Personalizing OTT Content For Maximum Impact
A core promise of OTT is greater customer satisfaction through a more personalised viewing experience. Instead of linear channels with scheduled content that we may or may not be interested in, OTT enables us to combine tailored VOD and Live content into a single viewing window. This specific personalised viewing dynamic tunes the experience more precisely for a consumer which in turn increases commercial value for advertisers and OTT operators. We should expect a win-win-win for consumer, advertiser and content provider.
For personalised viewing to deliver optimal customer satisfaction OTT operators must strike the right balance between lean-forward viewing – i.e., the active searching for content that you want to watch – and lean-back viewing – i.e., the passive consumption of the content that is curated and displayed. The content that is made available in the most satisfactory way is likely to deliver the best results for consumers, and therefore for the content providers and advertisers.
How content is displayed is therefore central to this discussion. How does the content made available to consumers align with their interests? Would they describe their service experience as highly satisfactory?
To optimise content display, we must focus on how content is managed. This starts with the association of content data and consumer data to establish a content presentation decision. Then it requires the ability to act on this decision with appropriate speed for the “watch now” expectation many people have. So how is content managed today, and what can we expect for the future?
Content management begins with consumption data, which is granular and individual in the world of OTT. Gathering data about viewing behaviour is unsurprisingly one of the hottest subjects in the media industry. The data and the statistics derived from them drive the value, and therefore price, of advertising space. They also directly influence investment in new content production. And of course, they help content providers decide what to present to consumers. What people watch every day is a high-stakes business.
This data is therefore hot content itself. Collecting the right data and making sense of it is fundamental to content providers. D2C OTT streaming raises the stakes even further for the content providers who own the content and have a direct relationship with the audience. They now have the ability to know their customers in great detail. And the better they know what grabs their attention and what creates the largest and/or most passionate audiences, the better the business they will have. Their big and difficult decision is deciding what to present to their audience. This inevitably is a balance between the customer-centric approach which uses information about our interests and the advertizing-centric approach which promotes brand-sponsored content.
Today’s models for presenting content generally revolve around the concept of a recommendation engine which is built on available data such as viewing trends/rankings, what we’ve watched before, and sometimes our personal preferences that have been captured independently in our registered profile. The more simplistic models can rely heavily on what content is available closest to you (i.e., in the CDN’s cache), which is the least customer-centric of the various decision-making inputs and is now becoming less of a requirement (see below). And of course, there is also the traditional EPG for showing linear channel content that is on now or coming up.
Some TV operators have introduced “viewing preferences” tools to try to capture information about our mood, our available time, etc. in order to fine-tune the content presented to their customers. Anecdotally, these systems have not helped increased customer satisfaction when compared to the existing methods.
Today’s trend is away from the concept of recommendation and content proximity and towards the concept of personalized content universes. This means that consumers will have greater ability to choose the content that is displayed to them and the structure of that display. They will be able to see the channels, brands, genres, subjects, etc. in a personalized UI that is shaped in the way they choose.
This concept will extend the dataset that content providers hold about consumers as they will know how they choose to configure their UI, in addition to knowing what they watch. By having this ability, consumers implicitly reveal more about their personal preferences without having to answer a questionnaire. This extra data will be incorporated into the data set that must already be governed in line with data privacy laws, such as GDPR in Europe or newly emerging US state-level privacy laws like CCPA in California. Navigating the privacy laws correctly while simultaneously enabling a truly personalized content universe is an ongoing, and demanding, process for each D2C operator.
At the same time, OTT video services are leveraging lessons learned from the online advertising industry which is already tapping into social networks to know us better. Clearly, this approach also falls into the data privacy realm and requires careful management. But there is a win-win available to consumers and content providers if personal data is managed well – consumers get a better viewing experience and content providers get valuable information for their advertiser partners. D2C content providers that leverage their customers’ social media presence will soon be able to present information like “your friends watched this…” or “your friends are interested in this…”. These insights will almost certainly be valuable to consumers and are likely to create new social interactions beyond individual content consumption.
In addition to self-configured personal content universes, AI-led content presentation based on community-wide viewing trends is important. Equally, professionally curated content will continue to be important to help consumers discover content they might otherwise not be aware of. Finding the balance between these three methods of content presentation will be the perennial task of the D2C content provider.
Whichever decision-making method is used, content needs to be presented to consumers’ satisfaction. While EPGs have become the de-facto standard for presenting linear TV content, the world of OTT and the combined presentation of linear and VOD content is still evolving.
It is well-known that the most popular content is either live or near-term catch-up TV (generally within 48 hours), or leading VOD series that are binge-watchable. But it is also clear that a lot of great content can be really hard to find or is simply not available to us as consumers. OTT creates an environment where long-tail VOD can be readily combined with more popular content to create new value for consumers and content providers.
To support this, one of the new capabilities coming to our screens is that of “grouping” content. In the context of a personal content universe, this allows us to have linear, catch-up and long-tail VOD content available in groups of programs that fit our preferences. This reduces the effort associated with lean-forward viewing, while maximizing the benefits of lean-back viewing.
As VOD libraries continue to grow year on year, and as broadcasters start to release their vast archives into the marketplace, this customer-centric “easily edible content” approach is where content providers will differentiate themselves through customer service and ease of use. Single brand D2C content providers, traditional content aggregators, and the new content aggregators like Apple, Google and Samsung will be moving in this direction.
Executing The Decision
After all the work to determine what should be presented, it’s equally important to ensure the content is delivered to meet viewer expectations.
In our must-see-it-now world, the speed of delivery is a key topic. Speed is what causes content providers to recommend content that is cached near to us as consumers. But as delivery networks expand their capacity and as more OTT services move to private CDN models, both of which reduce the speed and cost of content delivery, the use of “cached content availability” quickly diminishes in importance as a recommendation driver.
Clearly, long-tail VOD content on tape is unlikely to yield a positive user experience for the watch-it-nowviewers. For this reason, many VOD libraries are entirely in online disk-based storage systems, but these VOD libraries are generally not holding an entire multi-decade video archive. But like the forward-recording functionality consumers have grown used to for programs airing in the future, a VOD experience with content held on tape is manageable with a “forward-deliver” approach that may take hours or days to fulfil. While there are many business drivers for and against this approach, the point is that the OTT environment enables this kind of service for customers, which could create additional loyalty and revenue for OTT services.
Other articles in the World of OTT series discuss the most efficient platforms for fast and efficient content delivery. Just-in-time packaging and just-in-time encryption are two technologies that support efficiency because they reduce the number of files stored in the VOD library. Object storage is another example as it provides a fast look-up unique identifier for each piece of content in the system, which matters in very large, online content libraries. And CDNs that can share content quickly between caching layers support the efficient delivery of live and hot VOD content. These technologies support overall system efficiency because they also enable the content management system to process data more efficiently, which in turn makes a difference to the overall platform cost as the OTT service grows.
Consumer behaviours and interests will change. Content trends will change. The content management and presentation technology must adapt.
From a deployment perspective, these systems now offer the option of cloud-deployment which provides easy scalability as content libraries and channels change, and as subscriber bases grow, decline and churn.
Long Live The Triumvirate
Content is king in the media industry. But the kings of other industries – namely distribution and data – are becoming more visible in the media industry as the D2C OTT model expands. Soon we may decide that it is best to not talk about a single king, but instead decide it is best to talk about a triumvirate balanced between content, distribution and data.
Content management is at the heart of this debate because it is where content presentation decisions are made and executed, which in turn drives every single viewing activity. As we move further into the world of individuals having multiple content apps, leading to routine comparisons between different OTT service providers for both content and customer experience, content management disciplines will only become more important.
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