Real-Time, Synchronized Delivery of Live-Streamed Video with Personalized Digital Overlays Leads to more Compelling Service Engagements with Viewers
As OTT providers of sports and other linear programming come under intensifying pressure to differentiate themselves, they have a ground-breaking opportunity to transform viewers’ experiences through unique use cases for interactive video streaming.
Initiatives underway worldwide are demonstrating that service providers who leverage recent advances linking cloud-based feature enhancement with real-time streaming can enable far more compelling engagements with live-streamed content than ever before. The range of personalized features with options for interactivity is virtually limitless when graphics, video and text can be packaged into streamed overlays that are rendered in precise synchronization with core content on every stream at mass scales.
Such capabilities have arrived none too soon, judging by recent reports underscoring the challenges posed by unprecedented levels of competition for viewers’ attention. There are hundreds of OTT services worldwide, including over 200 in the U.S., a growing percentage of which feature sports and other linear content.
High licensing costs without enough subscribers to generate a positive return on investment have forced some OTT services to raise prices by as much as 30%, which undermines the value propositions that have fueled the sector’s surge. So far, the go-to strategies for drawing more subscribers have been pricey high-risk gambits entailing either investments in original productions or payments of big licensing fees for high-value sports and other linear content.
But, regardless of what strategies are employed, there remains a sameness to user experience (UX) that, as one recent study points out, often reflects disregard for and even arrogance toward subscribers – in other words, the opposite of a personalized UX. In a statement accompanying results from the subscriber intelligence specialist Singula Decisions’ survey of consumers in the U.S. and U.K., Singula CEO Bhavesh Vaghela said the findings showed that “OTT brands must think differently about how they build a service and experience that best suits the needs of their customers – and do a better job to emotionally connect with their customers to build trust and loyalty.”
Loyalty is clearly a major deficiency in this market. Not only are ever more households taking more than one OTT service at any given time; they are constantly changing the service mix. Parks Associates reports the average retention rate for OTT service is 30 months compared to an average rate of 5½ years for pay TV services. At any point in time in 2019, 35% of OTT service subscribers were cancelling a service, compared to 27% a year earlier.
A more compelling UX could be a major antidote to churn.
New cloud-mounted approaches to interactive video streaming now underway worldwide represent an opportunity to create highly scalable avenues to solidifying consumer engagement that have long eluded interactive TV agendas. Thanks to low costs and ease of execution, these efforts are not confined to top-tier services and events.
Consider, for example, the personalized viewing experience that the petrochemical firm Ineos LLC created with its YouTube channel’s streaming of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in October 2019. This was a one-time marathon staged in Vienna to see whether the world’s leading marathon runner, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, or another participant could be the first to break the 2-hour marathon mark. (He did, at 1:59:40.)
Using interactive features developed by Reality Check Systems (RCS) on the digital overlay platform supplied by Singular.Live, Ineo provided a package of options viewers could access for information as the race unfolded. The independently streamed overlay rendered in recipients’ browsers in sync with the core video, allowing every user to have their own customizable viewing experience on any type of connected device.
Clickable buttons over the video feed gave viewers access to a map tracking Kipchoge’s position on the track along with information about current speed, remaining time and distance, current weather, commentary from Twitter and the names of other pacemakers running with Kipchoge. Viewers could choose to have the information displayed in one of six languages.
The ability to create and deliver virtually any combination of dynamically responsive graphics, video clips, sound bites and text as an overlay to be rendered with live streamed sports or other linear video in real time is a game changer for the OTT market, says RCS president Andrew Heimbold, who also helps lead Singular, in which RCS is a major investor. “We’re providing tools to monetize and personalize video streams with professional-quality enhancements not just to the 1% who are big broadcasters, but to the other 99% of the market as well,” Heimbold says.
The HTML5-compliant Singular.Live platform, through the firm’s Singular|Flow composition service, can be used to embed the ancillary features in the primary video. But, more often, the enhancements are streamed in overlay mode with each unicast stream to end users.
This maximizes the opportunities for personalization and interactivity. Overlays, which typically position the features in the lower third of the stream but can place them anywhere, are rendered with the content at the device through any HTML5-enabled browser.
Along with requiring synchronization of the core and overlay feeds on every device, an effective UX with live-streamed sports, esports and other events requires the kind of ultra-low, imperceptible latency attained through streaming on the Red5 Pro platform, Heimbold says. “We’ve been working with Red5 Pro because they have an amazing scalable infrastructure that allows you to synchronize distribution of the video and overlay streams at ultra-low latency to millions of end users,” he notes.
Red5 Pro enables end-to-end streaming with imperceptible latency in the 200-400 millisecond range, typically utilizing the WebRTC (Real-Time Communications) protocol, although other transport options are available, including RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol), RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol), MPEG-TS and SRT (Secure Reliable Transport). Operating as an alternative to streaming over traditional CDN infrastructures, the platform can be mounted in multiple private and public cloud facilities to deliver video through a hierarchy of origin, relay and edge nodes.
“Right now, if you and I are streaming the same football game, you might get it with a ten-second delay on your PC and I might be getting it with a 20-second delay on my cell phone,” Heimbold observes. “When you tie into Red5 Pro with WebRTC, it all gets there at the same time.”
Without this synchronization of arriving video and overlay streams within a fraction of a second of the action on the field the possibility for “engagement in interactivity is lost,” he adds, noting that less aggressive reductions in latencies are inadequate. “Going from ten seconds to five seconds, you still have issues,” he says.
With use of overlays developed by RCS on the Singular.Live platform in conjunction with streaming via Red5 Pro, “it’s the interactivity we’ve been promised since the ‘90s,” he continues. “Now we’re looking at timing of users’ engagement with media that’s no different from participating in conference calls.”
Whether the activity involves betting on sports, bidding on auction items or investing in stocks, knowing what the odds, bids or share prices really are as opposed to what they were a half minute earlier is essential. Answers to polling questions about what’s happening in real time are more meaningful if they can be displayed while the referenced action is still relevant.
Interactive video streaming initiatives utilizing applications developed by RCS on the Singular.Live platform offer many illustrations of the ways in which service providers large and small can differentiate their content at low costs within surprisingly short timeframes. Here are 12 exciting use cases for interactive video streaming unlocked by these efforts:
1) Seamless insertion of real-time, broadcast-quality graphics that can be data-driven into live streams.
This application was illustrated with the aforementioned INEOS 1:59 Challenge and is a major component of interactive video streaming initiatives across the globe.
2) Enlivening watch parties on social media.
Fox Sports is one of many outlets that have hosted second-screen watch parties on social media, in this case involving a Twitter feed during the 2020 U.S. College Football Championship game. Users watching the game on TV or via OTT streaming watched the second-screen commentary on a Twitter stream that was augmented by real-time overlays displaying the scoreboard, social media posts, stat comparisons and much else.
3) Information channel for bettors on horse races.
This application was demonstrated in March 2020 when Racing Post, a major horse racing information platform in the U.K., teamed up with the U.K. bookmaker Betfair to produce live streams on Racing Post’s digital and social channels during major horse racing events throughout the year. The digital overlay package featured full-screen and lower third elements integrated with the Betfair Exchange API data feed to display live betting odds and other pertinent data prior to and during each race.
4) Efficient distribution of real-time graphics from an online video publishing (OVP) platform supporting multiple outlets.
Several OVPs have integrated the digital overlay capabilities in their workflows so that any customer can readily add enhancements customized to their needs directly from the publishing platform. For example, London-based Grabyo enables launch of such overlays from its Grabyo Producer platform with support for multiple live inputs, social data and TV graphics. Outlets on the Grabyo Producer are aggregating billions of views annually on streams from websites, mobile apps, YouTube and social media operations like Facebook Live and Periscope. Similarly, Los Angeles-based OVP Frequency Studio has made such capabilities available to over 100 outlets with multiple channel feeds reaching more than 100 million monthly viewers.
5) Development of real-time data-rich sports roundup channels.
DAZN, a global provider of sports streaming services, is taking advantage of the digital overlay model to enhance viewer engagement in a number of scenarios, including with GoalZone, a live streaming service that allows viewers to see the best sequences from concurrent Europa League soccer matches. Producers are able to react to action they choose to feature at any moment from any of 12 concurrent games by tapping the digital overlay to deliver relevant data, input from social media and graphics in real time. Users can choose to have the input rendered in any of four languages.
6) Polling of viewers for reactions during live events
Another illustration of how real-time interactions with live streamed sports can enhance user engagement can be found with streamed coverage of the Redbull Rampage, the annual freeride mountain bike competition held near Zion National Park in Utah. Introduced with the 2018 edition, the digital overlay enhancement offered viewers opportunities to pick their favorite rider, event and trick with continuous updating of polling results throughout the 4 ½ hour competition.
7) Enabling esports “streamers” to augment their performances with graphics and data.
Teradek, the cloud-based management and production platform widely used in esports, is enabling the online video gameplayers known as streamers to embellish their streams with scoreboards, tickers, bugs and other elements that lend a more professional production veneer to their efforts.
8) Allowing viewers of a live-streamed event to choose from multiple camera views.
Utilizing the interactive functionalities enabled through OVP Grabyo’s incorporation of Singular.Live into its Producer platform, Fox Sports gave online viewers of its 2018 U.S. Open Golf Championship coverage complete control over which hole and players they could view from live feeds covering action at five holes throughout the tournament. Remotely located production personnel, aided by automated processes, fed graphics, stats and other data tuned to play in real time with each feed.
9) Delivering action-specific graphics and text in tandem with each viewer’s choice of which esports competition to watch during a multi-location event.
Esports producer Super League Gaming in 2019 hosted live-streamed coverage of the Clash Royale City Champs tournament with live feeds from competition in 16 cities. Viewers received data and graphics relevant to whichever stream they were watching at any moment. At the same time, Super League delivered a stream on Twitch that curated coverage from all the feeds into a constantly shifting look at specific competitions with data and graphics pertinent to each.
10) Enhancements to streaming of live presentations from public speakers.
Even small, non-commercial live streams can benefit from delivering graphic and textual enhancements through a digital overlay. One such instance was illustrated in early 2020 with inauguration of enhancements to the live-streamed daily Mass service produced by Colombia’s Universitaria Agustiniana. The digital overlay displays information relevant to the service on a scrolling ticker along with graphics illustrating points made throughout the stream.
11) Enhancing user engagement through casual game playing
The coronavirus-imposed lockdown of Australian Football induced Optus Sport, Australia’s largest sports OTT platform, to look for new ways to connect with its audiences, including launch of a new live-streamed show, “Isolation Football Trivia.” During each show, 20 trivia questions posed to on-air commentators are presented through the digital overlay to the viewing audience, allowing them to play along in tandem with a time meter and sound effects that are also part of the overlay package.
12) Embellishing remote commentators’ contributions with graphics, clips and other elements
Kiswe Mobile, provider of the CloudCast platform used to enable remote commentators to be included in live-streamed sports programming, utilizes the Singular.Live digital overlay system to allow them to incorporate graphics, video clips and text messaging with their feeds into the CloudCast aggregation point. These elements and the “caster” commentary lend a linguistically tuned localized flavor to events streamed across multiple regions.
Thanks to the partnership between Red5 Pro, RCS and Singular.Live, real-time streaming can be and frequently is used with these types of enhancements to live-streamed video. To learn more about the possibilities, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a call.