The Connies results were announced this week and you can see the results here. It was a tough job for the international category judges to decide their winners – and here is your chance to see if you agree with their choices. Below we profile every shortlisted entry from the ‘Video Technology Hero’, ‘Best User Experience’ and ‘Excellence in Analytics & AI for Video and TV’ categories, and also for the debut Oscars-style ‘Premium TV Award’.
== Video Technology Hero==
Here we were looking for technology heroes – the solutions that are solving the big problems or opening the door to the major opportunities in the television and video markets. The technology must be used to enable or support the delivery of a television/video service. Technologies could come from every part of the delivery chain, from data centres and headend or playout facilities through the broadcast networks to end-user devices.
Avid – Avid MediaCentral
Today, audiences can access media content from anywhere instantly, and stay up-to-date through a range of media, including online platforms, mobile apps and social media. The race to deliver news and other programming first demands instant distribution to a wide array of platforms, each with its own formats and delivery standards. Developing a workflow that integrates and automates delivery to each of these platforms is therefore essential to winning the media race.
Launched in July 2018, Avid MediaCentral is a powerful next-generation media production, management and distribution platform that aims to solve these challenges. An intuitive UI makes it easy for media producers to search, access, edit, collaborate and publish content from any workstation, laptop or mobile device.
This system eliminates cumbersome workflow silos. MediaCentral facilitates multiplatform delivery by automating background tasks. Among the capabilities are automated content indexing and workflow orchestration. Every team member is connected in a completely integrated workflow that offers a unified view into all media assets, whether they are stored on premises, in a private data centre, the public cloud or a hybrid environment.
IBM Aspera – IBM Aspera on Cloud
Received Gold Award (winner)
Moving content has become much more challenging. The file sizes are growing, and networking infrastructures are more diverse and flexible.
Media organisations are increasingly adopting a hybrid cloud workflow that uses a combination of public cloud, private cloud and on-premises storage and compute resources. Files that need to be exchanged are often stored in multiple clouds and on-premise systems. Traditional transfer technologies bridging these environments are slow and unreliable, while physical disk shipments are slow and carry security risks.
Aspera provides innovative file transfer solutions that help media organisations operate and collaborate more effectively on a global scale, and IBM Aspera on Cloud overcomes the file transfer challenges of the hybrid cloud by allowing media companies to securely and reliably move their content across on-premises and multi-cloud environments at unrivalled speed.
Internal and external users can collaborate in a secure environment that tightly controls access to content and application functionality. Major film studios, post-production companies and broadcasters rely on Aspera on Cloud to reduce their production cycles while securely delivering high-resolution media worldwide with high Quality of Service.
Harmonic – End-to-end UHD HDR solution for live sports streaming
Received Bronze Award
Consumers spend more time on OTT video services, and live sports streaming is a growth market. Harmonic offers an end-to-end solution for the delivery of live sports in super high-quality UHD-HDR format, while keeping bandwidth requirements low and latency (time behind true-live) comparable to broadcast – something that is considered very important for the fan experience.
The solution includes the EyeQ content-aware encoding that can reduce bit rates by up to half, and real-time packaging. The system uses the CMAF small chunk packaging format for HLS and DASH delivery of UHD content to keep latency as low as five seconds for OTT delivery, compared to an industry norm of 30-35 seconds where CMAF is not used.
The VOS360 media processing SaaS (software-as-a-service) is one of many deployment options. Leveraging the cloud, VOS360 allows OTT services to be scaled up and down based on actual needs, avoiding significant capital and operational costs. This is very useful when managing ad-hoc events but also a way for new sports OTT platforms to get into the business, and then launch channels quickly.
Verimatrix – StreamMark server-side watermarking for premium OTT video
Received Silver Award
Forensic watermarking means media owners can identify illegitimate streaming of video, trace the source of piracy and shut streams down – and do so rapidly during live events. The use of watermarking opens the way to offering UHD/4K and other high-value content. It also tackles content/revenue leakage during B2B content distribution.
StreamMark is notable partly because it is a server-side technology. Unlike solutions that use client-side watermark embedding, there is no need to integrate with client devices, and devices do not have to be modified.
StreamMark inserts an identifiable but invisible mark into content that is robust against watermarking attacks like recompression and transcoding. The process is easily integrated into existing encoding, encryption and CDN workflows, with negligible performance impact.
StreamMark Live supports real-time marking and fast extraction of watermarks during live events, using tight integration with live encoders. Real-time monitoring is performed by Verimatrix partner TMG to enable illicit stream identification and shutdown/blocking of the live content leaks.
As a cloud-based service, StreamMark means watermarking becomes an automated process for both content providers and video service operators.
== The ‘Premium TV’ Award (International Category) ==
This international category recognises an outstanding achievement in the delivery of a premium TV service and/or premium TV programming to consumers. In an Oscars-style process, Videonet magazine and our international category judges nominated a long-list of entrants before narrowing the field to the shortlist you see below.
Discovery Winter Olympics
Discovery’s all-screen coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics of 2018 updated what it means to cover major sports in the 21st century, post-digital, post-social. They used digital as the means to reach out to more people, hit a younger demographic, provide more total coverage, and localise content to a greater degree for each individual country.
The PyeongChang Olympics was delivered to 48 markets in Europe, covering 22 languages. Every minute was made available live on digital. Local stories were created for every market. 1,000 social-first, short-form videos were generated each day across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Snap Inc. in Europe offered user-generated and behind-the-scenes content.
Eurosport partnered with 20 digital influencers from seven European markets who were embedded into editorial teams to co-create unique content for social media.
The new measurement methodology, endorsed by the International Olympic Committee, provided a picture of total reach/engagement across free-to-air plus Pay TV plus online plus social (covering owned-and-operated platforms and those of partners). This was co-devised and implemented by French marketing and advertising giant Publicis.
There was a record breaking 76 million reach for the Games through Discovery owned-and-operated digital or social properties, and a 386 million cumulative total of people that viewed Olympics content.
Amazon (as a vertical media company)
Amazon was shortlisted for its total TV strategy, which is both broad and noteworthy. The company is often chosen as ‘the media company to watch’ at thought-leadership events – creating more interest even than Netflix.
Amazon now includes Amazon Studios as a source of content creation and is helping to grow its SVOD offering on the back of its Originals. There is a growing collection of sports rights and the 20-game package for the English Premier League presents a brilliant precedent: the first time anyone will televise every game in a fixture list ‘round’ (and they are doing it twice).
Amazon Prime Video is one of the major SVOD offerings in multiple markets. Amazon-owned IMDB recently introduced Freedive, which gives the company an AVOD offering. Amazon Channels has pioneered the concept of aggregating third-party subscription streaming services.
Amazon provides its own hardware devices (Fire TV streaming media players), providing a gateway to its own and other content in a growing number of homes. Fire TV is also provided as an operating system on some smart TVs, like the Fire TV Edition models made by Toshiba and sold by the U.S. retailer Best Buy.
Amazon is fully expected to become a key mover in digital advertising, which fits well with a growing content distribution role.
Received Bronze prize
U.S. based Sling TV, owned by satellite Pay TV provider DISH, has trail-blazed the concept of the virtual Pay TV operator (often known as Pay Lite), giving consumers the option to access premium TV content from some of the best-known brands, aggregated and available in one place, without the long-term subscription commitments of traditional Pay TV and with more flexibility when selecting content.
Sling TV provides basic bundles of streamed channels, the ability to purchase thematic bundles or additional standalone channels on top of those basic packages, and most recently the provision of ‘a la carte’ services that can be purchased without any basic package. The service therefore caters for cord-cutters and cord-nevers with a range of budgets and flexibility demands.
Sling TV was the first virtual Pay TV provider in the U.S. to offer pay-per-view events, starting in 2017. Technology innovations include a cloud DVR feature and availability on the Oculus Go VR headset.
Sling TV has enjoyed consistent growth, countering the market-wide (U.S.) pressure on full-flavour Pay TV subscription numbers and revenues. Year-end 2018 results show that Sling TV had 2.42 million subscribers, which compares to 9.9 million for the classic DISH Pay TV offer.
Winner (received Gold prize)
Amazon Channels represents a new type of content aggregator, providing a collection of streaming/OTT services in one place with an umbrella user experience, unified content discovery and subscription fees taken care of via common billing. It suits consumers looking to create their own combination of subscription TV services, mixing an ‘a la carte’ mentality with curated convenience.
Amazon Channels is credited with making it easier for consumers to ‘stack’ multiple SVOD/D2C (direct-to-consumer) services at a time when this behaviour has become commonplace. It is helping content owners to reach and sign-up consumers to their subscription offers and it provides a shop window for special interest streaming services.
Amazon Channels is an important digital distribution option for content owners and contains some major names including ITV Hub+, Discovery and Eurosport Player. Multiple genres are covered, from MGM (movies) through Hayu (reality) to Shudder (horror/thriller) and Funimation (anime).
BBC R&D UHD-HDR
Received Silver prize
The BBC R&D public pilot of UHD-HDR live streaming during the 2018 World Cup and Wimbledon tournaments helped bring the benefits of this advanced format to the public. They were part of ongoing efforts to prove the model for ‘free-to-air’ UHD-HDR over the Internet.
The trial Ultra HD coverage received over 1.6 million live requests. Along with the standard coverage, they contributed to streaming records at the BBC. UHD streams for both tournaments peaked at around 60,000. This was the first time the BBC had shown major tournaments live in UHD on BBC iPlayer. All 29 of BBC One’s World Cup matches were available in Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range on the streaming service.
The BBC used the Hybrid Log-Gamma version of HDR it has standardised with Japanese broadcaster NHK. This provides improved picture quality not only to HDR Ultra HD devices, but to the vast majority of Standard Dynamic Range Ultra HD devices too. At the lowest end of its bitrate options, HEVC encoding delivered 1280x720p50 resolution at 7Mbit/s (50 frames per second).
== Excellence in Analytics & AI for TV & Video ==
This category rewards technology/solution providers, video service providers (e.g. content producers, curators, aggregators or distributors), network operators and device/app developers for the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence or machine learning to improve television (as a form of entertainment, as an operations process or as a business).
ThinkAnalytics – Personalised recommendations across BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds
ThinkAnalytics works with media owners to build closer relationships with their audiences using a blend of metadata enhancement, personalised content discovery and real-time viewer insights. Companies can model and measure behaviours related to content engagement. These capabilities are increasingly relevant to broadcasters now users sign-in to streaming services. Insights can be used to offer a superior content discovery journey and improve the viewer experience.
For subscription services, AI/machine learning algorithms and best practice techniques help reduce churn, attract new subscribers and optimise revenue opportunities via subscriptions, ad-hoc purchases, promotions and advertising. Real-time analytics let customers measure the effectiveness of editorial, promotions and advertising, and fine-tune their marketing efforts to maximise their investment in valuable content.
The BBC is focused on ‘reinventing’ iPlayer to provide an individual, personalised service – and doing the same for its radio services. ThinkAnalytics won the tender to supply the BBC with a personalised recommendations engine as part of the BBC Personalisation programme. It now helps support the presentation and delivery of the BBC’s extensive catalogue across BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds.
NAGRA – NAGRA Insight
NAGRA Insight leverages AI to predict individual TV viewer behaviour such as propensity to churn from a Pay TV service, to purchase a package or to consume specific content. It generates intelligent operational actions that increase both an operator’s bottom line and subscriber satisfaction. It addresses four critical areas: subscriber value, operations, content and advertising.
This set of tools helps the marketing, operations and business intelligence teams. NAGRA Insight is deployed with four Tier 1 Pay TV operators.
NAGRA Insight enables Pay TV operators to quantify the behaviour and tastes of every subscriber as the basis for further actions, including automated, personalised marketing. It enables increased upselling by call centre agents by recommending the best TV product to offer each subscriber and the content within it that they will like.
A recommendation engine predicts the VOD content you will enjoy based on linear TV and VOD consumption. This can drive VOD usage and so reduce churn or revenue loss to OTT competitors. NAGRA Insight helps operators identify the cause of video quality problems, measure their business impact and recommend customer retention actions that are personalised to each user.
Synamedia – Synamedia Credentials Sharing Insight
Credentials Sharing Insight is considered an anti-piracy world-first, using AI, behavioural analytics and machine learning to help streaming video providers combat the rise in casual account sharing and turn it into a revenue-generating opportunity. It can also be used to detect and shut down large-scale sharing fraud. The solution is in trials with several providers.
Casual account sharing does not only cost media owners revenue – it increases infrastructure costs to support non-paying streamers. Since content rights owners often limit how many devices can view their content, OTT players may keep the device limit lower for legitimate customers to avoid breaching contracts.
Until now, most OTT providers have treated casual password sharing as an easy way to market their service to new audiences. However, recent studies show that younger generations, used to accessing services for free, rarely become paying customers.
Synamedia Credentials Sharing Insight identifies, monitors and analyses credentials sharing activity. By integrating the sharing policy engine with their campaign management/CRM system, streaming providers can apply specific policies – like upselling to an account that allows more concurrent users – to anyone whose sharing score exceeds a pre-defined threshold. The security process and marketing cycle can be entirely automated.
SoftAtHome – AI Addressable TV
SoftAtHome is using AI for an addressable TV technology that maintains user privacy by profiling his/her data within the set-top box, instead of doing this via the cloud. This eases GDPR considerations. Subscriber profiles are only stored locally inside the STB and are encrypted to ensure nobody can access the private information.
The AI algorithms can work out which household member is watching a television, an inherent challenge for a shared screen. The system uses combinations of time split (e.g. when the TV is watched, the time patterns), usage (e.g. what content is watched, for how long) and remote control usage to help determine which household member is in front of the TV. Within three clicks of the remote control, the system can differentiate which of two people living in a house are watching.
Bluetooth-based proximity detection and voice signatures (when voice-based TV control is used) are other data points that can be harnessed. Different profiles are then activated and used to target the right ad to the right user at the right time. This solution includes audience measurement algorithms and frame-accurate ad insertion. It can be used with multiscreen devices in the home.
== Best User Experience – All Channels & Platforms ==
This award recognises innovation and best practice in the user experience, accepting entries from across the media industry including TV/video. It showcases experiences that bring content providers closer to consumers.
KT (Korea Telecom) – Voice UI system for KT Olleh TV
In August 2018, KT (Korea Telecom) deployed a new voice user interface (VUI) system for its Olleh TV Pay TV service, initially targeting 1.6 million of its GiGA Genie STBs. This allows users to navigate TV without a remote control, using voice commands – which can be faster and more convenient. You can jump to a menu option that does not currently display on the screen, for example.
A key innovation is the use of real-time contextual data to help improve the accuracy and speed of the voice recognition and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) processes. The underlying GUI (graphical user interface) sends information about what is showing on screen to the VUI and this is used to help interpret a voice command.
In another innovation, the VUI system recognises it is being given a voice command without having to wait for the user to finish speaking. This means the voice-to-text translation that sends data to the NLU system can happen sooner. The VUI copes with short and frequent voice commands. There is no need for a ‘wake-up word’ with the Olleh TV voice solution.
OnePlace from Canal Digital, supported by 3SS
Highly Commended by the judges
Canal Digital is a leading Pay TV provider in the Nordics. In February 2018 the company launched OnePlace, a next-generation service based on the Android N version of the Android TV operating system. This is available on UHD set-top boxes and PVRs to customers in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
A key feature is the provision of broadcast TV, VOD and popular streaming services in one place, with users able to move seamlessly between these content sources – making Canal Digital a ‘super-aggregator’ of content. Netflix is deeply integrated: one option is to select the service within the EPG while viewing your current TV programme. Search and recommendations consider all content, including from third-party apps offered via Android.
The Canal Digital branded custom launcher and UI were developed by 3SS, whose design, development and integration expertise helps underpin the service. The UI allows subscribers to get the most from key OnePlace features including the integrated Google Play Store, Google Cast and Google Assistant (which includes voice search). Conax provides content protection and Technicolor middleware supplements the Android TV OS.
Since its launch, OnePlace has migrated to the Operator Tier version of Android TV.
Com Hem – Com Hem Tv Hub
Com Hem provides Pay TV, broadband and telephone services in Sweden and its Com Hem Tv Hub platform acknowledges the growing popularity of both on-demand viewing and streaming services in Pay TV homes but the enduring importance of linear TV. This modern UI introduces a ‘flow’ content experience that takes users easily from VOD to apps of their choice and to live content – in any order.
The focus is on discovering what you want quickly and engaging the modern viewer for longer. Recommendations offer more relevant content and various options encourage continued viewing.
Com Hem Tv Hub is one of the first TV products in the world to harness Android TV Operator Tier – the version of Android TV that gives operators great control over the user experience with a custom-developed ‘launcher’.
This service gives viewers access to ultra-high-quality 4K and HDR (High Dynamic Range) content formats, includes popular streaming services like Netflix, TV4 Play and SVT Play, and includes Google Cast, Google Play Store and Google Assistant (enabling voice interaction).
Chair of judges for the Connies is Mark Cross, Director at Chartroom. The judging panel for the international categories above was:
- William Cooper, Founder and Chief Executive, informitv
- Steven Hawley, Principal Analyst and Consultant, tvstrategies
- Ian Nock, Managing Director and Founder, Fairmile West
- Benjamin Schwarz, Consultant, CToic Consulting
- David Price Principal, Scala Advisors
- John Moulding, Editor-in-Chief, Videonet.