As the shift away from linear TV viewing continues unabated, TV operators need to ensure that their content reaches their audiences anywhere and everywhere. Shawn Liew reports.
If someone were to invent a currency today for the media entertainment industry, it might as well be embossed with the logos of Google, YouTube, Facebook and Amazon.
Barron, an US weekly financial magazine, recently predicted that by 2020, Google and YouTube parent Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon could have a combined US$100 billion in free cashflow. Comparatively, broadcasters ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox combine for a relatively meagre $30 million.
At a time when video streaming services are ramping up their original content production, this is a significant development, without even going into potentially the defining game changer — sports content rights.
When, and not if, traditional broadcasters and pay-TV operators begin to lose their monopoly on sports rights, a new era of TV Everywhere may well emerge; only this time, the TV set potentially has a diminished role to play.
How, then, can traditional operators prepare themselves for a new era of TV Everywhere? The idea behind TV Everywhere is three-fold, suggests Richard Brandon, CMO of Edgeware.
He tells APB: “It is about giving consumers the ability to watch programming at any time, in any place and on any device. Wide availability has changed viewers’ expectations and they now expect unlimited access to the best quality content.”
As for what will be key components in creating a successful TV Everywhere strategy, Brandon identifies three: How good your programming is; how well you deliver it; and whether you can do it cost-effectively. “Having spent a lot of money on content rights, content distributors still need to make sure they are able to deliver it without buffering, delays or glitches, and while operating within manageable costs.”
For the best results, deploy a content delivery network (CDN) that is designed to specifically deliver TV programming. Compared to a generic CDN-as-a-service, the former can “hugely improve” content distributors’ overall TV Everywhere offering.
Brandon explains: “A TV CDN can be the ‘difference maker’ in delivering programming without buffering, delays or glitches, and also lets content distributors deploy additional functionalities such as forensic watermarking, personalised advertising, user analytics and edge repackaging.
“With a TV CDN, content distributors are in complete control of services from start to finish, so they can repackage programming at the end of the delivery process, rather than at the start.”
For instance, when two users — one using a tablet and another using a computer — request the same programme, it only needs to be delivered to the edge once, where the programme can be repackaged specifically for the end-user’s device. Because only one version of each programme needs to be delivered, content distributors can operate more cost-effectively by saving on the deployment of resources and storage space.
The concept of TV Everywhere, by definition, contains an element of variability, offers Stein Erik Sørhaug, VP of product strategy, Vimond.
While it can be used to describe an authenticated business model for over-the-top (OTT) services to multiple system operators (MSOs) and mobile network operators (MNOs) in the US, TV Everywhere also broadly defines a catch-all for multi-screen video services, says Sørhaug.
He continues: “On the authenticated play, the standard-‘based’ video pipeline must be top-notch. From the application of digital rights management (DRM) to pristine device-focused video formats, the TV Everywhere users expect a common and simple navigation to their favourite content.
“These include features such as seamless pause and resume playback across devices with TV-like video quality and performance, without stuttering and buffering.”
To encourage long-term usage, as well as return viewing and stickiness, Sørhaug recommends the easy discoverability of content, as well as the personalised linear-like playback of either editorially curated, or algorithmically machine-recommended content.
A third application to TV Everywhere is standalone subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) services that are decoupled from an operator’s billing system. “To support this model, you need to employ a complex and rule-rich product monetisation module,” Sørhaug adds, while emphasising the Vimond provides an end-to-end suite of products to support every step in setting up and running a successful TV Everywhere ecosystem.
He describes: “Vimond’s deep application programming interface (API) library and editorial tools enable front-ends with discoverability and usability in mind — with tools for real-time and dynamic content updates to keep the service fresh and relevant, keeping viewers coming back day after day to watch their favourite shows and movies.”
And while cord-cutting is increasingly a worrisome trend as content consumption moves towards connected devices and screens, there is also a need to address the cord-nevers — people who have not had any pay-TV subscriptions to speak of — as Sørhaug points out.
For this segment of consumers, keeping content fresh and relevant is critical, alongside the offering of cost-effective and flexible subscriber plans. “For these paying customers, it is extremely important to apply functionality, as Vimond does, to reduce churn and reduce customer retention costs.”
Because TV Everywhere involves the streaming of video content over the open Internet, there exist challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Where the former is concerned, piracy is an existential concern.
Content protection is indeed an increasingly important topic, highlights Edgeware’s Brandon. “A few years ago, those wanting to pirate a movie would have to go into a cinema with a camera and produce copies of a video or DVD. Now, because so much content is delivered online, programming is more exposed to the threat of piracy than it has ever been.”
To combat this, Edgeware offers a forensic watermarking solution that integrates ContentAmor’s technology into Edgeware’s TV CDN platform. The solution, which was awarded the IABM Design and Innovation award at IBC 2017, is able to identify and manipulate several pixels within video streams and change them in a way that creates a specific code within the video itself.
“And again, because programming is delivered from the edge of the network, a distributor can add this watermark at the latest point, so each viewer has a unique code,” says Brandon. “This is what makes it easy for us to help content distributors spot exactly who has stolen a particular video stream.”
The transition to the online video domain, however, offers the golden opportunity to truly understand each consumer, and reinvigorate the discovery process by offering personalised content that will truly appeal to the target audience.
As sophisticated metadata continues to proliferate, articificial intelligence (AI) is likely to come to the fore this year. Vimond, for example, recently announced a technology and marketing partnership with video AI company Valossa. With the integration of their respective products, the companies add content recognition capabilities to Vimond’s platform, making it easier to search for contextually relevant images and video content.
Vimond’s Sørhaug says: “While many AI solutions in the market have been waiting for a business plan, Vimond and partners like Valossa have found real-world applications for the now in AI.”
One area AI has made great strides, he believes, is in video recognition and the automated creation of “deeply rich” metadata that can be searched in the cloud to open up vast content archives previously inaccessible. “This opens new opportunities for using historic video to rapidly create new materials and content.” For example, if there is a celebrity death or a royal marriage, archive content can be accessed, and using Vimond’s storytelling tools, new and deep content can be quickly created.
Content discovery, Sørhaug agrees, is also an immediate application for AI. “Using machine learning and intelligent understanding of human behaviour, you can now blend with editorially curated content from a human, a personalised linear viewing experience targeted exactly to your own interests beyond simple genre matches.”