The Road to Personalization in the Streaming Space

Stein Erik Sørhaug

February 7, 2020

In this article

We are storytellers. It’s our living history. Our myths. Our legends. Our warnings. The threads that connect us through time. The way we share our inner discoveries with others.

We’ve told stories as far back as we’ve been human. Shaped and reshaped in every telling.Through words and images we left our mark and our lessons. Our stories shaped our present and modelled our future.

The ability to tell stories has evolved over time. The perspectives we tell it from.The character dimensions and depth. The narrative sand obstacles to overcome modernized with our world.Think about the best parts of Traditional Television. In terms of user experience we often hark back to halcyon days where the whole family gathered around the TV set for an appointment to view, a special event. Be that a weekly episode of a serial television show, a weekly Saturday night quiz or entertainment programme, a world changing TV event like landing on the moon, Who Whot JR, the OJ Bronco chase, or the Challenger disaster.

These programs, sports in particular, are often seen as the linchpins for linear broadcasting today - this is where the money is. This is where traditional delivery platforms can offer viewers something that Video On Demand cannot. At Vimond where the core team has been working in the VOD space for 20 years, we strongly believe that what we are missing is serendipity - an opportunity to see something that you would not naturally choose to watch. How many people have found themselves watching half or part of every episode of entire seasons from channel hopping. Or found yourself watching an engaging and insightful documentary that followed on from the program you originally tuned in for

Linear TV giving users something to watch at any time

Traditional Linear Television was a unique way to keep eyeballs on the screen between content providing an audience for advertisers and thus generate revenue for the delivery platform. A very successful business model for a long time. Now you could of course argue it had little challengers, but its dominance for 60 years as the premium form of entertainment globally wasn't just because of a unique place in the market; successful television channels were successful thanks to the skill of the Broadcasters from production through to planning, post and playout.

One thing traditional linear TV did very well was allow for serendipitous discovery

You fumble up and down the clicker until something familiar or interesting catches your eye. Maybe a sound bite too caught your ear. Something appeared in your mind long enough to stop. To see a little more. Maybe that’s all you end up watching though, a quick glance before you move on, surfing away. It’s a viewing method familiar with easy discovery. It might be a mindless moment where plot or beginning doesn't matter but sometimes you stumble into something good. A show you didn’t know about and you’re hooked.

Traditional TV though died the moment Netflix hit the scene. While other streaming services had been in the market before Netflix, Netflix was the moment. The start of an inevitable shift.

We’ve all seen this coming. The overall changes in the industry. The mergers. The launching of competitive products. We’ve been talking to our customers for years about their strategies. How they’ll adapt and change. What they need to do so. A key concern that comes from increased competition and choices is how these OTT platforms can become more immersive for their consumers. How do they take their content investments and make sure their viewers are watching. Experiencing. Coming back. Often enough that it becomes ago-to destination.

The Abundance of Choice

We all have been there. The viewing hole. Stuck between a series and the next. Starting movies you quickly stop.Searching for something that catches your eye. Drilling down into genres. Leaving that app for another. Wasting time. Frustrating yourself while you had planned to spend some quiet time escaping reality. Which we all need these days.

Today’s OTT market offers choice, perhaps too much choice. Users obviously think they want it - just look at conversion rates from linear- but it is not always desired in the end. The attraction of watching what you want when you want is great, but it can be tiring. It’s not just the fact the viewer must always decide what to watch, it’s the sheer volume of content available. And from many services.

A study conducted by theUniversity of Leicester found that it would’ve taken 237 days to watch all of the movies and documentaries added to Netflix in the UK in 2017.

Programming TV is an art. Sure there’s data-metrics and analysis that goes on. Even more so today than ever. I’m not an expert in programming but like any viewer I can feel the thought process behind it.When done well a knowledge of human psychology, behavior, attention span, etc., is clearly evident and has been since the power of programming humans with TV long ago became evident. That’s what you do, generally less sinsterly worded and applied. More macro a single show or movie does the same. Plays and tugs emotions to tell a story.

VOD in its varients (SVOD,AVOD, TVOD, PVOD, whatever) completely change that viewing paradigm. Accidental discovery becomes more challenging.

Netflix noted in a 2016 paper that the average subscriber spends 60 to 90 seconds scanning movies and TV shows on the platform before giving up; and in that time, the subscriber will roughly 10 to 20 titles— about three in detail—on one or two screens. If a viewer is splitting time between 3different video services, there may only be 20 to 30 seconds of browse time per catalog ,making first time right playlists and recommendation more critical than ever.

Netflix is now trialing their “Watch Now” feature which is intended to bring viewers directly into watching Netflix rather than just navigating around the app.“Upon selecting the “WatchNow” button, Netflix starts streaming the next episode of a show a user is currently watching, something from their personal list, or a title that has been selected by Netflix’s algorithms. Viewers get to see a brief explanation as to why the title was chosen, which could be because it is similar to a title watched before.

The service is also adding a new “Play Something Else ”button to the video player itself, giving viewers a chance to try a few of Netflix’s recommendations without having to browse the service’s app. However, at least during this test, the “Play SomethingElse” button is only being displayed to users who started their viewing session with “Watch Now.”

In the Frost & Sullivan’s‘ Global Online Video Platforms Market, Forecast to 2023’ personalization is highlighted as a growth area for the industry.

Building content personalization, localization,targeted advertising, and recommendation capabilities natively or through a partner ecosystem will be central to helping M&E customers drive engagement and arrest churn.

Netflix announced earlier this summer that they’d be rolling out human curated playlists. To date Netflix has relied on a categorization system which offers top level genres in addition to sub categorizations that allowed more targeted recommendations to users based on interests. The new human curated playlist testing is known as Collections. These collections are curated by Netflix editorial team and look to thematically group content by traits like genre, tone, storyline, characters, etc. Hulu has made their own steps into personalization, recently announcing a few new features. Core to that are like and dislike buttons, similar to what Netflix has to get explicit feedback from end users on content preferences

Depending on what you like or dislike, you’ll be recommended new titles more geared to you with less sorting through content you won’t. It’s not new but it’s a step towards a more personal and tailored experience.

The Vimond Path to Personalization: Reuters

In 2016 Vimond partnered with Reuters to build a VOD to Linear service, taking individual VOD assets and stitching them together to create a new VOD asset, with transitions, graphics and voice overs.

It looks like a traditional news item that can be consumed but maintains the navigation options (skip, like, don’t like etc…) that users have become accustomed to with VOD.

It was ahead of its time, and it still is unique today. For Vimond it was an important first step, it showed us there was a market and taught us lessons on what we needed todo as a backend platform for OVP’s to enable our customers to create these services.

Reuters wanted a new Manifest based on VOD assets with idents for transitions, graphics, voice overs generated automatically based on the content. This would produce two types of “programmes”- Daily News Bulletins and Features (collections of stories similar stories for example Climate, Politics, Tech)

This was a technical challenge but to add to this they also wanted end users in the US to signup and receive a personalised experience. This would allow them to choose their news. In 2016 this was seen as essential but perhaps not with today’s reservations about the “echo chamber”.

Finally they wanted the platform to offer live feeds. Because they need to maintain something they built a reputation on - being the first to report.

This not only presents LiveStreams in the same UI as the VOD Playlists but also indicated to us that they would need to update the new bulletins throughout the day as quickly as possible to keep up with the day’s events.

Video Personalisation

In our CMS - Vimond VIA, we have a module for curating the lists that display content on websites and applications “best of” “because you watched …” “TV Shows” “Movies” and so on . This builds lists from existing VOD content. The truth is we have already proven that can be used to create new VOD Manifest files, and have working POC’s already. With some development this could be used for creating a production ready product to construct VOD Playlists.

The curation module has plugins for powerful recommendation engines builtin already. Providers such as VionLabs, MediaLens and available for general release today “Amazon Personalize” all offer recommendations and user personalization that can look at viewing history and build dynamic lists based on AI and Machine Learning beyond just the metadata tags of content in the viewing history list. This is possible today on the Vimond platform using our Smart List functionality. Add to that the ability to provide scheduling teams behind the curation and you can provide serendipity.

With these tools we could see a model where our Customers can offer their customers, their own personal Channels.

Virtual Linear Channels -The ability to stitch VOD assets together to recreate a traditional linear television channel without using legacy broadcast signal distribution and play out infrastructure.

This doesn’t really bring anything new to OTT, but there is a market out there. The BBC moved BBC 3 to an OTT only service in 2016. RTE has a RTE News Now as an OTT only channel and the Olympic Channel has been an OTT only service since launch.

The VLC must at minimum provide all the features a modern DVR set-top box provides. Set reminders and receive notifications, record content using PVR technology or offer the VOD version, start from the beginning and of course pause. But the cost of creating these channels would be much less, if done correctly then providing interstitial advertisements would be seen by the viewer as intrusive, because it would be an imitation of the linear experience that we have today.

VOD Playlists would build upon the work done with Reuters TV- take a Curated list of content and offer that to viewers as a single asset. If done correctly this is a programmatic stitching service that can also show advertisements between programme content. Updating the new VOD Manifest file would be as simple as updating the playlist and publishing it.

We would also look to the music industry for inspiration, often ahead of video. Where certain music services will move a listener into a dynamic playlist without them ever knowing about it. If you start playing one song, it no longer stops once the song finishes but generates a playlist and flows from one to the other.

Then back to a playlist tailored to keep the viewers happy, reduce churn and convert those viewers of the live event.

Joint playlists, what if we could have a shared playlist where you can add programs for others to watch and see who has seen them “no more ‘have you seen GoT yet’?” or Spoiler Alert!

Keep the eyeballs on the screen, keep the viewers happy, keep the advertising revenue.

The Value of Video Recommendations

There’s an opportunity for the brand owner to become the trusted source of recommendations for consumers. A trusted brand in traditional terms. In that they develop an intimate relationship with their consumers and become a destination again. That place you know will steer your viewing eye well. This has value.

The Future of TV Market Demand November 2019 by the Australia-based agency Quantum Market Research showed that 96 per cent of viewers would use a personalised channel if offered by television broadcasters.

Survey respondents were also willing to pay an extra UK£14.30 (US$18.56) per month for the channel on top oft heir existing TV subscription.

There’s data out there to back up that done right personalisation should increase viewing. Decrease churn. Vionlabs, a strong player in the space, states when driving playlists from machine learned emotional fingerprinting that “The engagement on SVOD was similar where the viewers with the emotional fingerprints added 3 times more content to their watch list and raising the amount of started streams with 25% monthly. Test also done over 6 months in 2018 on Web browsers on over 1,100,000viewers.”

Today we predominantly have three business models, TVOD, SVOD and AVOD.

There is a lot of push back on mixing these. We see a paradox where people no longer expect to see advertisements between programming when they are already paying a subscription. Even though this has always been true in Broadcasting. People who pay Canal Digital or Sky £40 or £100 a month and then tune into Sky 1 never moan about advertising - even though the only way to see the channel was to have a Sky subscription. But try and put adverts on an SVOD service and those same people will be up in arms and threaten to cancel their £10 per month subscription.

Some platforms such as TV 2 play can offer premium content with their subscriptions, but in exchange for that (unless watching the linear channels on Sumo) - viewers might find advertisements on VOD content unacceptable. However if they decide to watch that main TV 2 service as a livestream, then seeing adverts is not unacceptable. So if it is okay on linear ”live”, then perhaps that is one way tore-introduce advertising to OTT.

Get in touch!

You might also like