In 2004, American psychologist Barry Schwartz published The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less. In it he argued that too much choice increases anxiety in consumers and that as a result they find it harder to make a decision on what to buy. There are parallels to be struck between this concept and the streaming world that viewers are facing today.
Viewers have a huge amount of TV content to choose from at the moment, and they are going to get a lot more. Netflix committed to a content budget of $17 billion at the start of the year, which represents a massive commitment to growing its already enviable library. Disney Plus, meanwhile, is on course to spend between $1.5-1.75 billion on original programming this year. I would expect both to continue with similar levels of investment moving forward. Even when you take into account this year’s slowdown in production, there is a flood of new content to come.
Then there are the many other streaming services, from broadcasters to telcos, to niche interest apps, some with a focus on originals and others offering much-loved library content. And we haven’t even mentioned live streaming yet – sports events in particular are, of course, hugely popular with viewers. In short, we are living in a golden age of content with a wider choice of shows, films and live channels to choose from than ever before.
And here we get to the paradox of choice: so much content across so many streaming platforms. With so much to choose from, viewers are wasting a lot of time on search. A report from Ericsson in late 2017 stated that viewers were spending 51 minutes searching for content per day, a year-on-year increase of 13 per cent. The situation is getting worse and many streaming platforms are missing out on opportunities to engage viewers.
With so many streaming platforms out there it seems inevitable that we’ll see some form of convergence happening and an increase in content aggregation. But bringing content together in a single hub only solves part of the issue.
Personalised recommendations will help viewers navigate the content discovery issue, and their effectiveness is very much dependent on how the video is prepared and the quality of the metadata that is fed into it. But I’ll come onto that in a moment, because there is a better way of presenting the content and it’s a method that has been referred to as “re-aggregation”.
The playlist and re-aggregation
Many video streaming services are moving to new playlist-based workflows, as opposed to file based. There are many reasons for this. On the business side, it is far more efficient to encode a video once and manage it through a dynamic playlist, saving both time and cost in preparing, transporting and storing large video files. And they can be easily adapted to regional nuances without the need to re-encode the source video files – dub cards can be added, for example, for regions where there are overdubs.
Playlists are also far better suited to the demands of modern streaming, mainly due to the fact that they can be curated to be relevant to each viewer. This adds significant value to ad insertion, for example, and also means that enhanced viewing functions such as Netflix’s Skip Intro can be incorporated. Plus, if a streaming service wants to bring in new features in the future, such as personalised sports highlights, then a playlist-based approach is flexible enough to embrace them.
Another big benefit of playlists, that is yet to be really felt, is their flexibility in stitching together content on the fly to create live channels from a whole range of sources, including VoD, live broadcast and advertising, and this brings me to the concept of re-aggregation, which will be a game changer.
To underline the impact of bringing together content in this way, consider the effect it will have on advertising. FreeWheel reported that the average view-through rate for mid-roll advertising in live streams is 96 per cent in Europe, a higher figure than both VoD (full episodes) and more snackable clips. Live channels are more compelling because of the way in which content is presented to viewers, allowing them to sit back and relax, freeing them from the anxiety of the paradox of choice and the frustrated 51 minutes they would otherwise spend searching for content.
Re-aggregation via playlist-based workflows will allow a live channel to be created for each viewer from all kinds of content sources (including from a range of content owners). So rather than having to search for content across multiple apps and manage multiple subscriptions, the viewer will be presented with a live channel that is curated to their interests. When they finish watching one show, another will begin that is relevant to them.
There’s more to it than simply loading the next episode, though. Viewers will enjoy a seamless TV experience without any of the buffering or countdown timers you get today that break their concentration. And all content will be flexible to suit their needs. If they are a sports fan then they can watch a live match and afterwards be carried seamlessly to their favourite VoD programme, or if they are only interested in watching Messi’s magical tricks then they will be able to watch their own highlights reel without having to watch the 80 or so minutes of mere mortals passing the ball around.
Maybe I am leaping ahead in the use-cases here! The point I’m making is that playlist-based workflows open up many possibilities for streaming platforms over the long term. In the more immediate future, they offer an opportunity to bring all kinds of content from different platforms together, to keep viewers watching and to create new, highly valuable advertising opportunities. In order to achieve this, they must ensure their video workflows are flexible enough to support the demands of modern streaming. It is the companies that embrace playlist-based workflows that will be best positioned to succeed over the long term.