June 1, 2021

How to increase viewer engagement with virtual linear channels

By Tony Ferrari, Sr. Product Manager, Verizon Media

For VOD centric streaming services, it is common practice to curate content into playlists based on available metadata such as genre, actor, recently added, soon to expire, episodic (series, season, episode), and more. These playlists are used to populate the user experience in OTT apps such as Netflix, making it easy for viewers to find whatever they feel like watching. This content management taxonomy generally works well for intuitively organizing large content libraries, but it is not always the most efficient. According to a  2019 study, the average Netflix viewer spent almost 18 minutes searching for something to watch, leading to frustration, session abandonment and viewer churn.

The linear experience

Linear channels are traditionally associated with over-the-air or Pay TV appointment viewing experiences. A viewer sits down at a specific time, and depending on the selected channel, consumes content based on what’s available at that time. It is common for broadcasters to schedule content to maximize viewership and value from their library while optimizing their programming schedule. Examples include scheduling new or less popular content between popular shows or scheduling relevant highlight clips or complementary content following a live event. These scheduling tactics keep viewers watching longer and maximize ad inventory for less popular content. When the content owner sets the schedule, viewers don’t have to  endure a lengthy content discovery process. They can just lean back and enjoy what’s on.

The rise of virtual linear

The lean-back experience is relevant in modern OTT services, too. Leveraging cloud playout solutions like the Verizon Media Channel Scheduler enables content owners to program their own virtual linear channels days or weeks in advance to deliver engaging lean-back experiences.

These virtual linear channels can appear in an SVOD app as a live channel where the viewer enters and starts consuming content based on what is available at that given day and time. These channels are also increasingly popular in ad-supported (AVOD) or free ad-supported TV (FAST) services, where the programmer can monetize content with Verizon Media Smartplay server-side ad insertion (SSAI) technology to deliver personalized ads to each viewer. Channel Scheduler working with Smartplay enables the programmer to schedule ads pre, post and during content playback by taking advantage of the assets’ existing SCTE messages for ad breaks. These ad breaks can be tuned and optimized for both monetization and user experience.

Live + VOD

Creating linear channels from your VOD library is a great way to bring new life to archived content and provide viewers with a new way of engaging with your content. With the Verizon Media Channel Scheduler, programmers can mix live content with the VOD programming schedule. For example, a day's lineup might start with a live news broadcast from 6:00 AM-7:00 AM followed by an hour’s worth of VOD programming before leading into a live 30-minute weather update before returning to the rest of the day's programming schedule. The intuitive programming interface makes it easy to program live broadcasts within a VOD program schedule, and it is a great way to keep viewers engaged once the live broadcast has ended. It’s also a powerful opportunity to fill time slots with content related or highly relevant to the live event.

Common use cases

For publishers, broadcasters, niche OTT content creators, and more, there are multiple use cases where virtual linear channels can increase viewer engagement, drive monetization and reduce costs. They include:

  • Linear channels with a short lead time
  • Pop-up niche channels
  • Themed channels (e.g., home improvement)
  • Digital exclusive channels

Virtual linear channels enable you to:

  • Quickly deliver localized and personalized content
  • Efficiently deploy redundant services for cloud backup or disaster recovery
  • Fill content gaps with ad breaks before, during and after programming

How to enable virtual linear channels

Creating virtual linear channels has never been easier. With Channel Scheduler, it’s as simple as creating a live channel and enabling scheduling. Once activated, it’s point-and-click. First, select the day and time slot, then choose the type of content you want to insert. Next, pick a VOD asset from your content library, select a live Slicer to insert an actual live stream into the programming schedule, or choose to insert an ad before or after each content choice. Content with existing ad markers (SCTE messages) can leverage Smartplay SSAI technology to insert new ads to fill the existing break, or the break can be optimized with longer or shorter ad content to better optimize the programming schedule.

Unlike other VOD to linear solutions, Channel Scheduler does not require assets to be re-encoded to create a programming schedule—saving both time and money. Instead, virtual linear channels package the defined schedule and play it back via a live manifest, presenting a truly live-like experience to the viewer. This also includes the ability to support a schedule of assets that may not  share the same frame rate.

Make your content work harder while making it easier for your viewers to find something to watch. With Verizon Media Channel Scheduler, better viewing experiences that maximize revenue are a point, click and program away.

For more information about Channel Scheduler, please download the data sheet now.

To get additional detail on how Channel Scheduler makes it easy to schedule content days or weeks in advance without adding any complexity to your workflow, fill out the form below.

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