Getting personal with artificial intelligence and the cloud

Getting personal with artificial intelligence and the cloud

Media firms are recognising that these technologies can help meet personalisation demands

Richard Humphreys |

This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.

Imagine no longer having to browse endless TV channels in a bid to find what you want to watch. How amazing would it be if your content provider knew you so well that it created dynamic TV channels especially for you, based on what it’s learnt from your tastes and preferences? 

Thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), this scenario is now entirely possible. In fact, Canadian firm Zone·tv launched its new zone·ify multichannel video service in June this year, giving users access to thousands of hours of fresh, curated, personalised video entertainment. The 13-channel service is also available on mobile and is coming to connected TV devices and pay TV this summer. 

Zone·tv’s ambitious mission to take personalisation in video content space to the next level is made possible thanks to the machine learning power of Azure Media Services and Video Indexer. “We’re using Azure Media Services in a number of ways. I think probably the best one to focus on is Video Indexer. It really gives us that raw material, the enhanced metadata that can feed our AI algorithms and allows us to create the magic that we do, is just a great example of the partnership we have,” said Jeff Weber, zone·tv CEO in a press release. 

This is just one example of how the proliferation of cloud services is bringing new AI opportunities to media and entertainment firms across the globe. In its recent ‘Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) Predictions’ paper, Deloitte predicts that the cloud will dramatically accelerate the adoption of AI, enabling enterprises of all sizes to experience its benefits. By 2020, the penetration rate of enterprise software with AI built in, and cloud-based AI development services, will reach an estimated 87% and 83% respectively.

“So far, AI’s initial benefits have been predominantly accrued by tech giants with extensive financial resources, strong IT infrastructure and highly-specialised human capital,” said Paul Sallomi, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and global TMT industry leader, in a press release. “However, the cloud will power increased efficiencies and better returns on investment, and we expect these benefits to rapidly extend beyond AI’s pioneers to the wider enterprise.”

Rainer Kellerhals, Microsoft’s Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry lead for the EMEA region, agrees with Sallomi. “While the new entrants to the M&E industry – Google, Facebook and Netflix – have put audience data capture, analysis and application at the core of their business models and platforms, most traditional M&E companies have just started to use telemetry to capture data about how their audiences interact with their offerings. The number one application of audience data and ML in M&E today probably is recommendations engines, but the possibilities go far beyond this.” 

Kellerhals says that content metadata is one example of its potential. “While AI can now help extract metadata from any form of content – text, images, audio and video, adoption in the M&E industry has been slow,” he explains. 

Similarly, employee data can be put to good use, but only very few early adopters have achieved this. “AI can enable collaboration by connecting people with the right skills and experiences and relevant content for a project, building on Microsoft’s Enterprise Knowledge Graph. It can also enable creativity through assisted image editing such as Adobe Sensei,” Kellerhals explains. 

Kellerhals believes it’s just a matter of time before these applications are widely used. “The democratisation of AI is at the crux of Microsoft’s mission,” he says. “Microsoft is making its Cognitive Services available to every customer and every partner through well-documented application programming interfaces (APIs). Contrary to IBM’s Watson, which can only be adapted to IBM engineers, and to Google, which takes the customer’s data and builds custom AI solutions to address the customer’s needs, customers and partners can use and adapt Microsoft’s Cognitive Services themselves. Furthermore, Microsoft Cognitive Services come with pre-trained baseline cognitive models, which can then be extended and enhanced using the customer’s or partner’s own training data – with the custom extensions/enhancements remaining within their Microsoft Azure account.”

These aren’t the only advantages of what Microsoft has to offer. “Data is the currency that drives media and entertainment businesses, from advertising to subscription, freemium and micro transaction services,” says Jennifer Cooper, Microsoft’s industry strategy lead for Worldwide Media. “Audience engagement and content effectiveness can only be improved with the right data analysis. Microsoft’s Data+AI technologies like Video Indexer and Azure Cognitive Services are just a few examples that allow media companies to have deeper insights into audience engagement and campaign performance. This helps drive better consumer experiences, reduce services churn and lead to increased revenues.”

“Microsoft offers an integrated platform to ingest, prepare, store, analyse and report data, which makes customer and partners more productive in developing machine learning (ML) and AI solutions, and shortens time-to-value,” Kellerhals adds. “Plus, Microsoft offers integrated solutions like Video Indexer which combines more than 24 Cognitive Services into and end-to-end solution for video indexing.” 

Kellerhals is also quick to explain Microsoft’s ethical approach to AI. “We understand that AI should amplify human ingenuity and therefore needs to respect our customers’ data privacy,” he says. 

By embracing the full extent of what Microsoft has to offer, firms can use AI and machine learning to monetise media, analyse audience data and enrich the customer experience.  “We’re seeing a wide range of applications such as ad targeting, contextual ad placement, churn prevention, content recommendations, experience personalisation, interactive content experiences and more,” Kellerhals says. 

“The international news service Reuters, for example, is using machine learning to increase website engagement. Xbox, meanwhile, is delivering new experiences by analysing hundreds of billions of game events each day. And Endemol Shine Group has automated its TV production of Big Brother with machine learning, using Azure Video Indexer to automatically index content. I’m excited to see many more applications in the months to come.”

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