The Future of Video – A Conference To Figure Out Where We Are and Where We Are Going

A gathering of experts from across the industry gathered in Marina del Rey to discuss a wide range of issues across the broad spectrum of OTT (over-the-top), Pay TV and Digital Media.

Here are some of the highlights.

The most recurrent observation is that discovery of content is the challenge / Achilles Heel in the future of video. With a firehose of content available, how does the consumer find the optimum material to watch? There are currently in excess of 400 OTT services, with many households stacking services. Word of mouth will remain the most powerful discovery tool, but a range of speakers offered solutions ranging from blunt manual listing of shows in a list app when a viable title is mentioned to the possibility that voice and machine learning will ease the strain.

“When it takes a dozen minutes poking around to find a show, something is wrong,” said more than one panelist.

Colin Petrie-Norris (CEO, XUMO) follows the strategy of deploying engaging clips to draw in the viewer. That is in contrast to “the oldest search mechanism” of clicking up and down on the channel selection button.

Several observers agreed that voice will be a critically important interface. Executives from LG, Google and Dish concurred that talking back to your TV will become more prevalent as a means by which consumers will determine their content choices. The voice interface will invariably become more refined, and will likely include visual confirmation onscreen. That said, it is likely that the set top box (albeit in smarter iterations) will continue to be found in most households.

Length of programming seems to be increasing, having dipped in run time over the last few years.

Darren Lepke of Verizon Digital Media Services points to ad technology as the next big thing on the horizon. He referred to the long-sought targeted advertising efficiency as the best example. Viacom’s Dan Reich revealed that his company is relying on media influencers to drive awareness of programming across the company’s channels (BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, etc).

An intriguing dichotomy was discussed around the increasing technical quality availability in production (4K, etc) versus the lower fidelity delivered over mobile. Lepke noted that today 1080p is “table stakes.”
The $900M eSports market did not go unmentioned. With big investments by major players like Comcast, Tencent and Golden State Warriors this global explosion cannot be ignored by anyone in the media sector. The participating demographic skews young for this ad-supported content. In a remarkable sound bite, Billy Nayden of Parks Associates stated that early 40% of viewers are willing to pay for an eSports subscription, which goes against the trend in favor of free programming.

I had a chance to have a deep dive discussion with Virginia Juliano, a former Showtime exec turned OTT expert, commentator and speaker, and now currently CEO and Founder of CobbleCord. The company provides a free consumer website and app that “helps people cobble together their own personalized streaming bundle to get the most out of streaming and facilitate cutting the cord.” In keeping with the consistent theme (mentioned at the top) of trying to figure out what to watch, CobbleCord lets the consumer “navigate their personal dashboard and manage their subscriptions,” according to Juliano. Her business model is astute, as revenue can be derived from three legs: affiliate fee, targeted advertising via algorithm and B2B licensing to companies like Roku or Smart TV manufacturers. The idea of co-sponsoring a customer is indeed revolutionary.

Data shows that niche services can survive with only thousands of subscribers, a phenomenon that is likely to grow because the inherent curation solves the firehose of choice.

Yet, Jon Cody (CEO, TV4) holds a somewhat contrarian position by predicting aggregation of services in 18-24 months.

Churn has always been perceived as a detriment, but in this brave new world a high churn rate (looking at you Showtime) may actually be a good thing in that short term revenue is being captured.

Jordan Mitchell (Senior Associate, Bateman Group) described the power of video for brands seeking to engage consumers. His expertise with companies like Facebook, United Rentals, McAfee, Nike and Apple Music involves the strategic production of video so that the content can also be used intact in print (as a transcript) or in audio (as a podcast).

Julie DeTraglia (VP and Head of Hulu Research) indicated that younger viewers prefer an immersive experience as measured by multi-season shows, whereas older viewers may prefer close-ended, shorter runs. Younger viewers are not averse to ads, which would imply their understanding of the quid quo pro inherent in free viewing. Such viewers are far more demanding of choice and control. An exec at Vudu asked who is Hulu’s favorite customer, and DeTraglia indicated it was the subscriber to the ad-supported tier because “Hulu gets paid twice.”

Parks & Associates, the conference’s producer, provided a trove of insightful data across the sector. To account for piracy the company cleverly researched the public’s content consumption by using the category of “free without commercials.”

Spread across two and a half days, the conference tackled a broad range of topics leaving attendees with insights as well as further intriguing and welcome questions to be explored.


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.