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Extending the Value Chain into Personalization

Extending the Value Chain into Personalization

Paul Goetz is the senior vice president of sales at Brightcove. This post is a continuation of a blog series in which Paul explores the creation of the "new" media value network. You can review the earlier posts here and here.

In previous posts, I reflected on the fact that the old “value chain” has broken down and is reestablishing itself as a value network. Specifically, in the digital media landscape, the broadcast approach to online distribution--focused on tonnage--has reached an inflection point. Rather than focusing on an anonymous "one to many" model, in today's environment, smart operators will focus on the value of the audience rather than just its size. These players recognize the worth of an audience throughout its viewing lifecycle (i.e. consumption might take place at home, on the road, via numerous devices and over multiple hours or days) and also understand the content lifecycle--the viability of material that is consumed by numerous viewers over multiple screens and a period of days.

Given that audiences have taken control, success is about driving value for each audience member--creating a personalized experience for every viewer, and every view. To do anything less is a waste of an opportunity. To paraphrase Monty Python, "Every stream is sacred, every stream is great, if a stream is wasted, publishers [should] get quite irate."

Tech-driven Personalization is Possible

So, how do we ensure that each stream is revered as it should be? First, let's review the problem. Simply put, when an audience member hits "play" and sets their interaction with online video into motion, they alone are watching the individual stream. It's 100 percent proprietary to them--entirely created solely for their viewing experience. The irony, then, is that in today's digitally advanced world, delivery of the video content is technologically unique but the video consumption process is generic; we all get the same experience as soon as the content begins to play. This disconnect is where the opportunity for online video publishers lies.

Advanced adaptive bitrate streaming standards such as HLS and MPEG-DASH logically and physically divide a video program into digital containers: groups of data segments, including a manifest that manages the detailed information about the comprehensive video. These separate containers are delivered across the Internet via HTTP where they are reassembled to render the finished product: high-quality video of the optimal bitrate displays on the device and platform of a viewer's choosing. Today, everybody watching a particular video is subjected to the same manifest. This approach is as run-of-the-mill as the old broadcast model. But, that shouldn't be the case. By managing each stream through manifest manipulation, publishers can deliver a unique experience--in terms of both content and advertising--to every viewer. Streams are machine-driven; combine this with the vast amount of compute power available inexpensively in a cloud-centric world and basically every person on the planet has an opportunity to enjoy their "own" TV channel designed to suit their specific interests every time they press play.

How are personalized manifests possible? In this instance, knowledge is power. The ubiquitous availability of "Big Data"--demographic information and behavioral insight into the preferences of any programming subscriber--makes it feasible for publishers to understand very easily what really matters to their consumers. And what they can do with this information is game-changing.

The Best Way Forward: Every Stream is Unique

Publishers are beginning to embrace the fact that they simply cannot just "hang up" on an audience member that is engaged enough to seek out video content online or via their mobile devices. Today, it's common for online video to simply play from start to finish. Once it's done, there's not enough to entice the viewer to continue to interact with and consume the publisher's content. This is wrong.

Instead, ongoing audience engagement should be paramount; programmers should be anticipating viewers' wants and needs to consume the next great video. If viewers have sought out video, publishers simply cannot waste that experience by offering a "dead end" viewing scenario. They must delight their audience members so that they don't stop viewing their content until they absolutely have to.

This process begins with the quality of the core programming--but it doesn't end there. Publishers should never concede that they don't have anything else interesting to say. They must use data to create individual viewer profiles that allow them to implement a relevant continuous play scenario, share appropriate content recommendations and integrate advertising that doesn't even seem like advertising to the consumer.

Customization Matters; Data Can Help

It sounds arduous and complex, but customization and personalization doesn't have to be overwhelmingly complicated. Here's my take on a three-step process to make personalization a reality:

  1. Media companies must undertake a data-mining exercise or tap into commercially-available big data services to create unique profiles of its audience members, drilling down by IP address and even device.
  2. Based upon what publishers know about their audience (their age, gender, marital status, hobbies and interests, etc.), they should dynamically adjust viewers' programming feeds so that they receive a custom, ongoing playlist that will appeal to their unique characteristics.
  3. Viewers are no longer anonymous. Publishers will now know exactly who is streaming specific content. With this knowledge, it's easy to integrate e-commerce plugins or advertising content that won’t feel like interruptions and will instead speak to a viewer's interests and needs.

Video is continuing to establish itself as the dominant communication currency--for both media companies and brands. Today, streaming video accounts for 50 percent of residential Internet traffic. And, 188.7 million Americans watched 46 billion online content videos in September 2013 alone. Video is the tool for monetization, engagement and brand affinity moving forward. Media companies must take steps--with the help of data--to create unique experiences for each individual viewer. This level of personalization is possible, and it's time for publishers to take the leap to make data-driven streaming the norm.