Microsoft is making entertainment personal

With media content more freely available than ever before, Microsoft’s Simon Crownshaw discusses why personalised entertainment will be key for media organisations as they look to attract viewers with more meaningful experiences

Alex Smith
By Alex Smith on 21 April 2022
Microsoft is making entertainment personal

Over the past 30 years, the media landscape has undergone a dramatic transformation in the way it delivers content.

Where once viewers would have sat down in front of their televisions to watch at a specific time on a specific channel, now they can access a virtually unlimited number of content sources at any time and from any place. Similarly, the range of organisations producing entertainment has expanded far beyond traditional broadcasters, with disruptive creators finding new and innovative content niches to capture audience’s attention. 

With such choice, it has become difficult to maintain a traditional approach of trying to appeal to a broad, general audience. Simon Crownshaw, director of worldwide media and entertainment strategy at Microsoft, explains how the philosophy behind content creation has changed. 

“If you look at how media and entertainment has changed in the last few decades, you’ve come from a world where broadcasters traditionally would have a one-to-many vision for their content, which would have to mean all things to all people,” he says. “What you’ve now got, however, is a unique ecosystem of content creators, all of whom can produce large amounts of content on platforms based on data, with customers who expect personalisation. Fundamentally we’re all looking for content that stands out from the crowd as truly meaningful to us, appealing to our unique interests. The personalised experience is fundamental to how media and content will be created going forward.” 

The shift towards personalised content has been kicked into an even higher gear over the last two years by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as physical spaces and ­in-person interactions had to be replaced by digital alternatives. 

“Before, we had more frequent in-person ­interactions where we were able to talk about things that are happening in the world,” says Crownshaw. “Now, we’re looking at digital communities with a global aperture as we come together to share and engage in experiences on a global scale in virtual environments. I think that the pandemic exposed a need for places in which we can come together with like-minded people safely and encouraged technology companies like Microsoft to provide core elements of community in the digital world through platforms like XBOX.” 

However, delivering these experiences requires the development of significant infrastructure to support them, and a well-managed data feedback loop. One of the main challenges facing the proliferation of personalised content is the cost and speed of this development, says Crownshaw. 

“The requirement for personalised experiences has significant ramifications for the technology industry, which has to provide the capabilities to create and support those experiences through cloud-based workflows and tools which require organisations to have new business models to enable them,” he explains. “Media organisations ask for a significant amount of compute processing, scalability, reliability and global collaboration that is only truly available through the cloud. That’s expensive and complicated, which are reasons why we haven’t seen as much cloud-based consumption, coupled with legacy infrastructure, limited resources and short-sighted decisions driven by the need to create content quickly. We’re going to need to figure out how to provide cloud-based capabilities with an easy to digest total cost of ownership model for common workflows. Media is changing though and as industry consolidation occurs and content becomes more important than ever, the only option is the cloud, with interoperability between applications and driven by data. 

Microsoft is aiming to facilitate the transition to a more personalised media environment with support throughout the content creation and delivery process. Crownshaw highlights the power and capabilities of the Microsoft Azure cloud as crucial advantages that media organisations can leverage as they innovate in this space, with edge systems and devices offering a way to deliver computing power where it is most needed. 

“On the Microsoft side, the intelligent edge and the intelligent cloud are two things that I think are going to be very important,” says Crownshaw. “It’s very easy to build and distribute content through an on-premises environment, however its quite another from remote locations where connectivity can be poor. Bringing solutions closer to the edge and closing that connectivity gap will help us move from connected assets to connected ecosystems. So, in combination with our partners and the Microsoft technology stack, we’re going to build solutions that are interoperable with each other in a very seamless and reliable way. That’s one of the main advantages Microsoft brings to media and entertainment; the ability to power foundational services with Microsoft Azure and media workflows with the power platform to automate processes. 

“It’s hard sometimes for media organisations to understand the potential benefits of leveraging these cloud and edge-type solutions,” he continues. “They’re not always cheaper, but there’s a reason for that. They provide a lot of flexibility, efficiencies and strategic value that they won’t see with a traditional approach.” 

The Microsoft Power Platform, made up of Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate, also provides a way for media organisations to make better use of their data insights. Low-code apps can be built quickly and inexpensively to solve challenges in production, while organisational processes that may have previously taken up valuable time can be automated to boost productivity. Crownshaw points to the success of this approach in other industries as providing an example for media companies to follow. 

“What you’ve seen from other industries such as manufacturing or automotive has been the ability to build these apps in a quick, simple way,” says Crownshaw. “The Power Platform provides the ability to automate processes that may previously have required the work of several people, which is game-changing in an industry that’s as time-sensitive as media. The savings, accessibility and flexibility in a low-code or no-code ­environment are of huge value.” 

The development of personalised content also depends upon a thorough understanding of a viewer’s behaviour and interests, indicating the type of content that would most interest them. Microsoft Dynamics 365 for media and entertainment and the data accelerators expand the Power Platform and available Common Data models with media-centric concepts for fan engagement and content production. Six unique sample applications provide examples and materials for media experiences, while a sample Microsoft Power portal provides the capability for media organisations to enable ­self-registration for media events and the joining of live events through Microsoft Teams. 

“The accelerator gives media organisations the ability to absorb a significant amount of data across multiple applications and then bring that together to drive insights into the many different types of customers,” says Crownshaw. “Where are they in the world? What content are they experiencing? How are they accessing it? The platform helps organisations to build dashboards that allow them to really understand their customers, enabling data-driven decisions that can take them where they want to go.” 

With the restrictions created by the pandemic now gradually beginning to lift across the world, the innovations in personalised digital content that have taken place are colliding with the return of in-person interaction. Crownshaw predicts that the industry will see further innovations in the future as it continues to explore the possibilities of personalised media and entertainment. 

“We’re now seeing the blending of the physical and the digital worlds in a new and exciting way,” says Crownshaw. “There are all sorts of new experiences that we can drive. For example, you could experience a watch party in the metaverse through a virtual reality headset, interacting with other people through a virtual representation of yourself. The future will see us taking those elements of personalisation and community further than we’ve ever gone before.” 

Partner perspectives
Technology Record asked Microsoft partners how they are helping media companies deliver greater levels of personalised media content for the customers. Below are extracts from their responses, which you can read in full from page 131 of the digital edition of the Spring 2022 issue of Technology Record.   

Zamir Ahmed, vice president of communications at National Association of Broadcasters, said: “Consumers’ content experiences are evolving around the metaverse, blockchain, artificial intelligence and data-driven personalisation. The 2022 NAB Show is focused on fostering understanding of personalised content experiences and capturing the essence of these trends.” 

Jake De Wulf Manager, marketing and communications at Ireckonu, said: “Ireckonu relies on Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and BI tools to underpin our media and communications product offerings.” 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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