For the media industry, the past decade has been a period of significant disruption and change. As new technology has opened new ways of consuming content, media organisations have been challenged to keep up with the pace of innovation and the relentless demand for content.
The barrier to entry into the industry has also been significantly lowered for new players, particularly in the movie-making sector. As Leonard Arul, principal program manager at Microsoft, explains, the transition in technology has had a profound impact.
“If we look back 15 years in the movie-making industry, there was very little being done digitally,” he says. “Yet fast forward to today, and everything is digital, both in the production and consumption of video content. There’s been an explosion in the amount of content as the production process has been democratised.”
The evolution of the movie-making process matches the developments in broadcast television, which shifted towards digital processes in previous decades. However, both have experienced a significant change in the way their content is consumed as streaming platforms have exploded in number and popularity. This has resulted in the demand for more content than ever before as they compete to deliver offerings that draw in a diverse set of viewers.
Scott Davis, broadcast media architect at Microsoft, argues that while the proliferation of different platforms has transformed the way in which content is consumed, it has exacerbated the struggle for consumers in finding the content they want, when they want it.
“Instead of looking through cable TV channels, they’re looking through applications,” says Davis. “However, the independence of these platforms has really frustrated the marketplace, as there’s no easy way to search all the content you have access to. So instead, they’re turning back to packages which bundle all these services into a single box.”
According to Davis and Arul, the essential next step will therefore be in changing the way consumers are able to interact with content. Instead of expecting consumers to discover content and associated products themselves, a more personalised experience can be developed that directs them to those products based on their changing habits and preferences.
“The most interesting changes will be in the relationship with the consumer,” says Davis. “Once you’ve aggregated enough content to build an entire ecosystem, there’s the potential to create an experience in which your content can follow you throughout your life to deliver a personalised experience. With access to the data on everything I’m watching, they can direct me to other products in a way that could never happen in the past.”
A vision of how such experiences will look is provided in the reimagined NBA app, which is powered by a new, integrated digital platform that has been built by the league in partnership with Microsoft. The platform is able to aggregate data and then act on it using artificial intelligence and machine learning to adapt how fans watch the game and surface insights that they will find interesting.
“What makes this app unique in the sports world is that it’s both a deeply personalised experience and an all-in-one destination,” says Chris Benyarko, executive vice president of the NBA’s direct to consumer division. “We think this platform makes it easy to be an NBA fan. It allows people to immerse themselves in what’s happening with the league.”
However, creating these experiences requires a significant amount of data about a viewer and their preferences, meaning that consumers need to feel comfortable and engaged enough to share that information.
“Customer engagement is an important area for us at the moment,” says Davis. “How do we draw the consumer in and reward them for interacting more with content and content owners? Rather than taking the Big Brother approach to gathering data, we’re looking to have consumers willingly provide the data they’re comfortable providing in return for a better experience.”
Arul also highlights the technical difficulties of following consumers throughout the different platforms on which they view content.
“The challenge right now is in standardisation and identification,” he says. “Different apps have their own ways of doing things, and to bring them together, you’ve got to standardise how they collect and distribute data. Then you need to be able to identify who a person is across different devices and mediums to create a single profile, which will be essential in creating a metaverse.”
To help resolve these difficulties, Microsoft is working with industry stakeholders to create an industry standard, which it believes will benefit its customers over time.
“Microsoft is always customer-obsessed,” says Arul. “From my experience, the first focus is on working with the customer to achieve what they want. But we’re also working with consortia and other stakeholders to develop standards to help customers in the long run, rather than building 500 different apps from scratch to do the same thing.
With an ever-expanding universe of content now available for consumers, Davis and Arul believe that the future for media organisations will be in creating a personal experience.
“Content on its own will not be enough,” says Davis. “It will be the combination of video and data to personalise the user experience that will be compelling for consumers going forward.”
“The key is getting the right content in front of a consumer as soon as possible,” adds Arul. “Once you’ve achieved that, the personalised experience can kick in.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.