Tech Feed

Getting it right with OTT’s best friend, the audience

This month we ask a panel of experts about developing a successful audience engagement strategy. From advertising to analytics, how does a start-up channel approach its most important asset?

Round table guests are:

Mark Blair – Brightcove

Mark Blair is SVP of EMEA for Brightcove and serves as a member of the Brightcove executive team. He was previously VP of Brightcove’s APAC business, where he drove business growth with high-visibility wins in OTT services, as well as with leading brands and enterprises that use video for digital marketing and communications.

Richard Brandon – Edgeware

Richard Brandon is CMO of Edgeware. He specialises in bringing the company’s technology solutions to market by providing company strategy, technology positioning, go-to-market models and marketing.

Johannes Jauch – Axinom

Johannes Jauch is co-founder and CTO of Axinom Group. As the leader of the technology team, Jauch is responsible for defining the company’s ongoing path to technological innovation. Axinom serves global brands in the media and entertainment, telco and aerospace industries. The company’s platform enables customers to launch service scalable OTT offerings across devices.

Adam Nightingale – Accedo

Adam is SVP international at Accedo. He is responsible for sales & marketing, regional growth & development, delivery and profitability across all Accedo’s offices. Nightingale has previously held senior positions with Mobilitec (now part of Alcatel Lucent), CMG and Logica.

Our panellists give advice to a hypothetical OTT start-up, called YouPets. The fledgling company wants to know how it should use technology to build the best possible audience engagement. We’ll let our fictional OTT channel take it away:

YouPets: Welcome! We are a new OTT video offering, called YouPets. YouPets has recently acquired a large library of content focused exclusively on – you guessed it – pets. Our library includes everything from features to documentaries to reality programming. We plan to be supported entirely by ads, primarily from the pet services and supplies industry. We have a few questions for you.

First, our viewers are international and varied in their interests. How can we use technology to gather as much data as possible about this multifaceted audience? And what, in your experience, are the most important data points to know about an audience?

Mark Blair: One of the models I like for these types of services is a free-freemium-paid curve. You provide a certain level of content access anonymously to give people a flavour of the service. With that you deliver advertising to defray some of the costs. The advertising on that side will be relatively low value because you can’t offer a great deal of granularity in the data. 

But then you can offer a step up from that and ask people to register. In return you offer an improved service, with advertising, and you can offer your advertisers a greater level of visibility to the segmentation of your audience.

The next layer is using that better content to convert your viewers into paid subscribers, where you monetise directly.

Johannes Jauch: Without a doubt, it is important to understand and know your audience prior to delivering any type of content. Knowing your audience means gathering general data on their age, gender, education level, language, culture and what social media groups they belong to. This is especially important when crafting an offer for a niche market.

As a new OTT start-up, it’s crucial to get the start right. Quality of experience on a technical level is an enabler for everything else, and collecting data about it is not as easy as it may sound. Audiences are very sensitive to bad QoE. Making them wait too long, or exposing them to stream buffering, or – worse – failing to start when a user hits play are reliable ways of driving your subscribers off. Winning a viewer back is far harder than winning her for the first time. 

Collect data and create reports that can answer important questions around QoE and act upon them. Picking a software platform that already supports collecting such data in an out-of-the-box manner will facilitate managing continuous service improvement. Typically, such technology requires integration in players cross platform and is integrated with comprehensive logging and reporting services on the backend side. It’s probably not good enough to rely on reporting provided by a CDN, because it makes it harder to follow a multi-CDN strategy and renders consolidated reporting much harder, if not impossible.

Adam Nightingale: You should understand which animals your audience are interested in, and also which they might become interested in. Don’t be too restrictive and only give reptile fans reptile content. Assess the propensity for lovers of one type of animal to become interested in others, and make sure that they are offered variety. 

Also assess which devices they use for different types of content, and at what time of the day. If they prefer to watch short clips on a mobile device on their morning commute, then adapt the UX and ‘promoted’ content accordingly.

YouPets: We have a wide variety of content in our library (docs about koi ponds, a sit-com about a talking hamster). What technologies and data strategies can help us make sure we get the right content to the right viewers?

Mark Blair: When you’re creating a content library, good taxonomy and metadata allows you to segment the content, becomes a key enabler for providing recommendations to your audience. The simplistic way of doing it is to use the metadata about what they’re currently viewing and, particularly if they’ve provided log-in identity information, use those insights to drive a rudimentary recommendation service.

The next step is to go from metadata and behaviour-driven recommendations to AI-based recommendations. The most sophisticated layer of that is to use both anonymous and non-anonymous viewing behaviour, of not only the individual but the whole viewing community, to drive more and better recommendations via an AI. 

Johannes Jauch: In the past there was a clear playing field in terms of the audience and the potential market that new entrants could cover with their OTT service offerings. As a start-up company, you could know who you were competing against and why. 

Today a very different strategy around audience targeting and advertising is required. Companies are competing for viewer attention in many areas, launching smart advertising campaigns through online and offline channels to reach their target audience right where they spend the most time. Luckily, communication platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram enable dynamic communication with viewers, help fine tune your go-to-market campaigns and allow you to aggressively track what content works and what doesn’t. 

To get the right content to the right viewers, your platform needs to include sophisticated analytics capabilities. Using data discovery, along with visualisation and analysis, you’ll be in the position to uncover important insights on your own and adjust your content distribution strategy. 

Adam Nightingale: Understanding your viewer is important. A koi lover may not be a cat lover – potentially quite the opposite – so make sure that you learn which content genres your individual viewers are attracted to, and adapt the content on their home screen accordingly. 

At the same time, understanding the preferences of these viewers will help you design a UX and promotions based on what you know they are interested in. For example, dedicated parrot fans may have less interest in Crufts, and proud owners of pampered poodles less interest in a documentary on Amazonian birdlife. Personalisation, recommendation and behavioural analytics tools will help you learn what works.

YouPets: The YouPets board are appalled by recent news reports on the misuse and abuse of customer data. What steps should we take to guarantee that our customers’ data is respected and used to their greatest benefit?

Mark Blair: It’s a case of using vendors that you trust and making sure that they’re complying with the relevant privacy legislations. 

GDPR is a hot topic and there’s a lot of talk how about how it’s affecting various parts of the industry. But I think European citizens should feel pretty privileged that they’re being protected, and I think it’s going to be a key enabler for protecting customers.

What we’re seeing now with the concerns about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook and YouTube is a shift that we may not have seen otherwise. 

For example, I got a note from one of our vendors saying they’re going to extend the privacy changes they’re having to make for GDPR right across their entire business world-wide. I think that’s great. It’s a win for consumers and for the publishers who want to look after and respect their communities.

Johannes Jauch: Make sure you work with the right partners who have a proven track record of respecting consumers’ privacy and data protection. And when integrating with third-party services minimise the data that you provide about your audience. 

GDPR is a very important topic in Europe right now. Several cross-device data collection companies have pulled out of EU business because of this. Make sure to adhere to GDPR regulations – for example, by asking for consent from your consumers for your data collection practices.

Adam Nightingale: Ensure GDPR compliance and make sure consumers understand how their data is used and how they can opt in and opt out.

YouPets: On the other hand, our CTO wants to hire a firm specialising in ‘persuasive design’. The company claims it can radically increase our engagement by making our UI and app more addictive, especially to younger viewers. Should we bring the firm on? Or are there other things we can try first? And how can we make a case for it to the YouPets board?

Mark Blair: I studied design academically when I was starting out, so I’m a big believer that design can drive audience engagement and a better user experience. I’ve even seen specialists in designing kids’ video experiences. There’s a company in the UK and that’s their niche – just user experience for kids’ video. The fact that a company exists that does just that shows me there’s real value in it. 

I would recommend to the board that it’s a good investment. But the way to validate it is to work with an agency and test the results. One of the great things about digital, compared with launching physical products, is that you can iterate experiences very quickly. So keep launching different experiences and test them. 

Johannes Jauch: There is nothing wrong with having great, addictive design. But the old ‘content is king’ rule still applies, and it’s essential to have good quality content and to present the right content to the right audience at the right time. Get these two things right and over time you will have more than enough money to pay for the best and most addictive UI design.

Adam Nightingale: Be wary of the word ‘addictive’. Err towards an agency which wants to engage, immerse or entertain users.

YouPets: Given our global audience, what technologies can help us target our advertising? For example, we’ve partnered with several international dog shows, for which we will be providing live coverage, and are wondering how we can use advertising most effectively to reach different audience segments.

Mark Blair: The thing about live that’s exciting is that live has been proven to generate what we call the ‘halo’ effect. If you reach your right audience, you’ll see a spike of usage around that live event, both for the event itself and for associated VOD content that you’ve clipped out and made available.

So in the analytics you see a spike of viewing around the live event, and that tails off, but the well in viewing is higher than the well beforehand. By doing a live event, you shift the low end of the viewing to a higher level, and if you keep doing that it’s an effective way to grow and acquire your audience.

Johannes Jauch: The latest advancements in automated, real-time tools and techniques allow you to target and re-target your viewers with precision. As with any content, the key to better target your advertising goes hand in hand with defining highly relevant content. 

From the marketing perspective, technology allows you to analyse various types of data, including social media posts, videos and images to gain better insight into the consumer mindset. Technologies today can examine a person’s manner of speech online, assess their personality and then predict their behaviour and what they’d want to see. In a nutshell, you’ll need to use multiple channels to reach your audience, where knowing your viewers’ personas can help you determine on which channels you should be focusing.

YouPets: What are the most important trends we should look ahead to in advertising for OTT?

Mark Blair: For an OTT platform dedicated to a pet-loving audience, I would see how you can augment pure digital advertising with e-commerce associations. Can you link yourself with advertisers that have products that have direct relevance to you audience and then allow transactions within the OTT experience? I think we’re going to see more of that ability to interact with the video content.

Think of Amazon Prime’s X-ray where, when you pause a piece of content you get metadata about the film and the actors. You could have the same thing, but with a display of relevant products. You might have a hamster on a wheel in the video and the vendor can allow you to buy that hamster wheel right there and then. I think with niche content and niche audiences there’s a real opportunity for that. 

Richard Brandon: It’s taken the industry a while to put together all the moving parts required for a good personalised ad solution – user profiling, ad decision systems, ad stitching – but it’s really starting to happen now. 

Going forward there are still a few things to iron out, not least quality. Viewers and advertisers expect to see their ads at the same quality as the programme they are next to. Smart, ‘ad-aware’ OTT technologies such as frame accurate segmentation, for example, will be important to ensure that ads start and stop precisely when they are supposed to. High-quality ad-stitching will ensure resolution and screen formats match the original show. And TV optimised CDNs will ensure they are delivered from as near to the viewer as possible

Johannes Jauch: With new technologies available, hyper-targeting customers is becoming the norm. Ad revenues and spending are already shifting from TV to OTT, with one of the benefits being the ability to much better target the audience, based on metrics that have not been available before. 

We are already in a mobile-first world. But this is just the beginning. New mobile devices with 5G connections and the advent of 5G networks will continue to bring the cost of mobile data transfer down. We have seen the advent of mobile data flat rates, but this trend will continue, and prices will fall, further fuelling the change in viewing behaviour of consumers towards more mobile consumption.

YouPets: The CEO has just returned from a trade show where he heard a speaker say the advertising model is dying. Should we be worried? Should we change strategies?

Mark Blair: Some of my friends in Asia, in long-form, mainstream content, were just saying they’re looking to pivot away from paid towards advertising. 

I think it’s about seeing what works with the audience and content that you’ve got. Whether it’s that tiered strategy of free-freemium-paid or if you decide you’ve got scale and go with paid. It comes down to looking at your content and audience and fine-tuning it over time. It’s a journey. But I don’t think that advertising as a model is going to die.

Richard Brandon: Absolutely not. Advertising revenues have indeed shifted away from TV to digital platforms over recent years – but the ability to target OTT viewers with personalised ads means that TV ads can beat the digital platforms at their own game. Customers of ours that offer both broadcast and OTT ads are finding they can sell the OTT ads at a substantial premium.

Johannes Jauch: This topic keeps coming up and it’s mostly about the ‘death of TV advertising’ which is greatly exaggerated. 

The art of advertising is changing and it is all to do with making use of all data available and presenting the right ad in the right context to the viewer.  According to eMarketer the addressable TV ad spending in the US is growing tremendously, with a 40% increase expected from 2018 to 2019. Admittedly, the growth rate is shrinking, but it’s not quite like the advertising model is dying anytime soon.

Adam Nightingale: No, but keep an open mind and experiment. You can use a hybrid model, where some content is behind a pay wall but other content is available on an ad-funded basis.

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of FEED magazine.

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