IBC 2016 conference highlights

I’m in Amsterdam this week, picking out the brightest and best ideas from the International Broadcasters Convention 2016. The conference features speakers from a range of video-focused players, including traditional broadcasters, Internet streaming providers, news publishers and the technology providers who handle the infrastructure that powers all it all.

Also, the weather here is fantastic. Not that I’m experiencing it, because I’m inside a windowless air-conditioned auditorium.

But the speakers on Day 1 have more than provided enough talking points for this conference. The theme of IBC 2016 is transformation. This is an industry which is seeing huge change and the associated challenges of a landscape moving to mobile platforms and the expectations of an audience who want content anywhere and everywhere.

The first keynote speaker was Dominique Delport of Havas Media, who raised several interesting points relevant to news publishers.

Culture + Code

Delport stressed the importance of “Culture + Code”. In a world where breaking news reaches people faster than ever, and people scour various sources to gather as much news as they can, it’s critical for editorial teams and IT teams to work together.

I’ve been in newsrooms where technology teams and editorial teams have had considerable distance between them and little exposure to each other. We’re very fortunate at Trinity Mirror that our engineering and product teams sit on the same floor as the Mirror editorial team. By being able to talk to editorial and work closely with them on a daily basis, we can understand their requirements and build stronger products.

You need to have content and code together. Newsrooms should embrace bringing content producers and IT teams together.

Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame, understands this and is driving the technology approach at Washington Post, which he acquired in 2013.

It’s an example of how technology is changing the newsroom, and the role of the journalist, and advertising on news websites. In the above slide, the Flexplay technology is particularly interesting in the video space.


Vivendi is launching a new mobile app called Studio Plus which seeks to provide premium, mobile-first content. It follows a ‘10 by 10’ structure of 10-minute episodes, with 10 episodes per series. Delport believes there is a big opportunity to provide content tailored for the small screen and mobile networks.

Releasing one series every week, with each show backed by €1m of funding, Vivendi has invested €35m so far into this venture. In terms of tech, the focus has been heavily around user experience and creating an app which is clean and easy to use.

Vivendi is working closely with telco companies across Latin America and Europe to build partnerships and launch Studio Plus to new markets.

It’s an interesting approach to target content specifically at the small screen. With exponential growth in mobile, and another 2 billion users in Africa about to come online primarily via smartphones, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the smart approach.

The GAFA bloc

Delport introduced a acronym I’ve not heard before — GAFA. It stands for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon — all big players in the video space.

Ben Faes from Google outlined how the search giant is supporting media companies.

“Very soon there will be only two things we will be doing more than watching videos — sleeping, and working.”

YouTube continues to be a giant in the video space — reaching a billion people every month, with 400 hours of content uploaded every minute — and big media companies are using it to reach younger audiences. You don’t need to look much further than James Corden to see how traditional broadcast media can create viral content.

Faes also touched on ad stream-stitching technology, which is a cool feature in the DFP (DoubleClick for Publishers) suite that serves video advertising as part of the video stream, meaning it can bypass ad blockers. This technology was used by TF1 during their streaming of the Euro 2016 Championship.

Also interesting to note, in the constant fight between content producers and piracy: YouTube banned 10,000 accounts last year for infringing content.

The analyst’s view

Guy Bisson from Ampere Analysis presented some interesting insights on the video industry.

Streaming Video-on-Demand (SVoD) services are growing, but interestingly, so are the number of SVoD-only homes — households which have done away with traditional TV, meaning pay TV and free terrestrial, and only watch only streaming services.

Bisson highlighted Sky as an example of a broadcaster that has diversified its business to appeal across the consumer market and span its value chain.

Also interesting to note is that subscribers to one online streaming service are likely to sign up to another online service. Bisson explained how a Netflix subscriber is 2.5x more likely to be subscribed to Spotify and 1.8x likely to be subscribed to Amazon Prime.

And on Netflix, Bisson highlights that the video streaming giant has relied primarily on geographic expansion for its growth. However, it will run out of new territories to move into in 2017, so instead it is investing heavily in original content.

This is in contrast to the significantly smaller portion that Amazon is spending on original content. As its core business is retail and web services, there’s less pressure for it to be a video streaming powerhouse. Amazon Prime Video serves more as a sweetener for its subscription package.

And what about Netflix?

Chris Whiteley from Netflix discussed the company’s approach to entering the streaming market.

The original plan was to develop a set-top box device that consumers could buy and plug into their TV sets to receive Netflix. However, weeks from launch, the product was pulled in favour of developing Netflix onto existing platforms.

Netflix is now available on over 1,000 different platforms and devices, ranging from smartphones to laptops, games consoles to smart TVs.

Today, it’s the world’s leading internet TV network. Present in 190+ markets, with 83m global members, Netflix will spend $800m on technology this year alone. It produced more than 600 hours of original content in 2016 and in the UK, The Crown is coming out soon.

Time was short so my question never got answered, but I’m keen to know how a company like Netflix is supporting over 1,000 devices and platforms. Do smart TV manufacturers own the development and engineering effort, and Netflix provide an SDK? Who handles the logistics on ensuring a quality experience across all these different devices? And how do features and bug fixes get rolled out with so many different codebases?

The Buzzfeed buzz

Heidi Blake, Investigations Editor at Buzzfeed, explained how this relatively new brand is growing into the news production business.

A journalist on the Buzzfeed News team who also had programming experience devised the scraping algorithm which scoured the web for betting odds in tennis and identified the unusual behaviour which led to the Tennis Racket exposé.

It’s an exciting example of where IT and journalism can compliment each other to hold up the Fourth Estate. The idea of hacks and hackers working closer together to enhance journalism has been mooted for a while, but it was interesting to get a first-hand account of how this worked in the field.

Buzzfeed News is trying to move from being a website of entertainment content to a global news powerhouse, able to play in the same field as traditional news publishers.

On video, Blake stressed that short-form content worked better, in contrast to articles where long form had a high reading completion rate.

Buzzfeed was an early partner with Facebook on its Facebook Live product, using the streaming platform to run a Q&A with David Cameron ahead of the EU Referendum vote. The livestream proved very popular and helped realise the potential of this new live platform.

Blake elaborated on livestreaming as a tool in journalism. “Live works well when you’re first, fast, and real-time.” Being late to the party puts you in the “valley of death” where your competitors have already taken the social market share. But then deep analysis and a retrospective view of the story also often sees a high engagement rate.

Buzzfeed’s tactic has changed — it is less interested in page views, and instead focuses on social shares as its KPI metric. This moves it away from clickbait content, and instead drives it to write more emotive content, along with content around identity which people can relate to — stories people want to share with their friends.

Blake made a good point which I think is relevant to appealing to a younger audience.

“We shouldn’t be ashamed to be fun with the news, and be playful with it. Because sometimes, the news can be fun.”

And this is probably best exemplified by Buzzfeed’s video series featuring US President Barack Obama.

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