francisco? You can draw a map of the suburbs expressed in latitude and longitude positions. Geo-fencing could also be specific to the users themselves, such as when the users are at home or at work.

“Geo-blocking” is the function of prohibiting access to content based on user location. This is critical for territory and rights management. For example, a sports broadcaster may have the rights to stream a game only within the same metro area as the over-the-air (OTA) broadcast. Conversely, geo-blocking can be used to implement local blackout restrictions for sports and concerts, preventing streaming within the event’s host city, unless all tickets have sold out. Broadcasters may also wish to implement geo-blocking based on their interpretations of royalty considerations.

Geo-blocking is usually an enforced policy, where content is blocked at the access layer. For StreamGuys, that means the server makes an evaluation of the end-user’s location before allowing content to play back.

While geo-blocking is used to prohibit access, in contrast, geo-targeting is used to allow access and increase relevance by providing specific, targeted content based on location. Beyond the targeted advertising applications mentioned earlier, geo-targeting is often used to deliver different versions of programming based on the location of the user.

Under the hood

Geographic decisions are made by identifying where the end-user is, so the accuracy of geo-targeting or geo-blocking is determined by the available data. The location of end-users can be determined with or without their participation. Devices which provide location telemetry — such as smartphones and almost all modern PCs and browsers — can be enabled to share end-user data. This is usually an opt-in capability, with the user prompted to allow location sharing. Once enabled, mobile devices typically send GPS latitude and longitude data, which is very accurate. Even devices which lack a proper GPS can send latitude and longitude coordinates; for example, the Google Chrome browser can provide highly accurate information from its database of Wi-Fi access spots.

What if the end-user declines to share their location? In the absence of latitude and longitude data, geographic decisions can be made based on the IP address of the user. The IP address is usually available in the network session’s request for the content, and can be looked up in IP address databases from many providers to determine the corresponding location. IP-based location accuracy is only as good as the database itself.

Such info is usually very accurate at the country level, and reasonably accurate to the city level, but inaccurate to the block and street address level. There can also be false identification for individuals who are behind networks which share IPs between users, like larger corporate networks and some mobile networks.

Putting it in practice

Broadcasters often use a mix of geo-blocking and geo-targeting. For example, if you need to prohibit access to content such as a soccer game from a specific country, you might also want the option of targeting alternative content to those users — either different programming, or at least a service message explaining the restriction.

For commercial radio broadcasters, listener location can affect in-market versus out-of-market ratings and performance. Some ratings organisations allow broadcasters to count both online and over-the-air audiences towards their station’s rating, but only in the local market. Geo-targeting enables them to separate in-market listenership from out-of-market, counting the former towards the simulcast rating while monetising the latter with different advertising and ratings.

While advances in location accuracy, real-time analytics and ad-insertion decision-making made geo-targeting increasingly powerful, broadcasters need a strategy that incorporates the entire production and delivery chain to maximise its effectiveness.

Producers decide relevant geographic policies, which need to be implemented between the servers and end-user applications. The decision engine must be integrated between the end-user and the content. The ad sales team is also integral in developing ad creative that maximises the value and relevance of local and national ad spots.

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