Where next for online video? Adam Poulter, MD of VUBIQUITY International, on VR, 8k streaming, fluid viewing and more
(Originally published by Digital Innovators’ Summit)
The centrality of video to online media was a hotly contested topic at the Digital Innovators’ Summit in 2016 (click here to get reduced rate tickets for the 2017 event) with some publishers predicting that as much as 50% of their content output would soon be video-based.
Yet ‘online video’ is a very broad term which encompasses everything from short form socially shared footage through to high-end Virtual Reality experiments. Many publishers are still trying to work out which formats are the ones that are the most engaging and ultimately the most profitable.
At DIS 2017 Adam Poulter, MD of VUBIQUITY International will bring some clarity to the debate. Here he talks through some of the key issues surrounding the future of video content, both online and broadcast, and makes some fascinating predictions about the future.
What do you think is the future for video on key social platforms like YouTube and Facebook?
Social platforms see video as the next big key growth area, and with good reason. However, ‘video’ is a very broad and nebulous term. For example, short-form, UGC, news edit, gaming, MCN and longer form premium content are all discretely different genres of ‘video.’
In 2015, Facebook more than doubled its daily video views to eight billion, reportedly overtaking YouTube. This kind of explosive growth means all social platforms are now focusing resources into developing new features, products and tech to grab a “share of eye.” Platforms also continue to develop their premium paid content offerings by partnering directly with content owners and media companies.
Over the next year I think we will start to see more deals similar to the one Facebook brokered earlier in 2016 for Facebook Live, where content creator companies and individuals were paid to provide live video content. Video on Facebook keeps their audience engaged for longer, and provides incremental revenues for content creators and a basis for an ad-revenue model based around dynamic ad insertion.
Interestingly early indications suggest that two-thirds of the watch time for live broadcasts is actually consumed by Facebook users as ‘on-demand’ after the live event! And so the definition of ‘live’ is now as diverse as event viewing, programmed, scheduled and increasingly time delayed or on-demand. Trends like this mean that social platforms, and the content creators that service them, will increasingly invest in scalable and robust live-to-streaming digital content management solutions.
Are we about to reach a tipping point with VR content? There has been so much talk about VR gaming, that VR video content has taken second place. Do you think this about to change?
I’m not typically a betting man, but one thing is for sure; consumer devices breed more consumer devices! Also premium film and TV content typically lags behind the evolution of new technologies’ consumer marketing. So, for example, the fanfare for 3D that ended up being the sober deflation of a non-event. Conversely 4K and UHD could have been greeted in the same way, yet is increasingly coming to market with a scale of production to meet the penetration of consumer devices.
Talent and producers getting to grips with storytelling using these new media is only part of the inflection to scaled adoption. The rigour of studios, library owners and production companies agreeing standards, specs, new tech, media delivery, software and hardware are typically the time consuming industry standards by which global scaling becomes a reality. And then of course there’s that ominous roulette called ‘consumer adoption’!
Those who predict that 2017 will be when video adoption of VR solutions start to scale are probably being too optimistic. However high profile production projects such as the recent unveiling of ‘Jesus VR – The Story of Christ’ at the Venice film Festival, or Alejandro Iñárritu’s recent announcement for a VR short film project with Legendary Entertainment are bringing more gravity to the production of relevant video content for the category.
How do you think VR video content will roll out into the mainstream? What do you think are the opportunities in VR for publishers from a non-TV background?
Mainstream rollout of VR video content is primarily a question of consumer infrastructure and device penetration. According to an October 2015 survey, 76% of US-based responding Generation Zs and 67% of responding Millennials were interested in experiencing TV, movies and video in virtual reality. So macroeconomics would suggest the demand curve is there.
In addition, according to a recent survey by Greenlight VR, 73.5% of respondents showed interest in travel, tourism, or adventure VR content, while 67.3% were interested in movies and recorded videos. Furthermore, 67% were interested in live events and 65.9% in home design. Gaming actually ranked sixth at 61%. So maybe this is a more diverse spectrum of potential consumers than was originally speculated?
And when the big players start putting resources into tackling these barriers to mainstream take-up, enticed by the profit opportunity, then markets move. TechCrunch reported in March that the VR/Augmented Reality investment scene has already reached $1 billion. Also Sky recently launched their VR app which will create a destination for premium VR content. It has partnered with Google to create original VR experiences and is using personalities and celebrities to attract new viewers.
Mainstream PayTV providers, broadcasters and popular OTT streaming services will be in a prime position to speak to their audiences about trialling the VR experience using affordable viewers, like Google Cardboard, and specially-commissioned VR video content experiences from specialised studios.
What is fluid viewing? How is this likely to roll out across the world?
Quite simply, fluid viewing is the ability to continue watching content from one device to another. It goes to the heart of what the consumer wants: to be able to start watching live, or time-shifted content on one device, and then shift seamlessly across a network of connected TV’s, smartphones, tablets, computers – picking up viewing on any new device wherever they left off.
This feature has actually been available for some time on streaming OTT services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video – however broadcasters like Sky are now leveraging the proposition to offer consumption of live, recorded and on-demand programming in the same way.
It’s a smart move for PayTV providers to match and mimic OTT streaming functionality, and in fact seek to exceed it, by offering seamless access to their unique content (i.e. live and recorded programmes). Maintaining subscriptions and holding/growing ARPU in an increasingly crowded connected entertainment space is a really tough challenge. Video disruption is everywhere. As household viewing continues to move out of the traditional living room space and onto more devices, fluid viewing seeks to keep second-screen viewers engaged and stop them from snacking with other digital services at the expense of premium content. Content was king, but access is now the new king!
Rolling out full fluid viewing across the world will be reserved for the large incumbent broadcasters and streaming video providers who can offer both a live and on-demand experience across multiple screens. We shouldn’t forget too that pure play OTT streaming services and free-to-air broadcaster catch-up services continue to fulfil the same functionality for on-demand content.
What is the future for UHDTV? Will we see it in 8K streamed online at some point in the near future?
There are a few variables that have to converge before we start seeing wider adoption of UHDTV into 8K and higher resolutions. Principally these include ultrafast fibre broadband connection speeds of a minimum 50Mbps, TVs and displays that support more than 4K resolution – and of course the availability of content from suppliers at that resolution. Google has in fact already started supporting streaming in 8K for selected assets on YouTube while Docomo has tested 8K streaming over a 5G network in Japan. So the question of timing for streaming 8K is largely dependent on wider adoption of these other technologies.
In terms of connectivity, forecasts suggest that the number of FTTH connections required to support 8K streaming technologies and higher, in Europe including Russia, will be less than 20% of the households by 2019. With adoption of 8K screens, analysts suggest that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – and the Japanese broadcasters’ intent to launch their broadcast coverage in 8K – will drive Japanese manufacturer and consumer adoption of 8K televisions..
Will consumers be ready in only 4 years to change their televisions to a bigger 8K screen to truly appreciate the difference from 4K? With current TV replacement cycles slightly longer at 6-8 years, this might not be the case. However studies have suggested that replacement behaviours are changing as UHD TV prices come down. It appears that some consumers are increasingly happy to keep their existing HDTV as a second screen somewhere in the household.
The last piece of the puzzle will be availability of appropriate content in the relevant format and resolution. Typically, film studios, TV production companies and device manufacturers need to agree standards together to ensure content, software and hardware is compatible throughout the digital supply chain from content generation and production to playout at the end consumer.
The UHD Alliance only announced their agreement on a standard for 4K at the beginning of 2016 with the UHD Premium specification. This means that producers can now commit to creating more content intended for 4K UHD consumption. However, even in the current landscape UHD content in the UK, for example, is still limited to 4K Blu-Ray players and selected titles on premium services made available by Netflix, Sony and Amazon. Also there is notably no terrestrial broadcast currently in 4K and only a recent introduction of capability via Sky’s Q Silver box.
It might then be about four years before there is even a tenable eco-system to stream 8K online, at which point there would still be a game of catch-up to be played before content producers commit to making content available in 8K UHD. Digital streaming services from OTT players like Google, Netflix & Amazon will however be preparing their offerings to lead the way into this reality.
What other emerging technologies will have a significant impact on the future of online video and TV?
In my view, the key technologies which will impact the future direction include High Dynamic Range (HDR); FTTH homes passed and subscription adoption, and 5G mobile data network rollout. Alongside these are vital associated developments such as bandwidth-saving encoding technologies and techniques being explored by streaming services like Netflix to reduce their impact on consumption bandwidth during wider global rollout in 2016.
In addition there are a host of exciting developments designed to increase access such as low-bandwidth video initiatives like Facebook’s Free Basics, which connect more developing economy populations to the Internet. So, for example, we’re seeing mobile-first populations in Africa come online with altogether different content requirements and this provides significant distribution opportunities for relatively low-production value content originating in the region. In a similar vein, Facebook’s Aquila laser-enabled solar drones and Google’s Project Loon (LTE-enabled balloons) can beam Internet over populations with remote infrastructures.
All of these developments tackle the issues surrounding bringing the required bandwidth for video consumption at faster speeds (in developed countries) or at lower bandwidth (for emerging nations), ultimately allowing for the sort of sophisticated viewing experiences which are just not possible today.
How do you think we will be consuming video content in 2025 and where will Vubiquity fit into this picture?
I think that there will be increasingly specialised screens depending on the content and viewing behaviour. For example personal VR screens for immersive experiences alongside social TV screens for typical film and TV storytelling. Each requires different formats and resolutions.
The vast majority of content – broadcast, owned or rented – will be accessed by download or streamed digitally via cloud-based infrastructure, and there will be a continuing preference for time-shifted video content.
What is certain is that consumers will expect their video content to work seamlessly across an array of devices, services and technology. Consequently, producers and service providers will be compelled to provide content in any format for any screen. VUBIQUITY plans to continue to deliver content to any distributor fit for any screen – if a screen exists we will provide content for it.