Streaming Media East Quotables: 15 Takeaways on OTT, 4K, Social Media, H.265, and More

Last week’s Streaming Media East show in New York City was once again crammed with content, with five concurrent tracks ranging from virtual reality and 4K streaming to the business of OTT and benefits of a subscription-based vs. advertising-based model. Here are some of the most memorable comments by top execs from the NFL, Comcast, HBO, MP & Silva, SkyVR, Twitch, and more.

105915-SM-East-ORGShannon Rutherford, Director of Digital Media Video Operations, NFL
On the challenges of monetizing the live-streaming experience:
The thing that has been an exciting and fun challenge for us is making the digital live viewing experience better than television. There are a lot of things you can do on phone or tablet device that you can’t do on traditional television, so that is a very exciting field to be in, and part of that is how you are going to monetize. There have been some interesting challenges that I personally have to solve on making sure we can maximize the monetization. Obviously, [for] broadcasters who have rights to NFL games, those pods are very highly valued, so you cannot lose opportunity on those pods and want to make sure you can maximize. For example, if a user enters [an NFL live stream] mid ad-break, what do they see? Do they see the broadcast ads that are behind it? Or do we dynamically insert right away?
On the need for standard advertising metrics for OTT:
What do publishers and buyers want from a metric standpoint [for OTT]? Do they just want straight impressions? What is going to be the standard going forward, so we can all implement technology that is going to deliver the right metrics. Some require Nielsen, some ComScore. Some require impressions from an ad server; figuring that piece will also be important. We need stability [because] there is a desire to personalize and target the inventory.

William Mao, VP, Digital, MP & Silva
On subscription-based vs. advertising-based models for OTT:

Platforms like YouTube and Twitch have demonstrated that you can build a business without that paywall model as your cornerstone. But, on the other end of the spectrum, you have those [platforms] that were entirely SVOD-focused from the start. It’s just a matter of your understanding your viewer base and their willingness to pay if you move forward with a paywall service and if you want to [be] entirely dependent on one revenue source. The whole concept of launching OTT and digital services for a lot of traditional broadcasters is to have another line of business. I would think the same applies to having an AVOD and SVOD and even PPV offering.
On the value of live sports as à la carte and subscription-based offerings:
Sports lends itself really well to live streaming as an individually priced service. Even if you think back to when there weren’t all these digital and OTT offerings and you were just looking at cable TV, certain sports were already being offered as à la carte offerings, like PPV boxing and WWE wrestling. In that regard, it’s carried over to the digital side where niche offers [are] built around rugby and Willow Cricket or individual [digital] networks like WWE are launching. Sports is a situation where the time life of content is the shortest: the value of live vs. SVOD catch-up is a bigger chasm for sports than for entertainment content.

Noah Fenn, Head of Video Sales & Strategy, AOL, on the challenges of promoting an OTT channel to the masses:
Discovery in an OTT landscape is very different from discovery in a pure-play digital-online landscape. In OTT, it’s not the same feed and sharing structure. It’s also not necessarily connected to your phone, so discovery comes down to turning on your device and seeing a bunch of apps. How do you promote the apps? Ultimately, there is a comfort level in the OTT space where you need to be in a certain threshold of [well-known] apps to scale. At the end of the day, it is a very tough transition at the start, but, when you hit that critical mass and you become a must-have app to download, you can attain scale for sure.

Dan Burkhart, CEO, Recurly, on why OTT data may be lying to you:
For example, free trial subscribers are very different than subscribers that come with purchase intent. They have very different churn characteristics and very different lifetime value. So, if you are looking at all of your different marketing promotions and channel partners and just looking at your lifetime value, you’re missing the point. What was the price point? Was this customer coming in through a free trial or not? Did they pay right out of the gate? Once you can start to segment your audience in that kind of a way, you find a much clearer understanding for where you can start pruning your underperforming channels and doubling down on over-performing and higher-yield channels.”

Allen Broome, VP, IP Video Engineering, Comcast, on customer experience:
In a lot of the testing we’re doing on UHD, until we get to screens over 85 in., the average consumer can’t tell the difference between HD and UHD. … What we’re seeing from a quality perspective is high dynamic range [having a huge impact], and that’s what we’re pursuing. We’re going to have some HDR content out fairly soon.”

Chris Wagner, EVP, NeuLion, on the current limitations of 4K:
On the content side, 4K is not going to go through the traditional set-top box. It will be delivered via IP, via OTT. If you’re a cable provider, broadband is your most profitable product. There are cable providers launching 4K-specific channels using hybrid set-top boxes, such as Rogers in Canada, and 4K trucks can produce 1080p and 1080i. So it’s coming. We’ll do around 10 4K events this year. … [With] 4K sports, if you haven’t seen it — we’re talking 60 frames, four times the resolution — it’s noticeable. It’s an experience that puts you inside the stadium or on the surfboard or wherever. It’s a game-changer.”

Titus Bicknell, CDO/EVP, Operations, RLJ Entertainment, on consumers’ desire to avoid long-term commitment for SVOD subscriptions:
Although we offer annual contracts in the same way cable operators force you to be under a contract for a year or two, people don’t take advantage of what is usually a very sizable discount. They will pay the premium every month so that they can cancel at any point. … Most of the time, they don’t [cancel]. It’s a bit risky as a business strategy because you’re relying on [audience] inertia. … if you actually asked people how much they spend on these items cumulatively, they would have no idea. If you told them, they would be shocked and probably start cutting the cord.

Bharat Krish, Corporate VP, IT, HBO Latin America, on choosing which mobile platforms to make your priority:
One of the things we saw in Latin America was, more people were using Android phones compared to iPhone, so we were focusing more on Android deployment than on iPhone iOS. We realized that a lot of the Android owners also had Chromecast. So part of it is listening to the customer, seeing what device they are requesting. If you are deploying to the next device, first check what the customer is asking for, instead of going to the shiniest device.

Mario Armstrong, Digital Lifestyle Contributor, Today, NBC, on how live social streaming may be spurring a longform-content comeback:
The reason live video is happening and people are putting so much of an investment into places like Facebook, Periscope [is that] people are watching live video longer than prerecorded video. According to Cisco Visual Networking Index, live streaming is growing faster than prerecorded content (42% to 34%), but the viewing is astronomical. We’re talking, on average, [the] 20 minutes someone will watch a live video stream versus 2-3 minutes if that video is prerecorded. My theory is that it’s new but also that we have been feeding people bite-size content for so long that people are actually looking to digest stuff that’s longer and in real time, especially if the broadcaster is engaging and knows how to interact with that audience, can read and respond to comments. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think that 2- to 4-minute videos is where we need to be. In fact, you can rise above the clutter by doing something that’s substantive and a little bit longer-form because people are looking for that.

Rob Reinhardt, creator at videoRx.com, on why H.265 is still tomorrow’s tech:
I don’t think we are going to start removing H.264 decode anytime soon from devices. There’s way too much H.264 content out there, and it’s not like Apple is going to remove GPU acceleration for H.264 in even two years. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible in this day to create the type of ubiquity that Flash did for desktop: there’s just too much fragmentation. At the end of the day, consumers don’t really care. So long as it looks good and it plays well, that’s all that really matters.

Jon Alexander, Senior Director, Product Management, Level 3, on the growth of live streaming and the difference between broadcasting and streaming:
We’re seeing a very rapid increase in live streaming. We’ve seen, over the last 12 months, more-flexible rights negotiations that have allowed new services to be created. Linear channels over the internet are certainly a big trend, and we expect that to continue. We’ve been involved in the Super Bowl for 27 years. The broadcast industry has developed a solid practice surrounding [big] events. On the internet, the maturity is not there. … Over the last 10 years, we have developed around the processes to bring the expertise on the broadcast side to the internet and replicate the broadcast experience.