Home Analysis How media companies can triumph in premium video streaming: Videoscape Europe round-table

How media companies can triumph in premium video streaming: Videoscape Europe round-table

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Steven Scaffardi (Chair, and Head of Events at Mediatel Events):

Hello everyone and welcome to this round table special on Videonet, coinciding with Videoscape Europe and focused on key themes discussed at that event.

This week I am joined by Nicolas de Hueppe (CEO and Founder of Alchimie), Bill Gash (Director of Sales, EMEA at CSG), Heather Killen (CEO of Horse & Country), Tom Davidson (General Manager, VOD at UKTV) and Adam Davies (Senior Manager, Product Marketing at Synamedia).  

Welcome everyone. Let’s get straight to a big talking point: will there be any lasting effects from the coronavirus lockdowns in terms of what, how and where people consume content – and if so, what are they?

 

Nicolas de Hueppe, Alchimie

Covid has had a huge impact; never before in our lifetime have people been forced to stay indoors for three months. Lockdown populations have been looking for distractions, people have had the means and opportunity to try new things.

We’ve seen this with the Zoom phenomenon – the app has been around for a while but took-off during lockdown because people had both the time and the inclination to try something new, and it served a purpose. This applies to television or content viewing as well.

Over the last seven years, existing viewing habits have changed slowly to incorporate big global streamers Netflix and Amazon, but the pandemic has accelerated further change in viewing habits, resulting in people stepping out of their usual comfort zones to investigate alternative services and VOD offers.

Viewing behaviours are like skillset: once developed, it’s hard to choose to return to previous existence with more limited viewing behaviour.

 

Tom Davidson, UKTV

The longer the situation continues, the further entrenched people’s new habits will become. Thinkbox has already reported a 45% surge in BVOD usage since lockdown and I believe the VOD services will come out of lockdown with a significant number of new viewers.

Since lockdown, our on-demand service, UKTV Play, has seen a +39% increase in views, for example. Linear channels have also seen growth here at UKTV, and we’ve seen a particular rise in the number of 16-34-year-olds tuning in (+55%) to enjoy the new and archive shows on offer across the network.

In my opinion, these audiences are likely to migrate back to the convenience of on-demand over time and as their lives return to normality.

 

Bill Gash, CSG

Post-lockdown, competition will intensify for consumer attention, loyalty and spending power. This means broadcasters, Pay TV and OTT TV services will have to work hard to retain any new customers they have acquired, with the focus on reducing churn, improving retention and providing a better customer experience.

In recent weeks, more consumers have learned how to ‘game’ free trials, share logins and discover where to find pirated content. OTT TV service providers need to reassess how they manage identities, devices and entitlements and ensure premium content is properly secured now that the supply of new productions has been impacted.

We expect more consumers to seek out services that simplify their digital lives, by aggregating more of what they need and offering value through flexible service bundles.

 

Heather Killen, Horse & Country

Crises often accelerate trends that are already happening, and to some extent, we think these changes have already taken place. We were quick off the mark with our own Zoom-based interview programme, ‘The Check In’.

People have quickly accepted these kind of programmes and we’ll continue to make them, lockdown or not, as they gives us instant access to global equestrian talent, rather than having to wait for the opportunities when we have a crew at the same event.

But it’s not just about the talent. Our audience has a voracious appetite for information across a range of issues including welfare, breeding, training and health. During lockdown, we’ve seen a wave of innovation with webinars, virtual conferences, even virtual events and training, springing up across the sector.

 

Adam Davies, Synamedia

During lockdown we have seen a flurry of new streaming services and some great deals on premium content. The problem is that, with little else to do and no new sports to watch, viewers have been burning through shows quickly and consuming lots of long tail content too.

With no new productions to fill the gap, many users may simply cancel services unless providers can find new ways to appeal to them.

Long-tail content will become even more important over the coming months. Providers with access to behavioural insight, such as individual box-set bingeing habits, can use personalised discovery and promotions to help consumers surface attractive longtail content and win big.

 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair):

With regards to digital content – streamed rather than broadcast – what are your priorities for the next year, whether related to business strategy, organisational change or technology evolution?

 Heather Killen, Horse & Country

Our first priority, as soon as lockdown allows, is to get back to streaming of live sport. Over the last year we have put in place a number of key partnerships with equestrian governing bodies and rights holders, and it’s been incredibly frustrating to see the sporting calendar cancelled.

This said, we think live sport needs to be re-imagined as more than just a single live feed, and are actively exploring cloud-based edit and live mix technologies that would allow us to improve our live-to-VOD process, bring in remote guests and commentators to live streams, and produce highlights reels immediately post-event, as well as synchronously publish to social platforms.

Overall, the goal is to super-serve our audience with the kind of bespoke content that hitherto has been the preserve of just the very top table of rightsholders such as F1.

 

Tom Davidson, UKTV

One of our key priorities next year will be to retain the new audiences who’ve discovered UKTV Play during this time. We want to help them further explore the richness of the BBC archive and continue to surface shows we think they’ll like through recommendations and in-app marketing.

We will also further promote the service across our linear network. We also want to better monetise these new audiences next year. We will do this by improving our data strategy and launching on new ad sales products. Thirdly, we’ll be ensuring UKTV Play is available on as many third-party platforms as possible to increase the app’s visibility and prominence.

 

Bill Gash, CSG

CSG recently launched an Experience Practice precisely because we could see clients needed guidance on how to create a better customer experience. For many businesses this could be their only, or certainly their most important differentiator.

We can design those experiences through every step of a customer’s journey and provide the technology enablement with platforms like Ascendon, a SaaS, cloud-based platform enabling companies to quickly launch new digital services. The solution gives clients far greater flexibility in how they quickly evolve their service. It lets them move faster, be more agile and use real-time data analytics and deeper insights to learn quickly what works and what doesn’t.

 

Nicolas de Hueppe, Alchimie

We have been building our portfolio over the last three years, filling it with over 50,000 hours of content from renowned producers to fuel and refresh the range of branded and independent channels we curate and provide to global platforms all over the world.

Central to our business strategy is the quality of content, our careful selection and curation process, and our agility, populating channels with shows that resonate amongst target audiences, at the right time. It’s this approach that adds value to existing content.

Having flexed our own Alchimie muscles in curating content for channels, and enabling brands to create their own channels, we have now started to work with ‘tastemakers’, talented people in the public eye who want to share the shows they watch and that reflect their interests by launching their own subscription channels populated with their own selection of shows. This strategy has already been successful for us in France, and 2020/21 will see us rolling this out across other territories.

 

Adam Davies, Synamedia

We are focused on helping streaming providers build profitable long-term businesses based on innovation in three areas:

  • Developing incremental video network innovations, including new compression techniques, that use AI, machine learning and automation to support broadcast-equivalent streaming while cutting bandwidth costs.
  • Helping providers combat the rise in streaming piracy with innovations in our security portfolio and operational security intelligence services that will speed up effective responses and stop pirates in their tracks.
  • And building out our Infinite cloud platform with new advanced addressable advertising and data analytics solutions that help providers build new revenues.

  

Steven Scaffardi (Chair):

Will we still need aggregators if more TV/premium video migrates to digital or will consumers happily watch their favourite streamed content through a series of direct to consumer apps that they move into and out of?

 Bill Gash, CSG

As traditional Pay TV and telco businesses have redefined their role in consumers’ lives and their digital ecosystem, we are seeing more shift to become an agent that can simplify customers’ busy digital lives, offering more of what they need in one place.

But there are two conflicting agendas at work. The telco or Pay TV operator wants to own the customer and handle the monthly bill for the services they offer. The OTT service should be thinking of how it can do the same and, over time, build engagement and loyalty that transcends the customer’s choice of Pay TV or telco provider.

The largest Internet brands are big enough to dictate terms and even how their service should be integrated by the telco. But in most other cases, the telco has the power and potential to rapidly scale an OTT service (hence the attraction of doing a deal).

 

Adam Davies, Synamedia

When consolidation happens, as it inevitably will, the winners will be those who adopt the new Pay TV bundle, with aggregators adding third parties’ pure-play OTT streams to their bundles. They can offer a proven route to market and the chance to scale fast.

Federated search tools are essential: they will ensure that providers avoid content dead-ends and instead surface value to the consumer that will boost engagement.

 

Heather Killen, Horse & Country

Our view is that the existing aggregators still have a key role to play, albeit that role will evolve as they adapt their offers to take account of changing viewing habits. Indeed, we’re in conversations with some of the distributors of our linear channel about adding our apps into their own app stores.

At the same time, new aggregators are coming into the market, particularly in the form of AVOD networks. And, of course, Amazon Prime Video continues to develop its offer, so it’s a very dynamic picture at present.

Our sense is that consumers will spread their viewing across a number of platforms, and we need to continually track the behaviour of our own, very particular, audience to see which they’re favouring.

 

Nicolas de Hueppe, Alchimie

Firstly, the path to discovery of content is still not very well understood. Most audiences stick to the brands / channels / aggregators that they know, or possibly recommended from a trusted partner/source.

There is not a single ‘direct to consumer route’ but many, and they depend on a number of factors: devices (smart TV, PS4, Xbox, handsets, tablets ), networks (3G, 4G, mobile operators, fixed) , cost/subscription, etc., and rights.

In addition to the range of devices, there has been a huge fragmentation of the content market, making it challenging to navigate. Content can’t be universally deployed but needs to be adapted to different platforms, which requires a certain amount of investment and technical expertise. Additionally, rights to content are becoming complex to negotiate.

Finally, marketing individual D2C apps requires significant financial investment and keeping them fresh and attractive requires content, which takes time to source. As long as aggregators continue to solve these problems they will be needed.

 

Tom Davidson, UKTV

We will most likely see a mixed ecology across the media landscape as premium apps continue to multiply. Some users will be fine hopping between apps, but others would prefer everything in one place.

Aggregators will therefore play a prominent role there, and should help to simplify the vast amount of content on offer. Content bundles, and using integrated search functionality, will be important to help those consumers find the shows they want, regardless of which app it comes from.

Those aggregators can also help the standalone apps by providing broad reach, promotion and bundling opportunities for their service.

 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair):

We can expect a rush to the outdoors when the lockdowns are eased while the lost months of TV production could mean a drought in new shows. What can you and the wider industry do to keep viewers engaged during that period across digital or broadcast services?

 Adam Davies, Synamedia

The good news is that live sport is coming back. But it won’t be the same and the challenge will be to recreate the shared social experience that viewers once enjoyed with friends and other fans in pubs and living rooms.

While sports organisations focus on cardboard cut-out audiences and canned cheering to recreate a stadium’s atmosphere, for service providers it is about finding ways to reinvent the shared experience for viewers stuck at home.

We expect to see agile service providers experimenting with multiple new features; for example with ‘watch parties’ to close this gap and keep subscribers engaged. The ability to measure success, and react quickly, has never been more important.

 

Nicolas de Hueppe, Alchimie

The lockdown has had some positive aspects; it’s given us more time to watch TV, indulge in and enjoy old movies and TV series that we may have missed, which has appealed to the prevailing nostalgic mood.

The lifting of lockdown will bring a different state of mind, which is where the size of our catalogue and curation of content really adds value, because Alchimie has the programming to capture and reflect any mood, on any device, anywhere.

 

Bill Gash, CSG

The key for broadcasters and OTT services is to keep users engaged and provide a relevant, personalised and valued experience. That is not something you can really do with a ‘one-to-many’ broadcast model. But that is possible online with live and on-demand content served in an application, where you have a registered and even paying user.

CSG’s view is that the key to building engagement and loyalty is through merchandising and offer management. This is as much to remind customers what they already have access to and can enjoy.

 

Heather Killen, Horse & Country

We are fortunate in that our model is based on very quick production turnarounds, meaning we will not face the same kind of gap in the schedule as broadcasters reliant on drama, investigative journalism, etc. To put that in context, with rigorous pre-production, we can spend a day filming with a top rider and generate two half-hour programmes; one in-depth interview/profile, and a riding masterclass filmed in the arena.

 

Tom Davidson, UKTV

I think Covid could well keep us in an alternative reality for some time. I also don’t imagine that everything will return to how it was before lockdown, and we are preparing for that.

Our CEO recently said, “Television can bring great comfort in these troubled times. We’re staying at home and the news is bleak, but escapist, entertaining and comforting TV can bring great joy,” – and I echo this.

As soon as we’re able to, we will get new shows back into production and we will aim to keep audiences engaged and entertained with new, standout, original, escapist shows.


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