I recently realized that I was spending way too much time in my go-to apps, scrolling through endless lists in order to find new and entertaining videos.
A little background — I was one of Dailymotion’s first employees and I ran product for them. I headed content services for Vodafone and I worked on Samsung’s Kick sports app (now called Goal+) and on a news app. And now, I oversee product and tech for Condé Nast Entertainment.
So, I thought I should know something about finding great content.
But I couldn’t find anything good.
What seemed to be happening was that the recommendation algorithms of those apps were not surfacing new interesting videos and instead were falling back to the same type of content again and again.
As a result, the phrase “Because you watched [x]” made less and less sense; the correlation between what I had watched and what was being recommended became increasingly confused, especially when the recommendations were presented in a huge list.
What’s worse, the crucial elements of surprise and delight were becoming rare.
That’s why at Condé Nast Entertainment, where we strive to spark conversations with great video content, we decided to rethink how to surface the best in video.
Here’s what we did…
I. Curation vs. Personalization
Our key mission with The Scene was to present the best of the internet — whether that means video from Condé Nast brands like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and WIRED, or from other platforms like Buzzfeed, Great Big Story, and Newsy. So, we built an editorial feed to make sure that the best videos are always featured.
As people watch videos, we get data back that we can use to inform our editorial team about what works and what doesn’t. That’s helpful, but this is 2016, so it was also quite important to get personalization right. To that effect, we developed a “For You” section in which users are asked to swipe right on the brands they like to guide our recommendation algorithm.
Looking at our initial numbers, we believe that we have found a great balance; the number of video views per session has exceeded our every expectation.
Everything is better with friends, so we built a social layer that uses Facebook Connect to allow users to share their favorite videos. Our goal in doing so was to enable users to create and share their video identities.
III. The Rise of Autoplay
Autoplaying videos on mute are a great way to draw users into a viewing experience.
The only issue with leveraging this functionality in a mobile environment is that the user’s connection may not allow a flawless experience on slower networks. So, we decided to not trigger autoplay by default on the home screen and instead used it in our video overlay once the user is ready to watch a video. We found this approach to be the most user-friendly, and in a world where five star ratings are key, we’re glad that we chose this path for the moment.
However, as mobile connectivity speeds increase, we may decide to experiment with autoplay on the home screen in the future.
IV. Offline Downloads or Videos on the Go
As plenty of people commute daily underground, where they have no network connection, we wanted to offer a way for our users to always have something to watch. Our solution was to offer users the ability to download three videos from the Condé Nast catalogue every day to watch offline. This feature has been extremely well-received in the ratings from our users, and we’re hoping to expand this functionality in the future!
So, we built the app and now it’s been released to the world to download, test, scrutinize, and hopefully enjoy. Were we right about any of our hypothesis?
We’ve seen there is a value to pairing carefully curated editorial content with personalized video recommendations. The two approaches turn out to complement each other — access to the best videos on the internet ensures that the viewing experience feels premium and fresh, while the inclusion of personalized content enables the app to be tailored to each user.
We also discovered what we think is an ideal mobile autoplay experience: At the start of a viewing session, the app asks the user to choose a video, facilitating a smooth transition into continuous playback. This works especially well when the videos are presented in an overlay that allows the user to seamlessly move between videos. Our users like the autoplay overlay experience on The Scene so much, in fact, that we’re bringing it to Condé Nast’s other iOS apps very soon.
We’re pleased with downloads and engagement The Scene app is driving so far. But, like anything on the internet, the app will never be done. We’ll continue to test and iterate as we go — and that’s what makes it even more fun.