The following piece is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.
With apologies to those who spin the proverbial yarn or sew (alas, this is not a post on sewing technique), let’s dive in and explore “stitching,” one of the key buzzwords in the streaming space in 2015. To be honest, the term has been in the vocabulary for the past few years, but is becoming more important and relevant now. For those not familiar with the term, stitching refers to splicing and assembling more than one thing, in this case, video elements.
In today’s connected screen environment, eliminating the complexities of multi-format streaming of yesterday is crucial to delivering a world-class viewing experience. This isn’t to say that you can’t execute well and hit every screen and every device with a hodgepodge of various formats and technologies, given that most connected devices around (and screens of all shapes and sizes) are capable of delivering one prevalent format: Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming specification, otherwise known as HLS. The term “HLS” is a bit misleading in that it specifically calls out “live.” On-demand content is just as important, and stitching is key in VOD services. More on that in a moment.
But back to stitching for real-time video. Over the past couple of years, the industry has moved away from client-side ad insertion (at the player/presentation layer) and toward the cloud and server-side dynamic ad insertion, or DAI. There are many advantages to this. The viewing experience mimics the linear broadcast TV ad experience, but with one key difference: advertisers can target the over-the-top streaming audience using very specific criteria. Again, given the single format approach and the need to reach audiences at scale, designing for and deploying the most lean and capable architecture are key considerations as we prepare our needles for stitching.
I always feel like somebody’s watching me
With apologies to the ’80s singer Rockwell and without getting off on a “Big Brother” tangent, know that the devices through which we consume all this content are providing a variety of data back to the cloud and the infrastructures which deliver this content.
Device-level ad targeting criteria includes:
• Time of day
• Audience frequency and control (capping)
• Travel (distance and direction)
This is one savvy cloud. As a live event or broadcast unfolds, the media processing platform in the cloud is reading some broadcast specific signals and using those markers to manipulate the media publisher’s video content, inserting ad payload, in real-time, using the targeting criteria set by the advertiser to reach their audience with a more relevant brand message. All this techno-speak means that you the viewer will now receive an ad much more relevant to you. Just got off the subway in New York City, turn the corner, and see a Starbucks ad during a commercial break? It is no coincidence that there is a Starbucks on the other side of the street, half a block up. This is part of the promise of stitching – highly relevant ads, specific to the viewer, delivered in real time. Advertisers are keen to reach you ‘in the moment’ when their brand is close and contextual to you as a consumer. This is a variation from the more traditional broadcast ads on the channel, the key delineation being between individual viewer versus whole audience targeting. True ad personalization is possible today, given these individual connections to the cloud.
Stitched another way: program replacement
Live ad replacement isn’t exactly new and has been in practice for the past few years. Now, as more direct-to-viewer options like HBO Now, Sling TV, and others emerge, stitching content has moved to center stage in today’s TV Everywhere world. Why? Business logic. Rights. Geography. Viewing and experience continuity. Let me explain.
As these new services are launched, they are still generally bound by business agreements which govern where the shows can be viewed (both by platform and location), resolution, monetization, and more. For example, the television show Law & Order may have negotiated streaming rights with one service to be viewable in North America only on broadcast but not over-the-top on a particular network. If said network is part of an OTT channel lineup, blacking out that one hour of the day where the broadcaster isn’t allowed to push the show out is clearly not an optimal experience. Instead, the broadcaster will want to employ a program replacement strategy with the OTT elements–in this case, replacing that hour in the schedule with an episode of a show they have negotiated the rights to stream, in real time. As a result, we have stitched new content for the user. In fact, complex business logic may dictate that viewers in different time zones tuning to the OTT output may get a different replacement episode. This is possible and can be achieved today, and again falls into that category of stitching. There are sports applications, too. If you’re watching a baseball game in one town, get on a plane, and try to pull that stream up again, you may be greeted by a message that says that you are out of market and not permitted to view the game. With the stitch in place, perhaps the network would offer you yesterday’s game spun up and replaced in real time as an alternative.
More where that came from: VOD
Lastly, but just as important and valid, is the exponentially exploding universe of on-demand, or VOD, content. Let’s go back to our live/linear example. A live channel that is being prepared and delivered in the moment is immediately available as an on-demand asset within seconds of the broadcast’s completion. And to top it all: that asset is marked and prepared for immediate dynamic ad insertion because the ad pods that appeared during the live event have been delineated and are ready for individualized ad delivery when the user requests the VOD playback. This represents some very attractive new ad inventory for a brand and their sales channel to optimize.
This all means that we’re moving well beyond the notions of years past that broadcast dollars outweighed digital pennies (later amended to dimes) and continue to create real value and significant opportunity in reaching these new and shifting audiences. It also means that we’re gonna need more needles to stitch all this content together — a good problem to have in this exciting multi-screen world that is part of our on-the-go lives today.
Matt Smith is presently Chief Evangelist for Anvato – the leading, turnkey platform solution that enables media companies, content providers and broadcasters with a robust, powerful and complete toolset to enable their content to reach any screen, anytime.