Streaming Media West '15: How PAC-12 Networks Keeps Viewers Watching and Measures Engagement

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Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Almost Live here at Streaming Media West 2015. Today with me, I've got Ryan Currier, head of digital products from PAC-12 Networks. Ryan, you were on a session earlier today. Tell me what the session was about.

Ryan Currier: We focused on, once you have viewers watching your live OTT or digital experiences, how do you keep them there? We talked about things like quality, the quality of the actual video experience. Both the production of the video as well as the bit rate, lack of buffering, etc. Particularly around sports. Things that people have come to expect based on what they see on traditional TV. It really needs to be that good.

Tim Siglin: In the old days, when I used to run a web consultancy, we looked at stickiness. How long somebody stayed on the site. Do you also measure that as well from a video standpoint?

Ryan Currier: We do. Actually, we've seen our own evidence, which I think is echoed by the industry, around when you have that higher quality of video; you have a higher bit rate, people lock on to that thing, less buffering, faster start times. It definitely, we can confirm, correlates to longer viewing times.

Tim Siglin: Interesting. Outside of the production value, which you're describing, and the delivery value, are there points in sports where naturally people will drop off. If it's a football game and it's 42-0, they'll probably drop off in the middle of the third quarter.

Ryan Currier: We see, certainly the action on the field dictates a lot in terms of viewership. We see huge spikes for games that are close and interesting, including, we believe, a lot of fans who may not have a rooting interest in those teams but have just heard it is a great game. A lot of people like to see the fourth quarter of a really exciting football game. And the inverse, when it's a blowout, people move on to other things. We also see a lot of relationship between what else is on at that time, either on PAC-12 or across all of sports or other entertainment.

Tim Siglin: Which brings up another interesting question. Because it's not traditional TV that's linear, you have the interactive element, are there things that you also do from an interactive standpoint to keep the viewers engaged? Polling. Those types of things.

Ryan Currier: We haven't done a lot with that. We, honestly, have found that things that distract from viewing can actually be more problematic than helpful. I think that's something that we'll continue to explore over time because there are definitely opportunities. Whether it's when someone is ready to tune away. We see downturns in audience during halftimes, for example, and then they come back. I think there are points in time where it makes a lot of sense but there's points in time where you really want to just let the content speak for itself.

Tim Siglin: Don't let the content be distracted from. That's very interesting. So what are some of the things at the show that you've seen in terms of the exhibit hall or other sessions that you've gone to?

Ryan Currier: There's so much activity going on, both with established companies but also a lot of startups in social video. A lot of pretty interesting things around trying to get more automated with a lot of the workflows. For us, we air 850 live games every year and have another several hundred events that are live streamed exclusively through our experiences. So the volume of content is very significant. Resourcing wise, we have to scale that to the size of the audience and the type of sport. A lot of things that are interesting to me are around finding ways to continue to create really nice experiences around the content; whether it's highlights or stuff on social media that maybe requires a little less human power behind it. Finding automated solutions is very interesting. There's a lot of folks playing in that space.

Tim Siglin: You talked about live. What about your back catalog for on-demand? How do you handle the catalog currently?

Ryan Currier: Our most popular on demand is still relevant to fairly recent content. Highlights and recaps. Features. Interviews of players. We do have a set of content that is fairly popular. We've done cut down versions of some classic games for example.

Tim Siglin: So it's PAC-12 classic like ESPN Classic.

Ryan Currier: Exactly. You get a 30 minutes version of a basketball game. 60 minutes of football game. You not only show the key plays, it's beyond highlights, but you add in interviews with players who were in that game.

Tim Siglin: So a documentary style.

Ryan Currier: Exactly. We've found that those perform really well. Fans love them. They love reliving those glory moments. That is true evergreen content that people like to revisit time and time again.

Tim Siglin: Again, this has been Ryan Currier, head of Digital Products and PAC 12 Networks. This is Almost Live at Streaming Media 2015.

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