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Online Video Through Broadcasting Eyes

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In the midst of all the hustle and bustle that is IBC, Microsoft for the past few years has held court in the Topaz Lounge, a central second-floor location that provides the company a chance to rise above the fray and offer a more relaxed, holistic view of the company's many services for broadcasters and the consumers who view and interact with their products.

This year, however, Microsoft and two partners-Interxion and iStreamPlanet-held an off-site event that was geared toward a better understanding of broadcasters' needs for online video content creation and delivery. 

Held in the conference room of a new full-size data center adjacent to Interxion's corporate headquarters in Amsterdam, the session included representatives from four broadcasters: the BBC, CTV (Canada), NRK (Norway), and Turner. In addition, AT&T and Level 3 were represented.

Offered the opportunity to facilitate the 3-hour discussion, I gladly accepted, since it's not often one gets a chance to hear the take on the state of the online video industry from a group of broadcasters.

I'd told the group at the outset that I wouldn't quote directly from anyone other than the three hosts, so what follows are a few summary thoughts that came out of the workshop:

Making Up Is Easy to Do
When asked about positive surprises that came out of the Vancouver Olympics, a CTV representative said that the biggest surprise was the ability to aid the traditional broadcast channels in "make good" spot delivery.

Most advertising packages sold today are a mix of traditional broadcast, banner ads, and online video ads. An advertiser will often designate a specific portion of an ad budget for online delivery, with the rest going to traditional broadcasting.

Given the use of online video to show alternate content during the Vancouver Olympics, however, the online broadcasts were able to provide "make good" placements of ads for which the traditional broadcaster channels may not have had available slots.

"I remember a 7 A.M. emergency meeting was called on the third day of the Olympics," said Mio Babic, president of iStreamPlanet, one of the hosts of the workshop as well as a key service provider for getting the Games online. "I thought we'd done something wrong, but CTV just wanted to tell us we'd exceeded the anticipated number of advertisements within those few days, and that we're now going to be assisting with ad insertion from traditional broadcast inventory."

According to the CTV representatives, the Olympics were a watershed event in which online broadcasters were able to provide their traditional broadcast partners with a value-added service that directly impacted the advertising revenue bottom line. Which brings up an interesting set of questions that bear further discussion

Measuring Up
The comments on "make goods" brought about a dynamic and wide-ranging discussion on both the perceived value of online broadcasters to their traditional counterparts as well as the need for consistent measurement methodologies and analytics.

What struck me during the conversation about measurement and analytics is that we, the online video industry, have been promising robust tools for years. Ever since the inception of a "streaming media industry" in the late 1990s, the premise of tracking consumer viewing patterns at a granular level has been a basic tenet of what we do. Yet here were broadcasters telling us that the data was helpful-if somewhat shallow still-but that the knowledge and business intelligence around this data was still lacking.

For instance, in live events that use ad-insertion technology, do customers walk away from their laptops or desktops in the same pattern as they do with live television broadcasts? And what happens during an on-demand viewing of the same content later in the day? Does a consumer settle in and watch the whole event, knowing that the pre-recorded content is contained within a set period of time, or do they pause the event for periods of time equivalent to a commercial break?

Finally, do we see consistent patterns in content abandonment at specific times during specific events, and can we account for the reasons (e.g., quality of content, time of day, day of week)?  These are questions that business intelligence solutions need to glean from the mounds of raw data being collected from consumer viewing habits.

Finally, it was up to another Streaming Media writer in attendance to question whether the lower numbers for online video viewing were more accurate than the estimates that traditional broadcasters use based on Nielsen ratings. While no answer was forthcoming during the discussion, I used the same line of questioning when I met with TiVo executives, and hope to address this more in an upcoming article.

Weekend (Mobile) Warriors?
One of the BBC reps in the workshop stated that their game console traffic exceeds that of mobile devices, which led to a long discussion around the 3-screen versus 20-screen delivery scenario. 

Apparently the growth of gaming consoles, various forms of mobile devices and other non-traditional devices such as the iPad are conspiring to plague content creators, encoding solutions, and delivery networks equally. Yet none of the broadcasters said that the challenge was insurmountable, in part because of the patterns of game console and mobile viewing.

While my initial thought was that mobile viewing would come in the form of the "snacking" concept discussed at Mobile World Congress and other mobile-centric shows, the broadcasters felt their viewership was using mobile devices in a more concentrated timeframe-the weekend-rather than just using it to watch a live event on the commute home.

All online broadcasters in attendance said their mobile viewing consumption rises sharply during non-business hours and, more specifically, there is a consistent spike on Sundays. The discussion around this revelation, consistent across two continents, led to discussion of the use of mobile devices as alternative viewing of a sports game, or even sports statistics, while a consumer was also viewing a game on their traditional television screen.

New Interfaces and Technologies
The wrap-up question that I asked dealt with the viewing of 3D content online, as online broadcast of 3D content is a much lower-risk proposition for traditional broadcasters, as they await a potential (but not guaranteed) uptick in sales of 3D televisions.

The broadcasters represented opted not to reveal specific plans, but did say that the success of online video now provides the online broadcast arm of a traditional media company the right to sit at the table and jointly explore new ideas.

3D wasn't first on the list, however, with most attendees looking at ways to enhance the interactivity of their online content, which leaves the Amsterdam workshop as a perfect launch vehicle for further discussions at future broadcasting shows.

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