The foundations of multi-platform content experiences

Making media content accessible from a range of devices is a simple and compelling. It is likely to be the first experience of a multi-platform service for many consumers, either using a mobile device to control content on their home TV or reversing the process to access home entertainment content through their mobile handset.

However, a complex architecture is required to deliver a seamless experience to the customer. At Mobile World Congress I’ve been exploring some of the back end components which enable the best user experiences:

1. Transformation

Julien Signes, CEO of Envivio, explained some of the challenges involved in ensuring the media owner’s portfolio of content is made available in the best format on the widest range of devices. Envivio’s platform, which is used by companies like AT&T and Comcast, is designed to encode HD video at 4x real-time, allowing content streams to be delivered on demand in one format for your TV, another for your tablet and another for your phone.

The lesson is that behind every video, there needs to be some industrial grade encoding power to ensure the best quality stream.

2. Licensing

Enforcement of content rights is one of the factors shaping what kind of experiences can be offered to customers. For instance, Signes explained how one of his American customers positions its multi-platform content proposition as a virtual replacement for the hard-disked based personal video recorder (PVR) and does so primarily to satisfy the licensing requirements of the content owners.

The customer experience is such that the user thinks they are using their mobile device to access a piece of content stored on the hard disk in their home, when in reality the mobile is simply sending a small piece of meta data to request the original programme direct from the server. From a content licensing perspective, this is acceptable, whereas offering a purely cloud-based system for content access would be unacceptable.

An insight resulting from MEX Pathway #2 was that small developers with multi-platform expertise can actually use the punitive rights management landscape to their advantage. Finnish start-up Sofanatics is doing this by building an application for social communication while watching major league football games. However, it has avoided having to license the football content itself by building a separate UI for laptop and mobile, which can be used while watching the existing TV channel to access the content.

3. Playback

Dominique Jodoin, CEO of Bluestreak, explained how Apple’s iOS devices achieve longer video playback times by employing highly efficient hardware decoding to minimise processor load. Bluestreak has spent years optimising its own playback technology to provide optimal performance for decoding Flash and HTML5 content.

It offers an alternative to Adobe’s own Flash player, claiming higher efficiency and a wider range of customisation options to ensure it runs on TVs, phones, tablets and other digital appliances. This flexibility of deployment is an advantage for service providers in multi-platform scenarios, knowing they’ll be streaming their content to the same player on each device.

A recent project for Bluestreak has seen them extending Orange’s Cinema Series from set-top boxes to an Android tablet, using the same core player technology.

4. Profiling

Envivio’s Signes highlighted another advantage of the virtual PVR approach adopted by one of its customers: it helps them to profile users based in the content they’re ‘recording’. This ability to understand who a customer is and how they behave becomes both more difficult and more rewarding in a multi-platform scenario.

Colm Healy, Vice President and General Manager for Qualcomm in Europe, explained how they’re working with Telefónica to deliver multi-platform profiling for the Spanish operator’s new cross-channel application store.

Using technology acquired from Healy’s old company Xiam (acquired by Qualcomm), the system will be able to recommend apps on a user’s digital TV based on behaviour observed on their mobile device. It provides an opportunity for better personalisation on each individual platform by observing behaviour across all of a user’s digital touchpoints.

There is huge potential for responding to customer behaviour across multi-platform experiences. Ultimately, companies should work towards a scenario where the architecture is intelligent at the application level, so that when a customer starts interacting with a piece of content, the system knows intelligently where best to source it from, the right format in which to present it and how best to handle the interactions.

Companies which develop that expertise first will have a competitive advantage.


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