Long reads

The D2C challenge: stand out and deliver

Tim Ruhl and Adam Davies of Synamedia talk about the challenges of standing out, winning and retaining customers in a crowded streaming market.

The direct-to-consumer video business is becoming more competitive by the day, fuelled by a recent proliferation of live-streaming services adding to the well-populated field of OTT TV propositions currently available.

In this environment, standing out from the crowd while delivering a compelling user experience – and profit– is becoming more challenging than ever for service providers.

In addition to differentiating their proposition, streamers – including those taking on the challenges associated with live-streaming –not only have to win and retain subscribers but must do so in a way that provides at least the prospect of a not-too-distant return on the investment required to get their offerings up and running in the first place.

“Consumers are getting pickier and from a D2C perspective, the compelling proposition will be a personalised service with flexible pricing and packaging that fits their lifestyle,” says Tim Ruhl, senior product marketing manager at Synamedia. “They will tune in to see content that suits their taste but is also delivered at high quality to all screens that they want to use.”

Launching a sustainable service means having a clear route to profitability, something that cannot be taken for granted in the online video world. The clearest route to turning a profit is to tap into one of the biggest potential benefits that streaming brings – the ability to deliver content globally.

“Services need to be built for scale and that means global scale, with a single platform that extends reach across multiple territories. This may mean one platform that media companies can use to manage multiple brands to create niche offerings with differentiated catalogues that resonate with their customers,” says Ruhl. “You also need to be able to cost-efficiently deliver content to all end points. Each region may be different in the platforms that are popular – for example Roku is more popular in the US – so you need to build one platform that can deliver a consistent experience across all devices that can be easily configured.”

A single platform delivering content to multiple populations can return valuable data and insight to service providers too. Adam Davies, product manager for advertising and analytics solutions at Synamedia, says that such a platform can provide “a single source of truth” about what engages consumers that can be used to recommend content and enables the delivery of targeted, personalised advertising.

Davies says that Synamedia’s Infinite platform can serve as an enabler for service providers to process, secure and distribute content in an integrated way. “We have virtualised the entire platform including the data plane and management components so that we give the service provider the flexibility to distribute content and upgrade his service as required, using the cloud but at a cost that makes sense for the operator’s particular profile,” he says.

Live streaming and advertising

Live and time-shifted TV is increasingly part of the streaming experience, and Ruhl says that one of the main challenges facing service providers is to ensure seamless switching between broadcast TV and the streaming offering.

“We have invested in providing synchronised latency so that all screens receive the content at the same time,” he says. “This is a huge challenge. You don’t want one stream to outpace the other. It is about making the streaming version just as good as the broadcast.”

Additional challenges include managing the cost of delivering live events. Smart management of how CDNs are used combined with a focus on optimising the encoding of video play a key role. Synamedia has introduced smart rate control – a technology that is designed to anticipate the subjective perception of the human eye to maximise the efficient use of bandwidth.

The need for synchronised delivery across all screens is in part driven by the fact that, for advertising-supported services, campaigns also have to be seamlessly integrated.

Synamedia’s Infinite platform allows service providers to process, secure and distribute content in an integrated way

“Service providers want to be able to sell the audience rather than sell timeslots,” says Davies. Synamedia’s platform can enable this, providing frequency capping – so that viewers don’t see the same ad too many times – and addressability across multiple screens from a single campaign management system.

In addition to delivering smart advertising, service providers can tap the power of data to anticipate the twists and turns of the individual customer’s journey, from signing up for a service to churning and beyond.

“We can create a unified data-set based on anonymised digital profiles, and we can aggregate and abstract that data to a common platform to understand viewing habits over time,” says Davies.

Analysis can help predict when particular users will churn, which users are likely to renew subscriptions at a later date and which are likely to upgrade or downgrade between free and premium options.

Service providers can use this knowledge to shape their offerings and marketing messages, moving away from traditional A/B testing and other legacy methods and instead using personalised data to drill down to the level of personalised offers, such as offering subscription ‘holidays’ to users that sign up for particular sports competitions and are expected to churn once the season ends. Users can also be targeted with specific offerings based on the devices they use and other criteria.

“As the dataset grows you can identify patterns of user behaviour and what actions to automate, and investigate the efficiency of that action,” says Davies. “You can automatically offer people a different subscription package for example. If you identify a pattern of usage that means a viewer is likely to churn you can set them on a different journey.”

The piracy threat

Ensuring that subscribers remain loyal also may involve taking on one of the major threats that streaming video services face: piracy.

“Piracy hits the profitability of everyone in the ecosystem – it is competition from people with few if any costs to bear,” says Ruhl.

Synamedia, with its long history in revenue security, is tackling this issue by adopting a “holistic approach”, says Ruhl. “With our streaming protection protocol we are focused on protecting not just the content – something service providers have historically done – but the service itself,” he says.

This involves using human intelligence alongside automated detection of illicit streams. “We use a security team to track pirate networks and they use our in-house technology including predictive analytics and machine learning to verify that piracy is happening, identify the source and take appropriate action to ensure that the content is no longer available to be streamed,” says Ruhl.

The task is made more complex by the range of ways in which security can be compromised. In addition to illicit streaming, service providers face the growing challenge posed by the illicit sharing of credentials. “We are all familiar with casual sharing of passwords but there is also a more threatening variant where fraudulent entities make a big business out of sharing and reselling credentials,” says Ruhl.

Synamedia has invested in a credential fraud platform designed to predict where, when and what type of credential fraud is taking place. In the case of casual sharing involving family and friends, the system can push out marketing messages to persuade people to sign up for a legitimate package that better suits their needs, making it easier to keep honest. On the other hand, where it detects professional fraudsters, it can shut down a stream and disable credentials used to access the service.

Content rightsholders also have a role to play in ensuring that there is a very high barrier in place to prevent piracy, mandating the use of techniques such as forensic watermarking.

“Sports rightsholders and others need to insist that distributors invest in the highest quality technology and put in place a system that will monitor use around the globe. But it really has to be a community effort and the technology provider has to provide a complete service to monitor and take action where required.”

Overall, says Ruhl, direct-to-consumer distribution raises challenges that can only be addressed with the help of a complex technology stack both to ensure a satisfactory user experience and the efficient collection and application of data.

“Synamedia is fully invested in that entire technology stack. We can launch, manage and maintain that, so that the operator can focus on their business. With the Infinite platform we will provide the tools to enable them to focus on their offering and brand while we manage the technology and platform in a fully integrated way,” he says.

View D2C at IBC on Synamedia stand 14.C41

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