The State of Streaming

The move of several streaming giants towards ad-supported models has been commonplace in the news over the last 6 months and was also a hot topic at this year’s IBC.

It hasn’t just been Netflix, who initially stole the headlines with an unprecedented fall in subscribers leading them to consider adopting ads, but several other large services such as Disney+ that have also announced that they will be introducing a lower-priced tier with ads in late 2022.

There has, of course, been widespread outrage of consumers who see various streaming services as reneging on their promise of remaining ad-free. Luckily however, whilst being ad-free was certainly at the crux of some services’ business mantras, most prominently Netflix’s, it still doesn’t quite have the gravitas that streaming’s real focal point has always had, abundance. Abundance of content so that it can cater for all but specialise to the individual, and to specialise to the individual with maximum efficiency, you must be able to use and leverage data, another of IBC’s hot topics.

Fortunately, the digital age has enabled streaming services to be able to collect data far more numerously, accurately, and effectively than their predecessors. A session at the Showcase Theatre, “Insights from streaming UX: How UKTV’s data-informed culture drives revenue opportunities”, highlighted how important utilising data has always been to streaming in being able to make accurate suggestions to viewers, helping to keep subscribers on the service for longer. But data’s utility, especially when used with a bit of imagination, is far more expansive than that.

Speakers Marie Fenner and Andy Isaacs identified that you can collect data on other aspects of viewers’ behaviour including how they interact with the service’s interface, what suggestions they may skip, what catches the eye for longer. Even searching for titles that a service may not have in their content offering can be recorded, counted, and used for suggestions on what type of content may be more valuable to acquire or produce in the future.

Data can also be used to identify so called “high value” users and “sleepers” (users who barely use a service and may be more inclined to cancel it), and thus cater UXs and UIs to each respectively, perhaps even pushing lower-priced tiers with ads as a carrot to keep the “sleepers” rather than see them contribute to the perilous churn rate.

A separate seminar, “TNW Talks @ IBC: AdTech”, also explored different methods of using data in streaming, identifying the deployment of AI and machine use in collecting actionable insights into how to improve services.

It speaks volumes that several seminars at IBC either focused on or mentioned the importance of data to streaming services today, with one speaker even going as far as to dub it “the new oil”. Indeed, the precious resource that has supported streaming through so much of its journey so far seems set to be the saving grace to help navigate it’s move to ads too.

Just like how data is leveraged to make content suggestions to subscribers, data will dictate the algorithms that play adverts on different accounts, and different profiles on those accounts. Whether this be as simple as not playing a horribly inappropriate advert during family movie night, or to give users the impression of a more tailored experience, or to generate greater profits from more targeted and effective advertising, there is no doubt that data will be front and centre of the process.

Now that most of the streaming juggernauts are committed to bringing ads onto their platforms however, the sophistication of ads will take place rapidly, and who knows where data will allow them to take it?

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Written by Saul Gunn, Consultant