By Ralf Jacob, President, Verizon Digital Media Services
Today scientists know more about the surface of the moon than they do the bottom of the ocean, but in the next few years, that’s all about to change. Underwater drones once used by oil and gas companies to research potential drill sites are starting to explore the ocean floor, filling out deep-sea maps that used to be woefully incomplete.
I’m fascinated by the uncharted ocean in part because it gets me thinking about my own corner of the tech industry. As online video rapidly replaces traditional TV, none of us have a clear picture of what the future of video and advertising will look like. Our investment in tech is a bit like sending drones into the deep end of the ocean – only we’re hoping to chart a path to video monetization and personalized viewing experiences.
The time to start on this new path is now.
Content providers who don’t invest in innovative technologies today will lose out tomorrow, when they’re no longer unknown, but a well-charted part of the content ecosystem. Here are a few technologies that forward-thinking companies are already putting resources toward in 2017, and why they’re worthy of more investment.
The personalized video revolution is here
For years, the industry slogan has been “Content is king,” but it’s probably time we amend that statement to “Video content is king.” Studies show that by 2019, 80 percent of the world’s internet traffic will be video. With thousands of streaming apps and platforms already available for devices, viewers are in control, and content providers are scrambling to attract eyeballs.
The key to success in this increasingly crowded media space?
In the linear TV past, viewers flipped through channels, hoping to catch programming they wanted to see. In today’s on-demand world, they have a lot more choice, but that choice can be overwhelming. As our devices become increasingly clogged with streaming apps and video channels, it’s important to understand that audiences don’t really want a million ways to find content: they want easy, one-stop solutions personalized to them.
In this environment, mapping audience preferences to create personalized streaming channels is an obvious way forward. The last few years have seen a rise in video platforms targeted at specific audiences, like film buffs, comedy fans or millennials. These platforms serve traditional programming alongside short-form and user-generated content, rolling video of all types into an easily accessible, cross-device platform that feels user-specific. For those platforms that have already built an audience, the transition to fully personalized, one-to-one video streams will be a quick, easy hop, once the technology catches up.
Augmented and virtual reality are changing the way we interact with ads
One-to-one relationships with video audiences mean ads need to become hyper-relevant as well. In the past, we expected viewers not just to watch whatever content that popped up on their TV screens, but to passively sit through ads that interrupted shows and often had very little relevance to the viewer. Those days are quickly coming to an end. Just as audiences have lost their patience with one-size-fits-all entertainment, they’re quickly becoming frustrated with ads they didn’t ask for from brands they have no interest in. Luckily, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies currently under development could battle ad fatigue by putting the user in charge of their own ad experience.
Ever see a product in a movie or on TV and wonder where it came from? Soon, we won’t have to wonder.
Using AR, viewers will be able to hover over featured products in a scene of a TV show to find out where they can buy that cool leather jacket or how that beautiful couch might look in their own home. This technology would also allow users to view ads without interrupting content, creating a more seamless and immersive viewing experience.
VR is getting into the adtech act, too: it could take heat mapping technology to the next level by tracking eye and head movements to see which parts of those VR experiences a user finds most engaging, in order to serve better targeted ads in the future. Both of these technologies are unique in that they don’t only require investment on the content distribution end: content creation, too, has to be reoriented around this new, immersive style of advertising.
Networks need to invest in infrastructure to keep up
As these various trends come to a head, we’ll see a drastic increase in the amount of rich video, VR and AR content flowing through the network. According to a recent Cisco report, global online video traffic will grow threefold between 2015 and 2020, while VR traffic will increase a whopping 61-fold in the same time period. That’s a lot of data that needs to stream through pipes built largely for a static, text-based internet. It’s no surprise that that same Cisco report predicts that more and more video traffic in the future will be carried by content delivery networks (CDNs).
But CDNs themselves shouldn’t sleep on the personalized content and AR/VR revolutions. Things are changing fast, and they’ll need to upgrade their own systems consistently to keep up. Since January 2014, Verizon Digital Media Services has boosted capacity on our Edgecast Content Delivery Network by a factor of almost 11, increasing it from 2.4 to almost 30 terabits/second. We’ve also invested in a new content intelligence platform that integrates rich metadata into content production workflows, bringing upstream and downstream services together in a way that sets the stage for future AR integration. This is the sort of groundwork that all CDNs and content providers need to be laying down now if they don’t want to be overwhelmed by video traffic volume in the future.
We’re only scratching the surface
Personalized streaming and truly interactive ad experiences may sound like science fiction right now, but brands who ignore these new possibilities may soon find themselves left in the dust. When the first video-enabled RealPlayers came out out for MP3, they were stamp-sized and a bit low quality. A lot of major players in the industry said video streaming technology was just a fad. A decade later, and we’re using Amazon Video’s X-Ray feature to learn more information about scenes from our favorite shows without even pausing the action. Meanwhile, the MP3 naysayers have dropped off the map.
When it comes to possibilities for digital content, we’ve only mapped about 5 percent of the surface, but companies who aren’t exploring the deep end may soon find themselves obsolete.