‘OTT in India may reach heights that may not be achieved in other markets’

With the proliferation of online video streaming services in the country, video cloud service provider Brightcove sees a big opportunity for itself in the country. It opened an office in the country last year and has seen good traction from clients. In India, Brightcove boasts of clients like SonyLIV, The Quint, and Republic TV. The company provides its clients with services like digital video distribution tech, monetising with ads, and analytics for live streaming.

Brightcove head of media Asia Greg Armshaw spoke to TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto about how technology is disrupting the media sector, new trends in the media technology space, and the company’s plans for the Indian market.

Excerpts:

Which are your three biggest markets and sectors?

Brightcove has a strong presence across Asia and we are recognised as the leading online video platform for TV broadcasters and premium publishers in the region. In India especially, we have welcomed 12 new customers over the past year, and continue to support long-term relationships with major players such as Sony LIV and Republic TV. In general, premium publishers building a business with video are the organisations we are seeing greatest traction with. These could range from small startups with a content library to large TV brands.

What is the growth potential that you see in India?

Clearly, the scale of India gives it tremendous potential. Additionally, signs are that Indian internet consumers love to watch their content on mobile. Thus, OTT in India may reach heights that may not be achieved in other markets. Lastly, regional content has the potential to attract niche audiences that are bigger than whole markets in other countries. These are the major reasons that India is such an exciting market for OTT services.

Do you have an R&D Centre here?

We have an office in Mumbai. We currently do not have an R&D centre in India but see many opportunities for growth and collaboration here.

How much do you invest in R&D?

We have focused our research and development efforts on expanding the functionality and scalability of our products and enhancing their ease of use, as well as creating new product offerings. We intend to continue to periodically release new features and functionality, expand our product offerings, continue the localization of our products in various languages, upgrade and extend our service offerings and develop new technologies.

What is your USP versus other service providers?

Brightcove has for the past 14 years, been focused on delivering video at high performance, and in the most cost-effective way on behalf of our customers. All of a thousand of our customers use the same platform and thus, our scale and reliability are second to none. Our scale allows us to constantly invest in making the costs of building a business with video cheaper while ensuring a great user experience that keeps viewers coming back to the services of our customers.

How is the cloud changing the game?

Cloud technologies are helping the global business sector scale and deliver to audiences wherever they may be, with a single service. This delivers cost efficiency and the ability to ensure that when a service has a breaking news story, is broadcasting an important match or launching the next viral hit drama; the service does not fall over when the business needs it most. There are other benefits as well, including no requirements for an on-premise deployment, which leads to significant savings in infrastructure and personnel costs.

Though 4G has come in many areas in the country still suffer from low bandwidth. How do you address the challenge of enabling publishers to offer high-quality video experiences?

Additionally, the data is clear that better viewing experiences result in increased video consumption, as measured by viewing time and repeat visits. This is why improving the video experience is Brightcove’s first mandate. The time to load a player, the time from hitting play to first frame, and the number of re-buffering events, can have a massive impact on viewing time and return viewership. Our pure HTML5 Player has been architected with performance as the most significant design goal in mind, and we have attained industry-leading metrics for load time and time-to-first-frame. This is achieved through multiple aspects of the Player — from using a tiny core and loading only what is needed, to how we optimise, compile and host the Player, to low-level optimisations of how we play segmented video using Media Source Extensions (MSE).

We also commissioned a third-party agency to conduct head-to-head performance testing on load time and time-to-first-frame, and the Brightcove Player today leads in this dimension across all competitive Players we have tested, and we are continuing to invest in improving this still further. Since 2017, all of our players (Web and Native) are instrumented with sophisticated QoE analytics beaconing and the ability to query and report to objectively understand start times, re-buffering, errors, bit rate and rendition switches. Even more importantly, we will use this information behind the scenes to add intelligence to our player and video delivery systems, thus benefiting our customers. We multivariant test each build of our players in the wild to ensure we are not impacting key experience metrics before they are formally released. Imagine applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to this data. We have enormous volumes of streams across the globe to use in this analysis, which we believe will enable new “automagical” optimisation of video delivery quality and cost beyond traditional adaptive bitrate (ABR).

What advancements have been made in the area of video compression technology?

Context Aware Encoding (CAE) is Brightcove’s groundbreaking, patent-pending, video compression technology that lowers the cost of storing and streaming video. Using powerful algorithms, CAE analyses the content of each video takes into account the context of the viewing experience by looking at network connectivity and the types of devices consuming content and generate the optimal bitrate ladder. This process optimises the number of overall renditions and the bitrate for each rendition while maintaining video quality which, in turn, means lower storage, lower delivery costs, and higher quality video at lower available bandwidth. For content owners managing hundreds of videos and millions of streams, CAE delivers compelling cost savings on both storage and bandwidth while improving the viewing experience. And by creating a custom encoding profile tailored to the combination of each individual video’s content complexity, CAE enables higher quality video that starts up faster and buffers less.

Cost savings can range from 30% to 50% on average on bandwidth, storage, and transcoding. It also depends on the kind of video assets being published – for example, news clips with less motion see more savings as compared to a high action car chase. The idea is to either enhance the video quality at the same bandwidth or save bandwidth costs keeping the video quality the same.

Viewability of ads is a challenge on digital especially on the mobile. How do you address that?

Brightcove has partnered with IAS to standardise viewability measurement and ensure transparency for video publishers and broadcasters using Brightcove, so they can encourage digital ad spend by brands, and easily measure campaign success. The proliferation of digital and mobile devices has made it even harder to track viewability, with audiences consuming ad content at an unprecedented rate across a number of different platforms and formats. The Media Rating Council (MRC) defines an in-stream video ad as viewable if more than 50% of the ad’s pixels are in view for at least two consecutive seconds.

There is lack of accountability on digital due to the lack of a single currency. That results in fraud and wastage. What is the solution?

It is our hope that the reputation of digital display advertising does not carry over into this new digital offering of online video with premium publishers. In many ways, the safest way to buy video advertising with a premium publisher is with direct deals, even if the transaction itself utilises the programmatic trading tools. The media term “all TV viewing” is rapidly starting to encompass online TV. As it does, and as the larger budgets follow, we expect to see an improvement in standards and trust.

Given that there are a plethora of OTT services in the country how important is it for an OTT service to be a strong brand?

This was a hot topic at our recent Online Video Streaming Forum in Mumbai. It is clear that while viewers follow content, they come back because of the platform’s brand, as with any other reputable brand. OTT platforms need to maximise their contact with the customer. This is why user experience is so critical. If viewers regularly experience buffering or applications that regularly crash, they are unlikely to return.

Ad skipping is another challenge. How does dynamic ad insertion manage this problem?

In Asia, our OTT research with YouGov tells us that the viewer is happier to watch advertising if they can get their content for free, than in other markets for example, in the USA. Where ad skipping is a problem, Brightcove has a technology called Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI), which inserts advertising into the stream before it is sent to the viewing device. Thus, the advertisement cannot be skipped and provides a more TV-like viewing experience for the consumer. The improved user experience and lack of buffering means viewers are likely to feel less interrupted by the ads.

The high-quality viewing experience is one of the reasons SSAI has increased MediaWorks’ total inventory by 35%. When comparing viewing times, Mediaworks experienced a 14% lift in time spent viewing videos with SSAI. That amounted to an increased viewing time of three minutes on average, which was huge for the customer, as it opened up many more monetisation opportunities across their base.

Is online video the way to go in terms of ad monetising rather than text which is why publishers like Conde Nast India are focusing much more on this area?

Video has a lot of benefits over display advertising for the advertiser and the publisher, so we can expect to see more premium publishers adopt more video in their content strategy. Once ad rates are better, viewability is often better.

For a subscription video on demand service to succeed and attract enough customers what is needed?

Content is key. As long-term subscription is rare, marketing and pricing are also very important. The ongoing way in which a service engages with the customer will eventually be a differentiator. Clearly, as mobile viewing is a key reason for repeat and continued subscription, the performance of the service on mobile is critical. Mobile users have very little patience for applications that do not work to the level they have become accustomed to.

Could you talk about the importance of branded content?

Businesses built for the internet have a tremendous opportunity to utilise multiple business models. Creating branded content is a great way to build a synergistic revenue stream to more straightforward SVOD or AVOD models. Of course Branded Content is not new. The origin of the phrase “soap opera” comes from the early days of television when soap brands such as Procter & Gamble created episodic drama series with a soap advertisement in the middle.

There is talk about AR and VR. Do you think this is impacting online video in a big way?

AR and VR are exciting ways to enhance video experiences. Over time they will become less experimental and more mainstream. We are excited to see where they add the greatest value to the viewing experience.