Personalized user interfaces with targeted recommendations are important to introduce viewers to new shows, cater to their moods and drive longer viewing sessions, according to Sarah Milton, head of All 4.
Speaking at the recently concluded IBC event in Amsterdam, Milton stressed that the service must be more than just a catch-up destination for the broadcast channel and that personalization was one important element of making it so.
All 4 is the online streaming division of UK broadcaster Channel Four. Channel Four is a publicly owned, but commercially funded broadcaster: unlike the BBC, it does sell advertising though any profits are plowed back into programming.
Milton talked about the launch of 4OD, the initial on-demand platform for video distribution, and how excited the team was when they managed to get a thousand views in one day. That was a while back -- the platform was then re-launched as All 4 and now contributes 10% of Channel Four's revenue. It now has 16 million registered viewers, with a heavy skew towards 16-34-year-olds.
The goal for the team is to make a destination site in its own right rather than just a catch-up option for those who missed the broadcast on Channel Four. The editorial team selects and curates shows, which of course include hit shows from the linear channel but also content specifically for the site. The "Walter Presents" section is a good example, featuring dramas from all over the world selected by the editorial team and available on All 4.
The user interface has been updated this year, and offers some new features. It prompts viewers who were watching a show previously to continue with it, provides reminders when new episodes of shows you have viewed previously become available and provides personalized, algorithm-driven recommendations.
This area of personalization is particularly interesting to Milton. She talked about how recommendation algorithms segmented viewers based on tastes (based on previous shows viewed) but also looked to "stretch" their tastes.
The goal is to identify shows that are just a little bit different to what they are viewing but similar enough that there is a high likelihood it will still appeal to them. "It's going from grapes to lychees," says Milton.
To develop the algorithms All 4 crunches a lot of numbers, identifies patterns, including things like the types of shows that are watched in the same viewing session. It also accounts for context and mood, not just what is watched.
The team has developed a segmentation scheme based on nine different kinds of viewers based on and supported by the algorithms.
"Why nine?," asks Milton rhetorically. "Because it caters to the main differences between the major viewer types. It's a manageable number but [each segment is sufficiently] different.
The recommendations are delivered to the UI across all supported devices. The focus is mostly on what Milton calls the "hero," the list of top shows at the top of the screen. The ultimate mix is decided by a combination of algorithms and human, editorial input. The editorial team looks at all the available shows, takes into account the algorithm's input and blends everything together, creating nine different formats of the "hero" several times a day.
Milton feels strongly that the algorithms alone are not sufficient. "The optimal combination is human-machine," she said. "We have to have an editorial person who can add a narrative to the selection process."
The site has about 10,000 hours of video available, and while Milton says it's not long-tail as such, there are shows that viewers don't always know about. So she is keen to use the UI to get these shows to the people who might want to see them.
The strategy appears to be working. All 4 is evolving from a catch-up service to a more independent, standalone video viewing destination. Milton said that less than 40% of total viewing on All 4 is now catch-up, meaning the majority of videos viewed are not programs shown on the linear channel.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation