Panelists Discuss SVOD Services, Data at ‘Variety’ Conference

SVOD services’ design, data collection and effect on content creation were front and center at the Variety Innovate conference Dec. 5.

On the heels of its launch Nov. 12, Michael Cerda, VP of product at Disney+, told attendees, “What it really comes down to is building a really compelling consumer experience that’s easy to use that honors the content.

“We weren’t going to reinvent the wheel, but what you do is put touches in.”

That included putting buttons on the site with brand names such as Marvel, Disney and National Geographic that help consumers find the content they want.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” he said.

Households can have up to seven profiles, with kids getting buttons that appeal to them, such as “character sets like princesses,” rather than brands.

Executives also quietly tested Disney+ in the Netherlands for a month before its U.S. launch, he noted.

As for the much-reported glitches at launch, he said, “It’s software and stuff happens with software. You deal with it quickly.”

“Amongst CTO’s there’s a great deal of empathy for Disney,” said Jeremy Legg, CTO, WarnerMedia, who noted that its upcoming SVOD service HBO Max will be using human curation, in addition to algorithms, to help consumers discover content.

The services are using data and algorithms to better target consumers.

“All of us are using some sort of personalization algorithm,” said Lindsay Silver, VP of product at Conde Nast.

“We collect 100 terabytes of data every day,” added Jim Denney, VP of product management at Hulu.

That data is combined with input from such sources as surveys and ethnographic studies.

“You have to collect all these things,” Denney said.

Variety co-editor-in-chief and moderator Andrew Wallenstein asked if streaming services can gauge such things as interest “when Baby Yoda comes on screen,” referring to the new Disney+ original “The Mandalorian.”

“We do have real-time video analytics,” Cerda said. “You pay attention to this stuff.”

“You have to pick and chose what works together,” said Sonu Durgia, director, product management, search, Walmart Labs. She noted that someone who buys diapers might be receptive to content for young kids.

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The growth of streaming services has generated an explosion in spending on content, noted Wallenstein.

“We have crossed the $100 billion mark,” he said with spending in 2019 at an estimated $108.2 billion, according to the magazine’s research.

One content producer taking advantage of this explosion is legendary TV creator Chuck Lorre, who at the event explained how his “The Kominsky Method” on Netflix has changed how and what he writes. For one thing, appealing to the advertising sweet spot of those 18-49 isn’t a concern with streamers.

“You’re not concerned with how old the audience is,” he said. “You are determining if there is one.”

This allowed Lorre to explore a subject with “Kominsky Method” that he couldn’t on broadcast TV.

“I wanted to write about the minutia of getting old,” he said, as well as older folks’ “fears of being irrelevant.”

Writing for a streaming service without commercials also allows for different pacing.

“You’re not writing to an ad break,” he said. “You’re not writing to the ‘Perils of Pauline’ cliffhanger [hoping the viewer will come back].”

He compared watching a season of “Kominsky Method” to a four-hour movie or reading a book. Viewers can choose when they want to pause before continuing the story.

“In the Netflix environment, if an audience is watching show four, you know they’ve watched one, two and three,” he said, which isn’t true in broadcast TV.

“It changes the way the story unfolds,” he added. “It’s not so episodic.”

 

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