Predictions 2018 - Top ten predictions for VoD in the coming year

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1 Voice technology doesn’t replace UI yet

Achieving good content discovery is one of the most difficult tasks for any product development team. Audiences expect a service to offer content that is exactly what they are looking for when they log in. The VoD giants, even with their millions of investment in algorithmic recommendations, still haven’t completely cracked discovery for each member of their audience. Voice alone won’t replace visual UI in the near future, as serendipitous discovery is still a common journey for audiences.

Key point: Voice is becoming a more expected function for video products but remains a ‘power user’ feature. As more devices carry the technology, it will become more popular as a feature but won’t yet replace visual UI.

2. Web VR will open VR to the masses

2017 saw another massive spike in the Virtual Reality (VR) hype machine. With the basic VR setup for Oculus and Vive though costing hundreds of pounds, it is still inaccessible for most consumers. There also isn’t yet a compelling use case outside of gaming and education. PlayStationVR (PSVR) seems to be the only product selling units in significant numbers. Web VR, however, opens the door to VR content for the masses. That content can be accessed from channels where audiences already spend their time: slipping a phone into Google cardboard is a low barrier for audiences to try out a VR experience. Web VR headsets are now becoming affordable.

Key point: Web VR will allow for affordable experimentation with VR until the mass market decides it’s ready for full VR experiences.

3. Blockchain will change distribution models

This is now as much discussed, and hyped, as VR but 2018 could in fact be the year where blockchain really adds value to VoD services. Netflix, Amazon and other large video services are currently the main gatekeepers for video distribution and monetisation. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube may enable easy distribution of content, but don’t allow content creators to control their content and track how it is being used. Blockchain, with its secure decentralised network, will allow creators to track and monetise their content, while building a direct relationship with their audience.

Key point: Although it is still an emerging technology looking for its place in industry, video providers should be keeping an eye on this technology to see how it might impact their business. The value of blockchain in VoD will emerge in how it can powerfully manage and track the rights of content.

4. VoD needs to be part of a wider experience

VoD services can no longer just present a bucket of stand-alone videos to entice audiences. Those audiences discover content in various places - they expect to do this on their own terms. Providing assets that can promote your content in the appropriate way on the right platform is paramount. For example, for the Blue Planet, the BBC created a huge range of supporting content that allowed consumers to begin to engage with the programme as they wished. As well as GIFs, memes and snapchat stories, the BBC produced small ‘snackable’ versions of the narratives to be used on social networks and to promote the programme. It important to think about supporting content early, both from your product but also the impact of trailers and imagery for use in digital products.

Key point: More and more, promoting a programme will mean creating supporting content developed for specific platforms that can allow consumers to learn about a programme on their own terms, at the right time. What works on different platforms and devices? How can trailers and imagery be used more effectively on these platforms? What supporting content can be created early on that will allow consumers to interact with, and learn about, a show or a programme in their own terms?

5. Live sports rights eliminate the need for Live TV packages

Sports have long been considered the last bastion for live TV, as audiences move away from large cable packages where they’re forced to pay for channels they don’t watch. With Amazon purchasing the rights to several major live sporting events and other VoD providers clearly not ruling out the possibility of buying the rights to live sport, future live TV packages are invariably going to be reshaped.

Key point: Audiences continue to demand content delivered in a package that works for them. This leaves the traditional expensive aggregators of TV in an even more vulnerable position, especially with younger audiences.

6. Kids TV will be a focus for most major VoD players

Younger audiences are consuming most of their video content on demand, with Netflix and YouTube serving as their main interaction point for video instead of traditional TV. There is a huge chance for VoD platforms to build their brand relationships early, as the BBC did for previous generations, becoming the household name for video. While Netflix and YouTube are partly playing this role for younger people, they still don’t have this totally right, as it is not the main focus of their business.

Key point: Kids’ VoD products are often overlooked by providers, while being bolted onto adult products. Younger audiences will demand experiences that engage them specifically in return for their loyalty - successful children’s products will be designed with this in mind.

7. Object-oriented TV

Object-oriented TV involves a show being broken into its parts - for example, the video, audio track, music, and even subtitles - and then being put back together to form shows specifically tailored for each individual viewer. It is like a comedian riffing on, and modifying, their jokes for every different audience, all while using the same source material. A programme could have extended or reduced scenes, or change hugely in how it’s presented, based on a viewer’s personal preferences. There is also great potential here to optimise the delivery of video, reducing the need for multiple video assets for language or localisation. Video components can be compiled on the fly according to a user’s needs.

While this concept isn’t yet mainstream, the idea of spin-offs and extensions to stories is, and audiences continue to demand more of this type of content. The BBC has been experimenting with this idea: with their show Peaky Blinders, for example, they produce brief, spin-off stories to keep audiences engaged between shows. Taking this idea into the ‘on demand’ world opens up many new possibilities.

Key point: Consumers follow shows for different reasons: they crave more from the characters they love, and want to delve into the various aspects that make programming exciting for them. In object-oriented TV, there is no longer one linear story with optional add-ons. Instead each individual viewer is presented the story as it suits them. Each can pursue the threads that she/he finds most engaging.

8. Studios continue to go direct to consumer

Disney’s recent removal of all their content from Netflix is one of the earliest warning signs for VoD platforms that the industry has changed. Netflix has evolved their business by completely winning over the audiences of content producers, and has now become a media powerhouse that in fact challenges those content producers directly. Consumers now consider Netflix as offering both an easy way to view a range of content online and as a producer of premium content. It is a platform that is easily accessed, offers value for money and contains exciting, unique content - all in one place for consumers. This has forced content producers to consider how they themselves can build the same brand affinity with their content as well as being convenient access points for consumers.

Key point: As we slowly break away from the traditional broadcast model, audiences now demand content on their own terms. They want to build relationships with the platforms that provide the content they want. Those in the middle between content producers and VoD platforms will increasingly have to decide where their place is in the market.

9. Personalisation isn’t the magic bullet

When it comes to VoD services, people don’t always know what they want. This is the issue we’ve consistently experienced with personalisation, because providing audiences with the tools to personalise a product doesn’t mean they will in fact use them. The brief that we are often given is that ‘Netflix does this so we should’. While feature parity with competitors is obviously important, this fails to account for exactly how much effort and resource Netflix have dedicated to ‘personalisation’, for example. Netflix have designed their whole business around this concept and bet big on it years ago. Most video services neither have the necessary resources nor content catalogue size to justify personalisation features.

Key point: While personalisation will remain a hot topic for the coming year, and getting it right will be important, companies will have to focus on the features that really work for their product and business. Netflix uses personalisation to solve a unique problem for them, but it isn’t a problem every business necessarily faces; nor is it the only solution to the problem of content discovery.

10. eSports will become more mainstream

‘eSports’, professional video game competitions, is slowly breaking into the mainstream consciousness, as more people start hearing the numbers behind it. With 2017’s ‘Dota international’ tournament having a prize pot of $10 million for the winning team, eSports is now clearly serious business. With declining live sport viewers, particulars among the younger demographic, broadcasters are turning their attention to eSports in an effort to boost engagement.

Key point: Emerging formats will grow to fill the void as others always have. eSports is a rising genre that will open up lots of opportunities for new content to be produced and viewed by audiences.

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