Why OTT recommendations aren’t better, yet!

Have you ever wondered why video recommendations never seem to be a close match to your interests or mood? Why when you ask your favorite voice assistant to suggest a dark movie with plenty of action all you hear is “sorry, I don’t know how to help with that.” It could be that the metadata – data about movies and TV shows – that those systems use doesn’t have the detail needed.  Gracenote wants to change that with its new Video Descriptors.

Traditional metadata captures information such as show title, actors, description, and genre. The data was enough to populate a grid TV guide and display the program details when requested by the user. It was also enough to power simple searches on names and general categories. Unfortunately, this level of data falls far short of what’s needed by more sophisticated applications like recommendations and voice search.

Capturing more information about video

Gracenote’s Video Descriptors, part of the company’s Advanced Discovery products, extends the metadata to capture much more information about the video. For example, details such as mood, theme, scenario, and characters can be added to a show or movie description.

The extended metadata allows the video to be characterized with much greater detail. For example, consider a movie like Die Hard. Along with the usual description data, Video Descriptors can capture more abstract concepts like “Good versus Evil,” and “Sweet Revenge” and moods such as “Gripping” and “Dark.” It can also capture character names, like “John McClane,” and well-remembered quotes, like “yippee ki yay.”

Why more detail is needed

Details such as these are critical if a recommendation engine is to make links between different movies and shows. For example, it could be that a Die Hard fan would enjoy Game of Thrones. The show is also “Good versus Evil” and “Sweet Revenge” and also feels gripping and dark. The detail also allows voice search systems to respond to vague requests like “What was that movie where the main character says yippee ki yay?”

Getting the extra data

Populating the new data in Video Descriptors is not a trivial matter. Simon Adams, Gracenote’s Chief Product Officer, put it this way:

“There’s a real challenge around scale based on the amount of legacy content already out in the world and new content being created every day by established and emerging players.”

Relying solely on people would take a very long time and would be prohibitively expensive. Gracenote is using advanced machine learning technologies to automate much of the processing. Mr. Adams commented:

“Our in-house editors develop and define the taxonomies and training sets that are used to sharpen the algorithms. Editorial experts are critical to the process as they have the ability to define descriptors, add correlations and address cultural nuances. The AI/machine learning component is equally critical because, not only do machines enable us to achieve scale, they’re outstanding at performing highly systemized and complex tasks.”

read more here: nscreenmedia.com

Video Services May Use Artificial Intelligence to Crack Down on Password Sharing

Still using your ex-roommates cable credentials to watch “Game of Thrones?” That may soon be getting a lot harder, thanks to new efforts to crack down on password sharingfor pay TV and online video services. One of these efforts, launched by London-based Synamedia ahead of next week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), even uses artificial intelligence to uncover notorious password sharers.

Credentials Sharing Insight, as the new service is being called, targets both casual password sharing as well as criminal enterprises looking to resell pay TV login information. However, the focus clearly is on friends and family taking their generosity a bit too far, explained Symanedia chief product officer Jean-Marc Racine in an interview with Variety this week.

“The way you secure OTT is evolving,” said Racine. Previously, TV operators largely relied on secure devices, including locked-down set-top boxes and smart cards to decrypt satellite TV. These days, everything is moving to streaming, and operators are looking to make things as simple as possible for consumers. The flip side of that move to convenience is a lack of control, he argued. “Passwords are easy to share.”

And while TV operators in the past downplayed password sharing, claiming that it was just as much promotion, there’s a lot more caution about the topic these days. Parks Associates recently estimated that the industry could lose as much as $9.9B due to password sharing by 2021.

Most services have tried to curtail password sharing by limiting the number of simultaneous streams, with little else to go by to identify abuse. “Today, you are in the dark,” he said.

Synamedia’s solution on the other hand digs through lots of data to cluster users based on their streaming behavior. This can include user’s physical location (someone streaming from both coasts at the same time) as well as general usage patterns (someone streaming 24/7).

The company can even take a look at the specific content streamed by a user to identify unusual patterns. Based on these clues, Synamedia trains models to score users on a scale of 1 to 10, indicating whether they are likely sharing their passwords or not.

What the streaming service ultimately does with likely offenders is up to each company, said Racine. He suggested that the response doesn’t have to be punitive. Instead, companies could target password sharers with up-sell options for tiers with additional simultaneous streams. Services could also target users of shared passwords with specific messaging to convince them to pay up, or restrict access to the most popular content.

read more here: variety.com


Shopping ads for the small budget: Here’s what to expect in 2019

This year may (finally) see the end of feeds, but we can also expect an increasing adoption of smart shopping campaigns and more advanced bidding strategies with Bing Ads for smaller budgets.

Believe it or not, a new year is upon us (our surprise, of course, being in the speed of its arrival rather than the arrival itself) and in accordance with previous predictions, Shopping Ads are more important than ever for the e-commerce marketers toolbox.

What I have found to be frustrating about Shopping Ads at times, is that most articles and presentations seem to be primarily geared towards larger brands and accounts.

But what about smaller budgets? Marketing Land approached me with the idea of writing a predictions post for the SMB shopping advertiser and I loved it!

Here are my thoughts on what we can expect from Shopping Ads for smaller accounts in 2019. Please note that these aren’t completely devoid of value for larger Shopping Ads advertisers, they are just specifically created with the smaller budget account in mind.

1. The (true) beginning of the end of feeds

I think we will see full integration of Google’s page crawling service into Google Merchant Center by the 2019 holidays. In other words, I think we’ll see the feed begin it’s gasping, final breaths. To continue the metaphor at the risk of being somewhat violent… I’ll happily cheer (and assist, if possible) its demise.

I have often thought that of all the things for Google to invest its algorithm and machine learning and brain power regarding Ads, why not take the fairly easy step of eliminating the need for a product feed since virtually every important product element is already listed on the product page.

Yes, I realize there are many complicated things that go into this, but keep in mind I am writing this post to small brands or retailers.

My experience has been that with a few exceptions, limited budget accounts tend to be somewhat simplistic in product changes. That is, elements in the feed once set, rarely change with the exception of new products or updated pricing and stock status. By the way, those last two are already included in automatic item updates and already fully automated based on page data.

Because many small brands are also making a feed themselves, and have limited budgets, a feed provider isn’t always a great solution (and neither is Google Sheets for those with too many products to add manually) since they still have to get the product data uploaded to the feed provider.  It would be simpler for retailers or brands to request Google scrape their site for data so they can be feed free. I have a suspicion that many of them would go that route.

What about data accuracy? If all advertisers don’t use some form of structured data markup then doesn’t that mean we’ll just get what Google wants us to have?

A valid concern, but in my opinion:

  1. Google is filled with brilliant engineers. If they can’t write a program to tell when there is a product description or price on the page even if that doesn’t have the exact correct markup then c’mon. (That’s my cynicism talking.)
  2. Feed rules could be used by smart advertisers to tell Google what to map each field to based on the options that Google gives them (in this fantasy non-feed world of mine).
  3. Feeds would still be an option (also why I don’t think third party feed providers are doomed… well, at least the ones who offer optimization assistance. The ones who simply push up fields, yeah, they’re doomed eventually if they don’t evolve). Some advertisers will want to specifically control and test with feeds and they could be set to override anything Google pulls.
  4. Individual field kill-switches. Similar to automatic item updates currently, I’d expect to see an option for brands to be able to kill specific fields that they don’t want running that Google suggests.

Think of it though, all of those suggested fields that no small advertisers fill out, unless they are 4.0 students who can’t stand to leave test answers blank, would automatically be pulled.

While we’re probably still a little bit away from this, I think the signs are there that Google is focused on adding it. Remember that they announced automated feeds last July (start at 48:00), but to my knowledge, they’ve been silent since.

The warning signs are there. This is on Google’s radar and I think 2019 will be the year we see it pushed out.

2. Increased adoption of smart shopping campaigns

While many advertisers I speak to dislike the control Smart Shopping campaigns have taken away, others have begrudgingly noted the ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) success they have observed in these campaigns.

My experience so far has been fairly mixed. As can be expected because of the need for data to feed the hungry algorithms, I’ve certainly noticed more success in larger accounts than smaller accounts in running Smart Shopping.

Because of that, I still can’t personally suggest Smart Shopping campaigns to smaller advertisers. But I think that will continue to change and I expect to see Google push these even harder in 2019 on small, unsuspecting advertisers.

While their algorithms are sure to get better, I suggest treading cautiously in your limited budget accounts. Even the best machine learning algorithm needs good data in for good results to spit out. If you just don’t make a lot of sales in Google Shopping, I would suggest experimenting in a non-crucial time of year with only a subset of your products. Perhaps testing a few product brands in a Smart Shopping campaign, or a single category.

As you take over accounts, be prepared to see a lot of them with Smart Shopping switched on (which may or may not be related to the account’s need for new management) and the need for thinking wisely about its impact and testing manual, or other automated bidding options such as Target ROAS in order to utilize Google’s smart bidding, but retain control as well in other areas.

Regardless, be prepared for an onslaught of Smart Shopping campaigns this year. They work at times, and because of that as well as Google’s insistence on every campaign in every account (rolls eyes) being pushed to Smart Shopping campaigns, you can bet there are a lot of small advertisers who will follow the siren call of the “easy management” option and push the button in 2019.

3. Increased Bing Ads bidding automation

Lastly, I would be negligent to leave out Bing Shopping in a predictions post. I think we’ll see the addition of more advanced bidding strategies in 2019 for Bing Ads.

Currently, we can only bid manually or with enhanced CPC in Bing Shopping Ads and I would expect this to change this year. It would be interesting to be able to bid according to Target CPA and Target ROAS (with the Bing UET pixel set correctly, of course) and I would be surprised if this wasn’t in the works already.

read more here: marketingland.com

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch: what to know about Netflix’s interactive film

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is Netflix’s latest entry in the popular series and the company’s first real foray into the world of what it’s calling “Interactive Films.” In other words, Bandersnatch is basically a Choose Your Own Adventure movie, complete with branching paths and a variety of different endings. Thankfully, rather than making you play through — or watch — Bandersnatch multiple times, Netflix allows you to watch most of these endings simply by finishing the movie once.

Bandersnatch clocks in at around 90 minutes, making it a little longer than most traditional Black Mirror episodes. The catch, however, is that Bandersnatch can last a whole lot longer if you go back through to see just how differently things can go in the story. If you don’t have time for multiple viewings, however, you do have the option of quickly watching most of the other endings. As soon as the credits roll on whatever ending you first received, you’ll be prompted with new options.

Depending on which choices you made to get there, at the end of the movie you’ll be greeted with either the option to see the credits, or to go back to one of the story’s crucial moments so that you can change up your choices a little and see what things might have been like. This means that you’ll be able to see all, or at least most, of the possible variants without having to start things over from the beginning.

It’s not clear if there’s a limit to this or not. In our testing, we used it to see every ending that’s been found so far, and after repeating a few of them several times, the movie eventually took us all the way back to the Netflix homepage, though it isn’t quite clear why that happened. While it seems that most of the endings for Bandersnatch have been discovered for now, it’s also possible that some more complicated ending, requiring all the right choices, could exist. For now though, we’ll just have to wait and see what other Easter eggs Black Mirror: Bandersnatch might hold.

read more here: www.polygon.com

INSTAGRAM BACKPEDALS ON HORIZONTAL SCROLLING AFTER USER OUTRAGE

The popular social media app’s unannounced refresh, which Instagram has since labeled a bug, took users by surprise Thursday. Instead of scrolling through posts vertically, some people were forced to swipe and tap left and right through their feeds, similar to how the app’s “stories” feature works. Users went berserk on social media, with #instagramupdate trending on Twitter. Instagram quickly reverted back to the original top-to-bottom scrolling feature even before everyone had seen the update.

“That was supposed to be a very small test that went broad by accident,” Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, tweeted alongside a grimacing emoji. “Should be fixed now.”

Earlier this year, a redesign of Snap Inc.’s Snapchat was met with similar outrage and the company has struggled since. The change separated chats and postings of friends from the rest of the app—the content from media organizations that is paired with advertising sold by Snap. The platform has since seen a decline in the number of daily users, a key metric for social media companies.

Facebook is increasingly relying on growth at Instagram, which now has about one billion users, as its flagship social media network has almost reached saturation point. Future revenue growth at the company depends on Facebook’s ability to shift marketers’ interest to new ads in messaging services and marketing spots in “stories,” especially on Instagram.

source: Bloomberg.com

OTT Overload: All the Media Companies Preparing to Launch New Streaming Services in 2019

It’s hard to imagine that the OTT space could get even more crowded than it already is, but that’s what 2019 is about to usher in. A slew of new streaming services will arrive on the scene, going toe-to-toe with current big players like Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu, Showtime, Amazon and YouTube Premium.

Here are the biggest streaming offerings set to roll out next year.

AT&T

The company, which completed its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner in June, will launch a direct-to-consumer offering in Q4 of 2019.

The still-unnamed OTT product, which AT&T first announced in October and shared more deals about with investors last month, will rely heavily on content from WarnerMedia, including HBO and the Warner Bros. library.Randall Stephenson said earlier this month that it will be a three-tiered service with a “core platform of movies,” which will be followed by a second tier of original programming and blockbuster movies and a third layer that features the library content (some of which could be licensed from third-parties), including classics, kids/family and niche programming.

AT&T doesn’t intend for the service “to become another Netflix,” said Stephenson, explaining that it is “not our ambition” for the OTT product to rival Netflix as a “warehouse of content.”

Disney

Disney has slowly rolled out information about its upcoming OTT channel, Disney+, which is expected to launch in late 2019.

The channel will feature a second live-action Star Wars series, currently in development, and though it will have less content than Netflix, Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Robert Iger said it would be cheaper. The app will feature programming from brands such as Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.

“We’re going to walk before we run as it relates to volume of content, because it takes time to build the kind of content library that ultimately we intend to build,” Iger said in August.

Apple

Apple has greenlit a number of original shows during the past year—including one about the morning news starring Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston—but it’s not clear on which platform that content will live when it is finally released. That content is finally expected to be rolled out next year, though specifics remain under wraps.

Viacom

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said his company is taking a “multifaceted” OTT strategy and will include direct-to-consumer options as well as producing content to sell to other services or content library.

“We do believe there is an opportunity on AVOD, ad-supported video on demand, and that is useful for building a funnel into our subscription products,” Bakish said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference.

Viacom has already tiptoed into the OTT space and has content from its Nickelodeon brand on a standalone “NickSplat” channel on video aggregation platform, VRV.

Discovery

Discovery, Inc. executives have said they’re considering a direct to consumer offering, especially now that the company has 17 networks in its portfolio after merging in March with Scripps Networks Interactive.

Though execs have said they’re only considered the options, which could include bundling a number of brands, like HGTV, Food Network and TLC, in one channel. In theory, it could cost as low as $5 to $8 per month, said president and CEO David Zaslav in July.

read more here: www.adweek.com

Linear TV Is Still the Advertising King But its Days Are Numbered

Linear TV is still the biggest ad category, but digital video and mobile are making inroads. Advertising research company Warc took a look at 12 major markets, and found most ad spend went to display ads (which here includes TV, radio, mobile devices, out of home, and some online formats) and that linear TV was the biggest chunk of that spend.

Linear TV

Looking at 12 major markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.), all display ad platforms took in $140 billion in 2018, and of that linear TV took 41.9 percent. That’s a 1.0 percent year-over-year (YOY) improvement. The next biggest area was mobile devices.

Taking a step back, the data shows linear’s share has been declining for years, while mobile is improving. In fact, mobile has risen 16.6 percentage points since 2009.

One curious finding is that even though linear attracts fewer eyes every year, advertisers still flock to it. It offers unparalleled reach for top-of-funnel marketing campaigns, and nothing else can match it. Daily viewing time for linear averages 1 hour 54 minutes, which fell by 4 minutes this year.

When it surveyed brands about their plans for 2019, Warc learned that 32 percent planned to spend less on TV next year. Also, 18 percent will increase spending and 49 percent will maintain their current spend.

Addressable online video ads will certainly take a growing share of spending from linear, but Warc notes that the are has its own hurdles. In the U.S., consumers don’t like giving up their data to marketers and often see targeted ads as creepy: 61.5 percent in the U.S. don’t want to trade their personal data for more relevant ads.

“We believe TV spend will dip 1.5 percent in our 12 key markets next year, to $138 billion,” says James McDonald, data editor at Warc. This will largely be due to an expected 4.6 percent fall in the U.S. (to $61 billion). Addressable TV still has a long way to go to make up the expected shortfall in linear investment, but recent developments, such as AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner and AppNexus, could instigate a new arms race in the industry.”

read more here: onlinevideo.net

Are Direct-to-Consumer Brands Really so Different?

The growth of direct-to-consumer brands has been marked both by their disruptive business models which cut out middle-man retailers, and by their marketing strategies. These digital first companies, the likes of Dollar Shave Club, Casper Mattresses and Peloton, have managed to eat into the market share of established brands in a relatively short space of time.

Many have been quick to say that this growth is down to a new way of marketing conducted by these D2C brands, one which differs from the brand-building playbook followed by their established competitors. But given the rate at which marketing blueprints have evolved in the digital age, is it really fair to paint D2C brands as innovators and established brands as stagnant?

There are a few features of direct-to-consumer businesses which mean that they will inevitably operate differently from indirect brands. For a start, the action which the brand usually wants to drive – leading a potential customer to their own sales platform – is different from that of indirect brands, who generally want to lead users either onto a third-party site, or into a physical retail location.

But commentators point to a few specific common features of D2C brands which separate them from indirect brands. The primary points tend to be their access to lots of first-party data, and their direct communication with audiences, usually using social media to talk to potential customers directly.

These two factors were picked out by a report released by the IAB earlier this year, ‘The Rise of the 21st Century Brand Economy‘, and were also raised by LUMA Partners founder and CEO Terry Kawaja in his ‘Fire Your CMO’ speech at the ANA’s “Masters of Marketing” conference.

First Party Data

By controlling sales themselves, D2C companies gain access to a host of sales data which can be used to guide marketing, as well as the wider functioning of the business as a whole. The IAB’s report states that “first-party data relationships are important not for their marketing value independent of other functions, but because they fuel all significant functions of the enterprise, including product development, customer value analysis, and pricing”.

Andrew Hirsch, VP of client services at digital agency YellowHammer, laid out some of the specifics of how this data can be used. “From a marketing standpoint, this data can be used for customer modelling, audience targeting, building conversion paths and evaluating the efficacy of each marketing channel,” he said. “From a business standpoint, this data can be used to project customer lifetime value and acquisition costs. Brands also get real time data on what messaging causes users to transact, what products users buying, the quantity users purchase as well as the frequency at which they purchase.”

Dan Kenger, head of experience and partner at Gin Lane, another agency which has worked with a number of D2C brands, said this approach is spurred by the types of people who tend to lead D2C businesses. “When D2Cs enter the market they have a high level of technical acumen, in terms of being data aware and using data to make informed decisions right from the get go,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s just built into the culture of a lot of these D2C brands.”

But even D2C brands will generally have to start without first party data, so the initial stages of their marketing campaigns will be run data-free (though there are some exceptions – D2C razor company Harry’s collected over 10,000 emails before launch by offering prizes to those who shared the campaign with their friends on social media).

And first-party data won’t be equally useful to all D2C brands. For companies like Casper, the individual data collected when a sale is made will be useful for profiling its customer base, but less useful for targeting that individual – once a customer buys a mattress, they’re unlikely to be in the market for another one any time soon.

Established, non-direct brands aren’t all ignorant to the usefulness of first-party data either. P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard, in a response to Kawaja’s ‘Fire Your CMO’ presentation, said his company is investing in data management platforms in China and the US that are populated in-part with first-party data generated by its own consumer-facing properties, and by direct-to-consumer sales run via social channels like Facebook and Instagram.

For P&G, Pritchard says this data is being used to move from “mass blasting” to “mass reach, but still with greater precision”, often being leveraged for more intelligent TV campaigns. This is a tactic which D2C companies themselves are now starting to experiment with, as many are looking to TV to expand their reach.

Social Based, Story Focused

As for the focus on storytelling and social channels, D2C brands themselves do seem to see these as their hallmarks. The IAB’s report lists a series of quotes from D2C executives who say storytelling and social interaction are at the heart of their strategies.

“Storytelling is a central part of our marketing,” Steph Korey, co-founder of D2C luggage brand Away Travel, told Inc. “We think about what stories we can feed to the press and to social media–things that make people take notice, things people want to share and talk about.”

read more here: videoadnews.com

Break Down the Silos of TV and Online Video

There was a time when TV advertising was king, and the only question left after locking in the creative was how much to allocate to cable vs. broadcast. But today, because viewers have more content options than ever, there has been a decrease in linear TV consumption that has created a scale problem for advertisers trying to reach their target audiences. As Deloitte Global projects, viewing of traditional TV content will decline by 5%-15% per year through 2023.

Many advertisers flocked to online video to reach these consumers, leveraging the more granular targeting and measurement capabilities digital advertising offers. But that presented its own challenges, as the increased investment in OLV (online video) resulted in increased fraud, brand safety, and viewability issues.

 This does not mean that the death knell has been rung for television or online video. The sight, sound, and motion of television creates a powerful branding experience that cannot be replicated with a digital display ad. That said, the targeting and measurement capabilities in OLV increase the effectiveness and accountability of advertising. The answer is not to choose one or the other; it’s combining the best capabilities of both TV and OLV into one holistic approach. 

Unfortunately, the tactic most marketers have adopted – simply shifting money from TV to digital – does not create a holistic video strategy. For one, heavy TV viewers are heavy online consumers, so unless you have a sophisticated cross-channel audience extension strategy, you are not truly extending your TV reach with OLV. Additionally, the consumer experience is not the same; TV ads are viewed on a big screen adjacent to professionally produced content, an ideal environment for a marketer’s branding message. Countless studies have shown that simply shifting that message to a small screen adjacent to a news feed or UGC does not produce the same effect on the upper funnel metrics so important to TV advertisers. 

So while the right strategy might seem simple and intuitive (first identify those consumers not exposed to your TV advertising and second, find them in TV like experiences) the constellation of vendors offering such services has made it challenging at best to execute. This fragmented market has largely been bi-furcated between data companies that can identify a consumer across channels (TV and Digital) and OTT content companies that have the quality video inventory available to actually reach them. 

On the data front, there are over a dozen companies in the market today offering ACR solutions to identify unique consumers across TV and Digital all with varying degrees of scale and efficacy, not to mention marketing materials that seemingly contradict one another. Furthermore, few of these companies have access to scaled unique video inventory so once you identify a consumer that has not been exposed to your TV ad, your options are limited for actually finding them in a quality TV-like environment. 

On the quality video side of the equation, advertisers have had to stitch together a hodgepodge of CTV, OTT, and FEP providers to reach people in TV-like environments. Historically, the scale and varying degrees of access to these sources made them challenging to utilize as part of a holistic video strategy.  

read more here: econtentmag.com