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Investing in AI Is Just as Important as Content for Streaming Services

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It’s no secret that COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the media and entertainment industry, but perhaps most significant is the timing of it all.

With the streaming landscape becoming even more crowded within the last year, and the market only growing (projected to nearly double in size from 2019 to 2024), having an extensive and diversified content library is critical for media companies. 

In fact, PwC data shows that over a third of viewers have subscribed to a new video service to watch a show only that service had access to. And while classic programming can certainly draw viewers in, generating new and unique content is critical to stand out from the competition. But the pandemic has largely put a hold on this content production, or at the very least slowed it, with the amount of new programming taking a hit.

While innovative solutions like contact tracing offer a path forward, helping studios ease concerns about spreading the virus during production, the pandemic has also underscored the idea that there should be other ways to drive engagement and ultimately improve the viewing experience – ways that aren’t so reliant on new content.

One solution at the heart of this idea is AI, which holds the potential to boost the user experience in new ways, while also helping with production workflows, pandemic or not.  

Considerations for Investing in AI 

Anytime that you are talking about emerging technologies, like AI, you also have to think about the cost involved. And for an industry that is already spending billions of dollars on building out these streaming services from scratch, with profitability years away for many, it can be a tough sell buying into the idea that further investments need to be made into something like AI, which can be difficult to define or quantify.

That’s why having a clear, narrow purpose for your AI investment is important. For example, AI can do many things, but what benefits are you specifically trying to achieve for your streaming service and your viewers?

It’s important to consider enhancing the customer experience as the main purpose. Like with the goal of generating new and exciting content, the ultimate aim of streaming services is to offer an experience that keeps viewers engaged, and reduces the risk of them canceling a subscription or turning to another service. 

In a PwC survey, viewers noted that some of the top characteristics of a strong user experience were favorite shows being easily accessible (56%), having the ability to watch something at all times (50%), and quickly finding something to watch when users don’t have anything already in mind (42%).

AI can aid in achieving these traits if managed correctly, particularly helping to reduce that feeling of emptiness we all get when we finally finish a great show, but no longer have anything new to consume. For example, an algorithm with accurate data can more easily identify which person in a household is interested in watching crime dramas based on their previous viewing habits and suggest programming. With this approach, the content the viewer is being directed to doesn’t need to be newly released, as long as it’s new and of interest to that viewer specifically.

Or perhaps, later down the line, AI can play a role in creating variations of content that the individual viewer sees, like unique product placement that targets specific users based on their interests, or perhaps a choose your own adventure type plot, where the AI system is making the decisions based on a viewer’s preferences.

AI can also play a role in content production itself, as the COVID-19 pandemic will prove to be an eye-opening point in time for many in the industry in terms of identifying new ways to streamline production. With production looking leaner across the board, AI can play a role in speeding up critical parts of this process, like animation rendering or even editing.  

Ensuring AI is Managed Well 

While AI offers great potential for media and entertainment, particularly for streaming services, it also must be used in a way that is ethical and simply human-oriented so that it actually benefits people.  

This is particularly important when it comes to privacy, which has become a rapidly growing issue across the media and technology landscape, especially when considering the state of third-party cookies for advertising and the eventual move many are making to alternative approaches to keep consumer data more protected. AI runs on massive datasets and more data, in theory, makes for a stronger AI system, but this increased data cannot come at the expense of the consumer. 

AI can also play a larger role in content moderation, which as any election cycle proves, is important to help crack down on misinformation. This is especially critical in a quick-moving news cycle today where many streaming services only continue to invest in more news-driven programming and as consumers will continue to seek out authentic content they can trust.

With this content commonly shared across platforms like social media, the comments section of a post can easily take a turn for the worse, with misinformation spreading quickly. Media companies should consider AI to help monitor these types of moments, ensuring their content isn’t at the center of anything troublesome. But these algorithms have to be designed, built, implemented, managed and regularly updated to ensure top performance and accuracy.

Measuring AI’s Value

For many companies and industries, AI can be very difficult to measure and gauge whether it’s working. However, despite the fact that it is still an emerging technology and we are just scratching the surface in terms of what it can do for media and entertainment, there are some simple ways that streaming services can see if their AI is doing what it’s designed to do.

For example, when an algorithm suggests a show to a user, are they watching the programming? And more importantly, are they actually sticking with it, or are they quickly giving up on the content to find something else? Are users spending more time on the platform or at the very least more consistently using it? 

On the content production front, is the AI-enabled rendering or video editing system actually reducing time spent in post-production, or even reducing costs? 

At the end of the day, if these AI systems are supporting the ultimate goal of creating better user experiences, whether that’s through suggested programming for subscribers or streamlining production to get new and exciting content to viewers quickly, then it is clear that a streaming service’s AI investment is paying off. 

Building an AI Future

All of the major streaming players have officially arrived. In such a competitive space, it’s no longer just about making that initial big splash into the market – it’s time to put your strategy to the test in delivering consistent, quality entertainment.  

This means that every investment into differentiating a service matters, and it’s why investing in emerging technologies like AI is a must.

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