It’s Nothing Personal, Or Is It?

Personalisation of services has always been paramount in retaining customers across telco and media industries.

Recently this topic has returned as a prominent theme in the TV industry given that every provider is jumping on the Netflix bandwagon.

One of the big trends in video is the sheer number of companies launching online video services; we’ve seen an explosion over the last couple of years, which is showing no signs of easing up. There are now hundreds of OTT video services with global brands operating alongside smaller local players, all fighting for viewers’ attention. All of this is great for consumers as they are, and will continue to be, spoilt for choice, but we are now seeing huge fragmentation. 

It is even more apparent that personalisation is essential to the multiscreen future. People own more devices and they want to watch all forms of content across different screens. However, personalisation is a broad term and its meaning varies depending on usage and how effectively it is deployed in any given service. True personalisation is far more than simply offering search and recommendations. 

Netflix has set the benchmark extremely high for rivals. The global leader in SVOD has gained a far better understanding of consumer’s behaviour and attitudes to video content. This wealth of data gives the company confidence to invest in new shows that resonates with consumers. For this reason, there is a huge focus on commissioning original programming as everyone is trying to find the next big blockbuster. This is where technology should be embraced. Artificial Intelligence allows providers to evaluate the potential revenue returns of new formats, shows and movies. Also, it can be used to understand which shows are missing from their existing catalogues and, of course, which ones they should be promoting to which viewers by demographics and location.

Paolo Pescatore, Tech, Media & Telco analyst at PP Foresight suggests that “providers should be virtualising and automating processes at the outset.” This includes metadata tagging of shows by numerous parameters allowing for more searches and personalisation of the content. In fact, rolling out a service and making it available across different screens isn’t that easy. Lots of work still needs to be done to ensure that the user interface is consistent across devices. As important is building a relationship with the user which enhances the overall experience and engagement. Monterosa has proven that interactivity within a service increases loyalty. This in turn brings new forms of monetisation including the long-awaited success of ‘shoppable video’. While the concept has had many attempts, Monterosa CEO, Tom McDonnell, says “Instagram contextual shopping has helped to normalise the idea that a scene can be interrogated for relevant products.” The success of Monterosa’s Love Island and I’m a Celebrity… shopping experiences prove that an apparent demand for highly relevant, impulse purchasing is present.

2019 is the year when true personalisation has become a reality and we have moved the concept from R&D labs to production with interactive versions of the BBC technology programme Click and a data driven documentary, Instagramification.

Ian Wagdin, Senior Technology Transfer Manager – BBC

Sport is one of the few genres that continues to drive viewing of live TV. It allows rights owners scope for new ways to interact and engage with users. BT Sport represents one of the most novel sports broadcasters focussed on personalising services for sports fans. This dates back to the launch of the BT Sport app which included the enhanced player feature providing users with a choice of games to watch, as well as a timeline feature (highlighting key moments) and VR 360 highlights allowing users to choose to watch a goal from different camera angles. As Jamie Hindhaugh, COO at BT Sport, explains “you need to understand the sports fan; if it doesn’t have editorial value then you have to question why are you doing it.” Furthermore, BT Sport has brought a number of firsts to the UK sports broadcasting market including live 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos. This has culminated with the launch of BT Sport Ultimate which Hindhaugh explains is all about offering users

“the best format experience for the platform they have, connection they’re on, and the subscription they have.” Hindhaugh adds that “Ultimate will expand to incorporate 8K when there are devices that can be served by it and when the equipment is available for broadcast use.” This underlines BT Sport’s approach to move away from formats and focus on the best experience on any screen. Ultimately, it removes a level of complexity for users and gives them choice. Fans should not have to worry about finding the right inputs for 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos, and eventually 8K. It should just work.

The next wave of innovation and quest for personalisation is coming from object-based broadcasting. Hindhaugh believes that the advent of this new technology “represents the next step in the ultimate viewing experience in enabling greater customer personality.” Interestingly, for Hindhaugh object-based broadcasting is about “accessibility, a more inclusive viewing experience.” For example, he says that MotoGP users will be able to select the best graphic overlay for their needs depending upon their expertise with the sport; accessing basic, standard, or advanced versions of on screen information packages, whereas the current approach has to service all levels. Also, for example, the timing clock can be made smaller/bigger depending on the type of input screen or viewers’ eyesight, and audio can be increased for viewers who have hearing difficulties.

HQ was faddish but the techniques are not, while second screen experiences need to overcome a barrier, in connected environments and OTT apps, we can let users participate with a simple tap or voice command.

Tom McDonnell, CEO – MONTEROSA

It’s not only sport. BBC R&D has been looking at personalisation for many years. Ian Wagdin, Senior Technology Transfer Manager, says that one of the key benefits of moving to an IP-based production and distribution system is that it enables an interactive conversation with audiences.

“Previously personalisation was limited to functionality such as subtitles where a viewer could switch them on or off but now we can deliver any element of the programme effectively on demand,” he says. “ We have shown a number of demonstrations over the years that enable a user to change the length of an audio documentary, or tailor a cooking programme to their individual needs. 2019 is the year when true personalisation has become a reality and we have moved the concept from R&D labs to production with interactive versions of the BBC technology programme Click and a data driven documentary, Instagramification. These are different experiences, one is a ‘sit forward’ experience where active participation is required and the other uses data to create a documentary where for the most part the audience can ‘sit back’ and enjoy.”

Audio experiences are also going through a revolution. The BBC has launched a personalised news services for smart speakers, its Casualty A&E Audio test enabled viewers to change the audio mix of a drama production to suit their auditory needs, and it has also developed Vostok K, an immersive audio drama using multiple speakers in the audience’s environment for a multi speaker audio experience. BBC R&D has also extensively explored understanding how storytelling may evolve in a digital world, and has developed production tools such as StoryFormer which enables producers and developers to experiment with personalised content creation.

Looking back for a moment, second screen experiences promised so much. Yet they only really delivered when they were integrated fully into a TV show concept argues Monterosa’s McDonnell, such as when viewers were voting on a talent show or playing along with a game show. Automated experiences fell flat because they were generic. Initial experiences focussed on integrating multiple feeds (as well as aggregate numerous social feeds) which were are out of sync with the main TV. As Pescatore points out “this highlights one of the challenges of delivering OTT services via the Internet and hence the growing importance of addressing low latency.”

McDonnell points to the rise of mobile-first gameshows like HQ Trivia and its rivals like Quipp in Germany, which have pioneered ultra-low latency video combined with overlaid interactivity. “HQ was faddish but the techniques are not,” he says. “While second screen experiences need to overcome a barrier, in connected environments and OTT apps we can let users participate with a simple tap or voice command.” McDonnell addresses concerns about obscuring the viewing experience. “We must be sensitive and flexible to what is on screen at the time, nobody wants a prediction overlay to obscure the goal itself,” he says People do still prefer to watch great content on the big TV. There are still opportunities for mobile devices to play an integral part with an immersive second-screen experience. This is where object-based broadcasting will increasingly become important. Hindhaugh suggests that users will be able to pre-set their own preferences using the second screen, which in turn allows them to engage with the content with the view they want. Importantly for sports fans this only needs to be done at the start of the season. There are no shortage of services, nor devices. For sure, great content always prevails. However, it will become increasingly difficult for providers to compete solely on price. This might represent a core element in the decision-making process to sign up to one or numerous services. However, Pescatore argues that “keeping customers engaged and loyal will be down to how services are tailored and the user experience. Users no longer want to search hundreds of TV channels as they have access to millions or even billions of clips at their fingertips, thanks to the Internet.” Reducing barriers, clicks to access content and providing simple features such as easy to use search and recommendations that feature prominently will help providers stand out in a crowded market. Therefore, expect a major overhaul of current EPG’s and the way users access content. Pescatore believes that “voice will play a pivotal role of serving content as it reduces the fragmentation around devices, platforms and services.” Hindhaugh, meanwhile, argues that the future of personalisation is “delivering one-to-one TV services and this mechanism will create an opportunity for a conversation with the viewer.”

The future of personalisation is delivering one-to-one TV services and this mechanism will create an opportunity for a conversation with the viewer.

Jamie Hindhaugh, COO – BT SPORT

Conclusion

All of this points to a rosy future and a glimpse of how services can be further personalised in the future. These elements along with others such as on-screen graphics, serving ads dynamically, realtime stats integrated with the feed, as well as others remain important elements for TV providers to differentiate. Bringing content to life, which can be changed dynamically, will fuel user interaction and engagement. More importantly, it offers TV providers a new way to monetise usage. Therefore, personalisation should be carefully considered from the outset of a strategy, product, creation of content and how best to serve viewers. Ultimately a TV provider needs to understand each user, their habits and usage to provide a personalised experience.

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