Metadata makes the OTT world go round

Children and screens
Alan Young, Crystal
June 27th 2017 at 11:26AM : By

OTT technology brings with it an extraordinary ability to use metadata to enhance the user experience. Alan Young, chief operating officer of Crystal, tells us more

It is no longer defensible to deny that over-the-top services are the future of content provision, and that they may one day overtake the popularity of traditional broadcasters. It's estimated that by 2019, 72% of US internet users will use OTT video services.

Some broadcasters may still think of OTT only as a regrettable cost of doing business, but none of them can avoid it if they wish to remain competitive, especially since the advent of pure OTT providers, like Netflix and Amazon.

Unfortunately for broadcasters, providing OTT services is not a trivial process. It can be expensive, time-consuming and difficult to manage, but there is value to be found. In the increasingly competitive broadcast industry, it’s easy to assume that the key to success is a high number of users. But the actual challenge of OTT provision is that it is particularly difficult to monetise those users.

Today’s mainly young OTT demographic have grown up expecting free video content at their fingertips and are reluctant to pay for an additional service. The next assumption is that advertising solves it all. To a point, this is true. I envisage an OTT business model not too far removed from the current reliance on advertising within the traditional broadcast industry.

Delivering video content straight from a linear broadcast does, however, involve a multitude of problems. In many incidences, a content provider may have the right to distribute a particular program traditionally but may not have the right to distribute it over OTT platforms in certain locations. Alongside this, as I have previously mentioned, OTT content is difficult to monetise, so effective advertising must also be taken into account. When delivering linear programming via OTT, it is highly likely that the original advertisements will be irrelevant to the audience, so there is little benefit leaving them in place. In some cases, it may even be detrimental.

In terms of distribution rights, broadcasters only have three options. The first is to completely reoriginate the channel – an expensive, highly duplicative option. The second is to remove (or “blackout” as it is known in the industry) the offending content. This option is highly unpopular with viewers and will more than likely encourage them to switch to another program.

The last and most desirable option is to replace the unlicensed content with something else. The same goes for advertisements. In order for content providers to generate revenue from OTT, they must have a sophisticated system in place downstream which is capable of recognising and replacing unsuitable advertisements within OTT content. Without this ability, advertisers will find little worth in placing their content within OTT streams.

Thus, the key to monetising OTT is not putting it in front of ever more eyeballs. It is the insertion of timing and content identification metadata into the OTT stream aimed at enabling automated, seamless, replacement of content at any point downstream of the broadcast centre.

The value of metadata

Metadata is by no means a new discovery within traditional broadcasting, but it was previously hardly ever needed and therefore not widely implemented in linear video. Now, with the proliferation of OTT broadcasting, it has become invaluable.

In order to seamlessly replace an advert or piece of content with another, content aggregators need to know the exact timing of the start and end of the segment needing to be replaced. This information, along with other highly useful information, can be provided by metadata described within the content using industry standards like SCTE 104 and SCTE 35.

Metadata markers are capable of marking the exact first and last frame of linear content segments, allowing a system to know exactly when an advert or other content could be replaced seamlessly with another. This must be done accurately so the viewer is not aware, but it must also be done automatically, within a system that is capable of identifying in advance when an advert or piece of content needs to be replaced. With a capable system, linear programming can be delivered for OTT at little to no extra cost to the broadcaster, as long as it has been frame-accurately described with metadata before it leaves the broadcast center.

The key to monetising OTT is not putting it in front of ever more eyeballs

The problem with OTT content is that it can be streamed at any time, in any place, by pretty much anyone, making it seemingly difficult for content providers to offer much information to advertisers about viewer demographics.

In actual fact, OTT streaming offers a huge amount of information about the viewer (where they are, what device they are using, etc.), which can be combined with stored metadata about the user’s viewing history and other information, plus metadata about the broadcast itself. Particularly in the case of personal electronic devices, such as phones and tablets, metadata enables broadcasters to build a comprehensive picture of someone’s viewing habits and preferences. Not only is metadata able to describe conditions which automatically trigger a system to replace an advert based on a viewer’s location, it can also trigger responses based on the type of content being viewed, and in more sophisticated examples, the viewing history of the user.

Take for example, a broadcast about the wonders of the Mediterranean. Let’s assume the viewer has an interest in this area of the world for one reason or another. If a broadcaster were to insert a segment advertising inexpensive flights to Mallorca, or an advert for a travel agency, the contextual adverts are more likely to have a higher rate of click-throughs than if they were broadcast to a user viewing a completely unrelated piece of content. This way, the value of the ad increases, benefiting both the advertiser and the broadcaster.

C3 window

Certainly, it is the consumer who seems to be driving the implementation of OTT. Some years ago, Nielson ratings expanded the measurement window to include the first three to seven days beyond a program’s linear broadcast to account for later viewing on-demand, labelled the C3/C7 window. As a result, it is sensible for broadcasters to make linear programs available within this window in order to increase advertising revenue; making a linear broadcast available on-demand (whether traditionally or OTT) within the C3/C7 window can increase ratings by as much as 40%.

The problem is that C3 VOD files are notoriously time-consuming and labor-intensive to format. Some broadcasters are under the impression that to do this within 12 hours, or 1/6th of the 72-hour window, is an acceptable result. If broadcasters were to fully describe linear content with metadata, however, the entire production of C3 VOD files could be automated and completed within less than a minute.

Although I find it difficult to picture traditional linear programming disappearing entirely, I do envisage a future where demand for OTT will continue to grow exponentially. We see this trend emerging now. With the proper use of metadata, however, it is possible for broadcasters to profitably monetize their existing linear channels when delivered OTT without the need to increase headcount or duplicate workflows. Metadata is the key to unlocking the value of existing linear content on the Internet!