DVR – the key for next generation OTT TV is in the clouds

This article was originally published in The Drum.

With the growth of OTT TV, multiple screen viewing and cord cutting catching on in the U.S., it is unsurprising that what matters in the world of video, TV and advertisers is converging.  For instance, in a recent report from June 2015, Forrester Research found that “lack of premium inventory is holding back digital video monetization.” Meanwhile eMarketer published a report about how US adults divide their TV screen time, showing that overall, video time continues to increase. While TV dipped a bit, time spent watching on connected devices more than tripled in 4 years.

So on one hand, advertisers are willing to pay 3x CPM, as their video-spending budget grows at the expense of search and display ads and on the other, viewers are craving content not just on TV, but on mobile devices.

What is the solution that can satisfy both advertisers and viewers? Cloud-DVR.

Cloud-DVR is the biggest differentiator between early OTT deployments (that mainly offer live, some VOD and limited discovery) to next-generation deployments (with advanced time-shifted TV, business model flexibility and full mobile device support). Cloud-DVR is arguably the killer-app that holds all the keys to unlocking the full potential of OTT delivery that will revolutionize our industry.

Cloud-DVR is seemingly simple – it allows end-users to record content on the cloud (instead of their set-top boxes or other hardware devices) and stream the content back on demand at any time. But Cloud DVR is anything but simple, and it has great benefits to all players in the TV consumption food chain.

Service providers can now let go of the expensive set-top boxes with their massive hard-drives, which require much investment and maintenance. Moving the storage to the cloud will allow for more storage with higher CPU for a lower price. Furthermore, service providers will be able to improve margins by offering Cloud-DVR users to pay extra for additional recording quota.

Content providers can set a new price for allowing their content to be Cloud-DVR’ed and downloaded for later viewing. In addition, with dynamic ad-insertion, VOD content can be monetized like never before.

Viewers will have the option to record an endless number of shows, watch them later on any device and also download content to view offline.

Advertisers can get access to more premium content inventory, as fresh and targeted ads can be dynamically inserted in cloud-recorded shows. Advertisers will also benefit from advanced mobile delivery that can easily ban the ability to fast-forward ads and better track engagement.

Storage Challenges are (almost) Solved

Historically, OTT vendors and operators faced challenges that impacted widespread adoption of Cloud-DVR solutions. We are now finally in a place where these hurdles are about to be overcome, including the most pressing one – storage. There are now a few approaches that help obliterate this obstacle, including having service providers record a rolling-buffer of linear channels and enable users to access their recorded shows based on queue point on that one long file. Another approach is to use a combination of core and edge storage with just-in-time transcoding, in order to reduce storage costs. In the US, where shared copies are not allowed, the leading OTT vendors experiment with storing individual copies in offline storage while streaming to users a cached (shared) copy.

Utilizing such technologies, we expect to see several tier-1 deployments offering Cloud-DVR in Europe and Asia by the Fall. Based on the potential benefits of Cloud-DVR to all aspects of the OTT food chain, 2016 will likely be an even bigger year for the industry with accelerated growth for publishers and service providers alike.

Spotify deja vu: is video killing the radio star again?

This article was originally published via The Guardian Media Network.

spotify-video adsOur world is being transformed by technology, but history, as the latest Spotify announcement shows, is destined to repeat itself.

In 1981, Viacom launched MTV. It used footage from the first moon landing and the song Video Killed the Radio Star to make it clear to the music labels and advertisers that it meant business. Before MTV, the music business (with the help of radio) was doing well. But video quickly took the industry to new heights. Fueled by the new medium, global music sales revenue quadrupled, before losing steam due to the new hip technology called the internet (and piracy).

Born in 2006, Spotify was the Swedish knight in shining armour using secret weapons like freemium and streaming to save the music industry from piracy. Last week, that knight called in the cavalry in the form of video streaming. Just like in the 80s, the music streaming business was doing OK (Spotify generated $1.3bn in revenue each year and is currently valued at $8bn), but the future was looking challenging – the company tripled its losses since 2012 and with Apple launching its own service in a few weeks – who knows when Spotify will turn a profit. For a company that is hoping to have its stock market launch soon, that’s an unbearable thought.

Spotify is trying to position its announcement as an evolution (not a revolution) of its business. Something along the lines of “music was just the beginning, now we will add TV clips and podcasts to create an entertainment platform”. One could say that Snapchat made a similar move a few months ago when it began offering video updates on top of its messaging app.

Spotify’s move, however, is quite different. Spotify is, first and foremost, a music service. Not just a distribution platform. If we know one thing about Spotify’s massive user base, it is that they love music. But interestingly, in the press event last week, where the video feature was announced – music took the back seat. When showcasing some of the new video content, Spotify chose to highlight short clips from comedy TV shows like Broad City and not music videos or interviews with artists that complement Spotify’s core offering. It seems as if in Spotify’s video realm, TV killed the radio star yet again.

The truth is that monetising music with a freemium business model is hard. Pandora, just like Spotify, is also sweating to make it work.

From a product design standpoint, there is something almost unfair in this story, since Spotify did a great job in designing a fantastic music experience: the catalogue is huge, the device support is superb, the playlists are great for sharing, the play queue is a cool tool for occasional DJing, the user profiles are what social discovery is all about and the recent announcement of Spotify Running makes perfect sense. And let’s not forget the best part – much of this is available for free.

But all of that wasn’t enough and so Spotify had to change focus and expand its content offering.

Maybe last week’s press event doesn’t mean that much and music fans have nothing to worry about. Maybe Spotify, just like MTV in the 80s, will take content streaming business to new heights with the introduction of video. Maybe Spotify, like MTV in its heyday, will be as innovative with TV clips as it was with the music streaming experience. Maybe it will even challenge YouTube’s viewing experience that hasn’t changed much over the years. But those are all big maybes.

One thing is clear – Spotify must make TV clips work with music. One will not work without the other. Just look at what happened to MTV once it lost all interest in music and its core fan base to focus solely on reality TV – it’s dying.

With millions of music fans who love Spotify and are looking forward to a bright new age for the industry, one can only hope that Spotify knows what it’s doing and that history will not come full circle.