Want to increase OTT interactivity? Take a hint from Bob Ross.

Jason_Friedlander_HeadshotBy Jason Friedlander, Sr. Director of Product Marketing

In 2015, a sensation swept the internet. Dubbed “amazing,” “nothing short of emotional,” and, “the most beautiful thing the internet has ever created,” this phenomenon won a mention in the 9th annual Shorty Awards.

The cause of all this praise? The Joy Of Painting by Bob Ross.

I know what you’re thinking: That old show that entirely consists of Bob Ross slowly painting oil landscapes? Didn’t it go out with the 80s? And you’d be right—at least until the show gained a second life with the arrival of social streaming. Re-aired in 2015 on Twitch, the live video gaming streaming site, this retro show became a force. After the first marathon attracted over 5.6 million unique viewers, Twitch implemented an entire Bob Ross channel, which hosts regular Joy of Painting marathons, including one on Ross’ birthday.

While at first glance a community that chats over live-streamed video gaming may seem an unlikely match for an oil painter with a soft, soothing voice, this vintage content is actually a natural match for the social platform. Twitch is highly interactive, with a robust live chat function and its own intricate culture. Ross’ low-key manner and slow, almost suspenseful pace of painting pair perfectly with Twitch users’ idiosyncratic humor. Just as a video game absorbs users within its unique virtual world, watching Ross paint is like watching a virtual world come to life—except in The Joy of Painting, rewards are to be had not in points, but in scenic vistas, sweeping mountains and “happy little trees.” By simply streaming old television on a new, social platform, Twitch users have gamified content that may have seemed stale, thereby inviting new forms of interaction.

This isn’t just relevant to Bob Ross fans. Platforms like Twitch show us the potential of social streaming to push the boundaries of OTT interactivity. This gamification of traditional video content by making it more interactive, more personalized, and more social has huge implications for the future of entertainment—and advertising. By including advertisements within a stickier content streaming experience, from seamless chat incorporation to AI-assisted ad placement, producers can make ads more interactive, compelling and clickable.

One of these compelling experiences is augmented reality (AR). The Joy of Painting isn’t the only retro content whose renewal has exciting implications for monetization, just take a look at Pokémon GO. By gamifying a fixture of Millennials’ childhoods in a new way, Niantic, the creators of the AR technology behind the game, brought augmented reality to new heights and seamlessly incorporated it into consumers’ lives. Facebook, for one, has recognized the potential for advertising in AR. It is currently testing AR ads in a bid to monetize the technology that Pokémon GO-playing, Snapchat-happy teens already love. These ads promise to work as an intermediary between online commerce and its brick-and-mortar counterpart. Say you love a pair of sunglasses in your Facebook newsfeed, AR ads allow you to interact with the advertisement, “trying on” those sunglasses over a picture of your face before you click “order.”

Surface detection technology also holds incredible potential for seamlessly incorporating advertising into OTT content. Nothing’s worse than a poorly targeted and delivered ad interrupting your streaming experience. A new generation of ads solves this problem by using surface detection, the same technology that places a Pokémon GO Pikachu realistically on your kitchen floor, to insert advertisements seamlessly into video content. Surface detection uses AI to detect horizontal surfaces like tabletops and walls, with the ability to “place” virtual content on these surfaces in real time. Surface detection works for pre-recorded footage as well as for live video, meaning creators will soon be able to insert personalized advertising images or video directly into the world of your favorite streamed content.

Imagine, for example, that you’re sitting next to a friend, streaming the same show on two different laptops. As the character sits in her living room, you may see advertisements for summer clothing sales playing on the television in the background. Your friend, on the other hand, may see advertisements for flight tickets. Now imagine you can pause the action and “enter” the world of the show by interacting with that virtual television, say by changing the channel to see another advertisement, or by purchasing the product being advertised without ever having to leave the OTT interface. In this way, surface detection could be combined with integrated eCommerce options like one-click in-platform purchases, and social options like chat, á la Twitch, to seamlessly incorporate entertainment, eCommerce and audience interactivity in a single streaming experience.

By gamifying advertising and incorporating it into a more immersive, social and interactive OTT experience, ads will stop being a pesky interruption from the virtual world and start being a way to interact with that world more deeply. The result is stickier content, more clicks, and more purchases. While some of the finer points of this technology may need to be ironed out—the potential for generating ad revenue in a way that engages the consumer, rather than alienates them, is high. And if the technology experiences a few hiccups along the way? Take it from Bob Ross: we don’t make mistakes—we just have happy accidents.