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SMNYC 2024: Microsoft CTO Andy Beach Talks Gamified FAST and Leveraging AI to Make Old Content Feel New

At Streaming Media NYC 2024, Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, interviews Andy Beach, CTO, Media & Entertainment, Worldwide, Microsoft, about the concepts of creating trivia and interactivity through a second-screen app that allows users to connect and compete with each other. Beach also talks about the technical challenges of bringing old content into 2024, the potential of generative AI, and integrating physical events into the gamification process.

What gamification means for FAST

Siglin mentions the opening SMNYC keynote that Beach participated in that morning, “Beat The BUZZR! How Microsoft & Fremantle Are Gamifying FAST & Capitalizing Interactive TV,” with Laura Florence, SVP Global FAST Channels, Fremantle. He asks Beach to describe what gamification means for FAST.

“We wanted to take and create a bunch of trivia and interactivity with content that was streaming, but not on a streaming platform,” Beach says. “So through some sort of broadcast-able moment and create a second-screen app that allows you to connect the community around that content and feel like they're engaged and, in this case, competing with each other.”

The tech challenges of making old content look new

Siglin asks Beach about the up-res process for 40 to 50-year-old low-res content.

“It was funny. We actually had been working with the content for about a month, but we had been doing it on our laptops and smaller screens,” Beach says. “And so we thought it looked okay, and the first time we put it on a 65-inch 4K monitor, we were like, ‘Oh, this doesn't look good!’ And it was just jarring between the graphics we were overlaying and this old content that felt fuzzy and had some artifacts and other elements. So I reached out to my friends at Cinnafilm who have, to me, one of the best tech stacks for up-resing and cleaning content, and they were able to very quickly reprocess the original source material and give us super crisp quality and something that felt meaningful on a 4K.”

Siglin asks, “And is it still 4:3 [aspect ratio]? I mean, obviously, for phones, you do 4:3.”

“It is still 4:3 content,” Beach says. “Although, interestingly enough, we have announcements in generative AI right now where we can do sort of a text-to-video creation. So I imagine we're very close to someone creating a service that automatically fills in the pillar boxes on content so that old content suddenly doesn't feel old.”

Integrating competitive FAST experiences into a second-screen experience

Siglin asks Beach about what users competing with one another on FAST look like and how it integrates with a second-screen experience.

“So we have a second-screen experience,” Beach says. “You go in, create an account, and then there's a leaderboard, and you compete to finish missions. As you finish missions, you rank up through the various levels, and all of the missions can be tied directly to the content itself and how you interact and watch it. But you can also tie it to physical events because we can scan a QR code to check in or do other elements as part of it. So going to a website could be a mission, going to a meetup with a group could be a mission.”

Siglin says, “That physicality piece that you'd add to it, you almost wonder if with the modern versions of the shows, one of the prizes might be you get to go be an audience member at the show, or vice versa, if you're an audience member at the show, then you get extra points.”

“The LA Clippers are actually doing exactly this in the new arena they built,” Beach says. “They're using the same PlayFab technology in the stadium, and they have monitors on all the seats and microphones around. And if you're making a lot of noise and it's obvious that you're really enthusiastic, there's a special part of the arena that you can't buy a ticket for. It's an exclusive invite-only, and it's based on how loud and how excited you are in the moment. So you can potentially if you're excited enough at the game, get invited into this exclusive members-only area as a piece of the physical experience. Then being able to tie that back to an online experience as well, I think that is really cool because it allows us to have that seamless data-driven experience that allows me to connect what I'm doing in physical space with what I'm watching online.”

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