Takeaways from IBC 2018

Perspectives from this year’s IBC Show by JW Player’s Co-founder and Head of Strategic Partnerships, Brian Rifkin

Every year broadcasters and media company executives from around the globe fly to Amsterdam for the IBC Show. Personally, I have been coming to the show for the past five years and am always interested in what folks are excited, and worried, about.

This year, some of the main headlines are surrounding what folks were not talking about, just as much as what was being discussed. From the lack of conversation around VR, 360 videos, and blockchain to a focus on live streaming and cloud editing, the vibe of this year’s IBC Show (and DMEXCO for that matter) was realism over futurism.

So, without delay here are my takeaways from this year’s IBC Show.

Let’s live in the moment

One of the more striking trends from this year’s show was the lack of discussion surrounding two emerging technologies – immersive experiences (virtual reality and 360-degree video) and blockchain. Over the last two years, there has been endless chatter about the future of media being tied in some form to these technologies.

The impression I got after chatting with a variety of industry executives was that while both will be important to both the delivery and monetization of video in the future, it was still too early. They were more focused on how to capitalize on the present opportunities, creating a better experience for audiences with cross-screen distribution, and addressable video advertising (more on that below).

My takeaway: Coming out of a few years of digital media exuberance where tons of capital was being put into startups, there is now an urgency to “live in the moment” and focus on growing audiences and generating enough revenue today, so that we can look to the future tomorrow. While there is still optimism, the lack of practical applications of both blockchain and immersive media puts a damper on those longer-term conversations.

Addressable Advertising

Feeding off the need to capitalize on the opportunity in front of the media companies and broadcasters was the ability to reach audiences with more targeted ads, and provide better analysis to marketers. As TV dollars continue to shift to digital, executives around the show were looking for better ways to reach audiences across a variety of screens while also staying compliant with GDPR.

Personally, I feel this was one of the more exciting topics of discussion as it combined the realistic “deal-making” discussions with the more future-facing topics of what we can do as marketing technologies become more advanced.

My takeaway: Put simply, digital video advertising is about to get a whole lot better in the near future. Right now we see anecdotal complaints of the lack of targeting and the lack of inventory. More critical to the future of the media ecosystem is the fact that digital video advertising is about a quarter of the size of linear TV ad spend. This shift to digital can only accelerate if we create tools that show increased value to brands and marketers.

Please, no more OTT apps

It’s official – we have hit peak OTT. This may not come as a total surprise with the folding of go90 earlier this year, and multiple other players beginning to shutter their OTT operations. But you would never know that by looking at this year’s IBC Show.

Everywhere you turned, there was someone who was offering to build a custom OTT app for broadcasters and media companies. The growth of these custom developer shops is a result of a market on the brink of saturation.

My takeaway: This euphoria has very similar characteristics to the mobile app development craze we saw almost a decade ago – yeah there’s an app for that. Based on what I heard at IBC, I predict a similar consolidation within the OTT marketplace. The result will be a fallout that creates clear winners and losers over the next twelve to twenty-four months.

High Expectations for Cloud Editing

Finally, it’s not all about the business of broadcasting, it’s also very much about the creativity and production that goes into creating videos. The ability to edit footage in the cloud and upload it directly into a CMS has made life astronomically easier for broadcasters, and allow for more efficient workflow during the editing process.

My takeaway: While we continue to focus on how to support media companies and broadcasters, it is incredibly important not to forget that without the creators there would be nothing to stream. We are continuously looking for ways to make their lives easier from creating Content Scores (a way to understand how your video is performing), to AI driven workflows. By finding ways to take the legwork out of creating incredible video will only help to foster a thriving digital video ecosystem around the world.

 

Overall, it was a great year to be at IBC and am looking forward to next year’s!

 

Brian Rifkin is a co-founder of JW Player and head of strategic partnerships.

 

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Laying solid foundations for a video-first future

Audiences today have an almost limitless amount of content to choose from which makes it increasingly challenging to capture their attention.

According to Cisco, video will represent 80% of all internet traffic by 2021. Ahead of the 2018 IBC Show, Brian Rifkin, Co-founder & Head of Strategic Partnerships, dives into how media companies and broadcasters can prepare now for a video-based future.

Check out the full article here.

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Case Study: Driving Business Growth for Penske Media

JW Player worked with Penske Media to improve viewer engagement and monetization.

Penske has built a media empire by bringing together some of the top names in entertainment, music, and fashion. With brands such as Variety, Rolling Stone, and WWD, you most likely have recently turned to a Penkse publication for the inside scoop on your favorite band or designer.

However, in order to fund the great journalism that goes on at these publications, Penske needed a video and technology partner that could significantly expand its viewer engagement and monetization opportunities – and that’s where JW Player comes in.

In our newest case study, learn how JW Player helped Penske drive a 20% lift in ad revenues and an 18x increase in video plays for Variety. Download the full version here.

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Playbook: Become a Video-First Publisher

Our comprehensive guide to making video your #1 source of revenue

It’s a good time to be in video. But it’s not exactly easy getting into video. Some think it’s as simple as putting content online and watching the views (and revenue) roll in. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Today’s publishers face many moving parts on the road to running a profitable video business: from building a content library to implementing a tech stack to monetizing effectively. Our playbook Become a Video-First Publisher equips you with the tips and best practices to succeed. If you want to make video your #1 source of revenue—and truly become “video-first”—this guide is your go-to resource.

 

 

 

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The Video Advertising Brilliance of Roaring Earth

How the nature website scaled its business with 6-second mobile preroll ads and A/B testing

Tigers attacking bears. Alligators fighting pythons. Lions tackling hyenas. Such is the addictive drama that unfolds every day on the nature video website Roaring Earth. The niche publisher has mushroomed into a profitable online destination 30 million views strong. At JW Insights 2018, CEO Jan Renner shared how a viewer-centric monetization strategy helped Roaring Earth scale its business.

 

“Every missed view is lost money.”

From the very beginning, Roaring Earth set its sights on achieving at least two views per session.

“We knew if we could get at least two views per session, we could make this business work,” said Renner. This benchmark would not only allow Roaring Earth to sustain viewer engagement but monetize successfully. “Every missed view is lost money,” said Renner.

 

The website was bullish about the 6-second preroll mobile ad. As a niche publisher, Roaring Earth felt this type of preroll was especially suitable for expanding viewership and revenue.

 

A/B Testing for success

To support viewer engagement, Roaring Earth invested heavily in an advertising approach that prioritized user experience.

 

Roaring Earth A/B tested more than 1,000 videos, comparing factors like ad length, user reactions, and rate of viewer return.  It looked at, for example, the efficacy of running two 6-second ads vs. one 15-second ad. Over the course of a few weeks, it amassed a data set that revealed some consistent results.

 

 

Less is more

Roaring Earth observed that shorter ads, fewer ads, or the absence of ads didn’t necessarily mean less revenue because they helped users stay longer on the site.  “We’ve found that with shorter ads, you often get lower CPMs. But you also get an extended user experience. For us, we’re almost making the revenue back in additional views,” said Renner.

 

And in many cases, CPMs actually increased with shorter ads. By keeping ad loads “light and clean,” Roaring Earth has found that, in fact, “advertisers are rewarding us. They recognize higher viewership with higher CPMs.”

 

While it may seem counterintuitive, this “cleansing” of the ad load can strengthen relationships with marketers. “Now, there’s a spirit of partnership rather than advertisers asking, ‘Where is my ad running?’” said Renner. For Roaring Earth, a viewer-centric monetization strategy was a solution for better viewer engagement, ad revenue, and advertiser relations.

 

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Web Video Needs a Real-time Broadcast Solution

Perspectives on the digital video world from JW Player’s SVP of Technology

First, let’s clarify the difference between live and real-time video delivery.

Live video is streamed to viewers as an event happens, as opposed to on-demand video, which is prerecorded and streamed to viewers whenever they choose.

HLS and DASH, the two leading streaming protocols in use on the web, can operate in a “live” mode, but they are not real-time protocols. Both require a certain amount of video data to be buffered in the player to guard against network rebuffering and other playback glitches. These buffers create latency. In the case of Apple’s HLS, their own guidelines mandate at least three segments of six seconds each, effectively putting each viewer about 20 seconds behind “real” time.

 

Real-time live video protocols, by comparison, are designed to operate with extremely low latency (i.e., the gap in time between when an event happens and the viewer sees it). Their latency is so low, it is measured in milliseconds instead of seconds.

 

The Legacy of Flash and RTMP

For many years, if you wanted to deliver real-time video to web browsers, there was only one way to do it: Flash.

 

But Flash is a dying technology, and RTMP (the protocol that Flash uses for real-time video) is not supported in any web browser. Moreover, it is unlikely to ever be supported in browsers due to its reputation as outdated technology, not to mention Adobe’s strange “open specification” RTMP license and choice to exclude the encrypted variant of the protocol from the spec, which is a nonstarter as the web moves to encrypted transports by default.

 

This effectively means that there is no real-time video protocol for the web. This is a step backward for the platform, as it makes formerly viable use cases like (truly) live sports, breaking news and gaming impossible. For example, imagine that you are a website that has been happily streaming horse races using Flash and RTMP for the past ten years. Very soon, when Flash is gone, you will no longer be able to stream those races in true realtime, which has ramifications. No matter what your opinion of horse racing (or Flash), this kind of regression in functionality is bad for the Web.

 

Current Proposed Solutions Can’t Get Us There

Several technical solutions for real-time video without Flash have been proposed, such as HTTP chunked encoding, WebRTC and Websockets. Patrick Dubois at Zender.tv has written a great overview of them.

 

All of these approaches are very creative, but they are essentially hacks of existing technologies that were not designed for low-latency video streaming. As such, they run into problems of scalability and lack of interoperability among vendors.

 

The BBC is doing some very interesting work with HTTP Server Push, but it is still in the proof-of-concept phase and would require new web APIs to work natively in browsers.

 

Is a New Protocol the Answer?

The Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) protocol began as a collaboration between Wowza and Haivision and has grown into the SRT Alliance. SRT is a true real-time protocol and therefore a contender to replace RTMP.

 

The trouble is, SRT is not supported natively in any web browser. To stream SRT, viewers must install dedicated SRT client software, certainly not ideal in today’s plugin-less web. But what if we pushed Apple, Google, and Mozilla to implement SRT? They are very unlikely to do that, because SRT is not a true standard, and it would take significant effort to get buy-in and deployment of SRT throughout the delivery ecosystem (servers, CDNs, etc.).

 

WebRTC to the Rescue (Maybe)

Of all the options, I think WebRTC is the most promising. It has been supported in all the major browsers for years, has throngs of active developers, and has been standardized (well, mostly) by the W3C and IETF.

 

Unfortunately, the current version of the WebRTC specs are not designed for one-to-many use cases. WebRTC as it exists today requires every peer (i.e., device) in a session to have a network connection to every other peer. This makes perfect sense for WebRTC’s intended use case of real-time communications (video chat, conferencing, etc.), but for one-to-many, broadcast-type scenarios in which you need to delivery millions of streams, it simply doesn’t scale.

 

However, there may be an opportunity to add “broadcast” functionality to the next version of the WebRTC spec, which is under development at the W3C and IETF. I hope to have more to report on those efforts in the coming months.

 

John Luther is SVP of Technology at JW Player.

 

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Data in the Driver’s Seat

3 things video publishers can learn from Group Nine Media at JW Insights

Home to content brands like Thrillist and NowThis, Group Nine Media has established itself as one of the world’s most successful video publishers. Each month, the digital media holding company receives about five billion views across its portfolio of premium brands, which also includes The Dodo and Seeker.

At  JW Insights, Variety co-Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein joined Group Nine Media CEO Ben Lerer and Chief Insights Officer Ashish Patel for a discussion of the role data has played in the firm’s growth. Here are three things we learned.

 

1) Publishers can learn as much from failure as they can from success.

While many publishers typically look to replicate their most successful content, Group Nine Media spends more time analyzing why unsuccessful content didn’t work.

 

By looking at dropoffs during its most poorly viewed videos one month, Group Nine discovered that mobile viewers were being turned off by the way certain text was formatted on the page. When it tested videos with the text reformatted, it quickly saw better results.

 

“We simply believe that virality is too variable to be a replicable strategy, so a lot of the focus of our learnings is more so on the bottom of our [content] stack, on what didn’t work as opposed to what worked.” Patel said.

 

2) Group Nine is working to generate insights for videos before they’re even published.

Through its Group Nine Insights Analysts program, Group Nine Media is building technology designed to automate the data-based recommendations it gives content creators.

 

Already, the firm’s technology uses computer vision to automatically create metadata that shows what’s happening onscreen at any point in one of its videos. By comparing the creative elements of a video against the performance of past videos with similar elements, Group Nine is now able to predict its retention curve — a graph that shows where viewers stop watching a given video — within a 5-10 percent margin.

 

Ultimately, it hopes to use its technology to build an automated process that gives content creators recommendations for optimizing a video before it’s published. “We think that this is the way that we can start to scale our process and allow ourselves to continuously pace against the market,” Patel said.

3) In the era of big data, human creativity is still essential.

As sophisticated as its data operation is, Group Nine still relies a great deal on the instincts of its creators.

 

“We want to use the data to position the stories that content creators want to tell better, as opposed to telling them what to say,” Patel said.

 

Lerer added that publishers who allow data to hold too much sway over their creatives can very quickly find themselves turning into a “content farm,” noting that many publishers who tailored their content to the Facebook algorithm lost reach when the algorithm changed.

 

“They’re doing the data part, but the data part in absence of real serious context, real editorial credibility, and real great storytelling is just — there’s nothing there,” Lerer said. “Generally speaking these [algorithm changes] end up being positive moves for us, not negative ones, because they separate the wheat from the chaff and they allow the mixture that we have to win out ultimately.”

 

 

To watch the full session:

 

 
For more from the JW Insights blog series, click here.

 
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Building Loyal Audiences in the Attention Economy

JW Insights experts share tips about sustaining engagement when attention spans are shorter than this sent…

Remember that study about humans having a shorter attention span than a goldfish? It’s now more urban legend than science, but for publishers looking to build loyal audiences in the attention economy, it isn’t entirely a myth. Keeping eyeballs on videos and ensuring return visits are no easy tasks under the deluge of digital distractions that compete for viewer attention every day. If you’re looking to combat “Goldfish Syndrome,” take a look at these tips from JW Insights experts.

 

1) Define what loyalty means to you – it’s different for every publisher.

Understand what’s important to your company before you attach your company to particular metrics. Is loyalty measured by the conversion rate from short-form to long-form? Is it the percentage of time viewers watch another video? Or how often they return to your video site each month?

 

Bottom line: Everyone’s got a different metric, and you have to decide what’s right for you.

 

According to Jake McGraw, EVP of Strategy and CTO of attn:, it’s okay to step away from massive numbers and tracking viewership alone. His company, for example, also looks at how much people tell their friends about videos, share videos on social media, or wait for the next episode.

 

2) Support intent to watch.

Viewers are much more likely to complete and engage with a video if they expect to watch it. As Paul Bannister, EVP of CaféMedia, says, “It matters how the user gets to the video.” Consider a viewer’s state of mind: Am I looking to watch this video right now? Am I clicking to play? Or is this video autoplaying in my news feed?

 

3) Appeal to viewers where they are.

For many publishers, this means balancing social media with owned and operated (O&O) sites. According to Paul, “You have to appeal to them where they are.” If the content is good, “that person likes the content wherever it is.” The ultimate goal, over time, is to bring all viewers back to your O&O.

 

4) Produce good content and understand the value of each piece.

It may go without saying that good content is key to attracting a loyal audience, but make sure to keep that process iterative and laser-focused. Said Jared Lansky, CCO of Keywee: “Look at each piece of content as an individual item and look at the return of that item to assess whether you should keep investing. Know that on a story by story level.”

 

5) What works for one platform may not work for another.

“Every platform is different,” said Jake. “What works on Facebook, you can’t just ship to YouTube,” which is a more intent-based platform with people searching for answers. In addition, the YouTube player is often embedded on other sites, a factor that publishers should keep in mind when measuring loyalty.

 

6) Drive traffic to your O&O video site—don’t put your business in somebody else’s hands.

If you’re using social media platforms, don’t rely on them exclusively. Revenue share on Facebook and Google cuts significantly into publisher ad yield. “You’ve got this absurdity of billions of views generating thousands of dollars in revenue,” said moderator Andrew Wallenstein of Variety.

 

To build loyal audiences, drive viewership back to your O&O and diversify your business. In this way, attn: finds that “whatever happens to CPMs on videos published natively on Facebook doesn’t impact us,” said Jake.

 

7) Create a video-centric experience on your O&O site.

Once you’ve driven people to your O&O, make sure their experience is user-friendly. “People can be willing and eager to leave the social platforms,” said Jared, but the video should be the focal point of your site once they arrive. Paul believes emerging tools will help build video-centric user experiences. “You can carve out your loyal audience if you build a video-focused experience on the site.”

 

8) Invest in your long tail audience.

Retention hinges on identifying your most engaged audience. Jake advises that, when plotting viewer retention against video duration, “Cut the first 10 seconds off. Then that’s your audience. Your loyal audience should be based on the long tail – the folks who actually stayed long enough to watch your great content.”

 

To watch the full session:

 

 

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Restoring Trust in the Digital Ecosystem

Experts at JW Insights weigh in on GDPR’s informed explicit consent, brand safety, and blockchain

You have a teenage daughter. For the first time, she’s dating. Guy #1 tells you he’s taking her to see a 3D screening of The Incredibles 2, grab cherry slushies and hot dogs at 7-11, and get gas at Chevron. Guy #2 simply tells you it’s going to be dinner and a movie. In both cases, you gave the go-ahead for the guys to take her out. But which one do you trust more to date your daughter? According to expert panelists at JW Insights, under GDPR, the clear winner in this scenario would be Guy #1.

 

For consumers around the world, concern over data privacy resembles, in many ways, the concern of a worried parent. Where is my personal data going, what’s going to happen to it, and what am I really agreeing to when I let others take it?

 

Answers to these questions get clearer with informed explicit consent, a new requirement under GDPR. In this analogy, said Kelley Anderson, VP of Data Protection & Privacy at Ericsson Emodo, both guys technically got permission. But while Guy #2’s intentions are unclear—perhaps he drove the daughter off to get leftover pizza and watch Netflix in the basement at a party 50 miles way, for example—Guy #1’s date is a lot less up for interpretation. Guy #1 is more trusted because he offered a greater level of detail and transparency, providing a better opportunity for informed explicit consent.

 

Informed explicit consent requires written or spoken consent statements to be clear, specific, and free of ambiguity. According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO):

 

“The statement should specify the nature of data that’s being collected, the details of the automated decision and its effects, or the details of the data to be transferred and the risks of the transfer.”

What does this mean for publishers? For starters, “GDPR has tightened up contracts,” said Kelley. Whereas some of these contracts could’ve been “written on napkins” in the past, “now there are changes in indemnifications and warranties and making sure consent or compliance is there. Making transparency to the user more traceable…has definitely gotten a lot better.”

 

In light of publisher fears that these new processes will come at the cost of viewership, Bill Wheaton, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer at Akamai, said, “People will give permission if you use data the right away. But is has to be explicit. It has to be informed.”

 

 “People will give permission if you use data the right away. But is has to be explicit. It has to be informed.” —Bill Wheaton, EVP and Chief Strategy Officer, Akamai

Beyond protecting consumer data, transparency is also critical for preserving brand safety. As panelist conversations turned from GDPR to the ad ecosystem, Jason DeMarco, VP of Programmatic & Audience Solutions at A+E Networks, observed that “brand safety is a two-way street for buyers and sellers.” It allows advertisers to ensure that their ads run in relevant placements, and it helps publishers build associations with premium advertisers and increase the value of their inventory.

 

Panelists praised ads.txt, a tool from IAB that lists authorized sellers of publisher inventory, via a text file integrated into servers or programmatic platforms. Advertisers can then verify whether their ads are reaching the intended audience.

 

While innovations like ads.txt are changing how the industry is thinking about accountability and transparency, others—like blockchain—still have a ways to go. Bill said, “Blockchain needs to evolve beyond cryptocurrency.” Although blockchain’s distributed ledger opens the door for greater accuracy in reporting, due to technical challenges, it hasn’t yet paved the path to solutions that are “actionable in real-time,” said Jason. In short, the promise is there, but true impact needs time.

 

To watch the full session:

 

 

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Are Machines Taking Over the World?

At JW Insights, experts discuss machine learning’s impact on the future of digital media

Rooted in the idea that machines can be as smart as humans, machine learning applies the concept of artificial intelligence to learn from data and autonomously improve performance based on that information. At JW Insights 2018, industry experts, including JW Player’s SVP of Technology, John Luther, shared their thoughts on what machine learning can—and can’t—do in our rapidly evolving digital age. Here are three takeaways.

 

Machine learning improves editorial processes and monetization opportunities.

Without a doubt, companies are increasingly seeing concrete benefits from machine learning. Through the power of data, publishers can understand the content and performance of videos, where content should be distributed, and why some content does better than others.

Workflows have become more efficient too. “We don’t waste our time on tagging. We can focus on what’s interesting in producing content,” said Jana Meron, SVP Programmatic & Data Strategy at Business Insider.

Hillary Henderson, Senior Director of Product Management and Strategy at IBM Watson Media, added that intelligence-powered recommendations engines aren’t just important for engagement but also for monetization. “If you can better match content to the next video and achieve a double or triple lift in views, that’s important for advertisers to see,” she said.

 

Machine learning is a work-in-progress.

The apparent benefits of machine learning have sparked an even greater opportunity for growth. Machine learning is consistently evolving. “Everybody’s talking about it,” said Hillary. “But machine learning is just a tool; it’s as good as the data you put into it.”

And these data points are far from static. “People’s interests change. In terms of recommendations engines, it’s not just, ‘you’ll like this’ or ‘you’ll always choose this.’ The learning that machines have to do is much more of a process,” said John.

 

Calm down, machines aren’t going to rule the world.

While machine learning has driven unprecedented innovation, panelists reached the consensus that it will never fully replace human ingenuity. “There’s this belief that data can solve anything. There still has to be a human element to it,” said John. Jana agreed, saying that, “People are very important. Machines are not taking over the world.”

 

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