A fruit fly lives and dies in the time span of a single day. 24 hours. The earth rotates around the sun for a full 365 days for it to be considered a single year. Time span, in human terms, is measured by the pleasure, pain, and productivity of whatever task we are doing at the time. In the 2010s, the attention span of a user on digital media is 8 seconds, according to New York Times. 8 seconds to click like on that meme shared by our friend, see that YouTube video of the popular standup comic, go through the headlines of the day’s breaking news. 8 seconds – or four deep breaths – and decreasing and looking to capitalise on these precious few seconds is cloud-based, interactive advertising broadcast platform – VideoTap.
Due to the ever increasing dependence on our smart devices and our proclivity to engage with each other on social networks than in real life – traditional forms of media have also come to the online hunting ground in search of their favourite target audience: the millennials. But traditional media (newspapers, ad agencies, broadcast) has struggled with adapting itself to the newer, more agile form of marketing that takes place in the digital world, precisely because traditional media is MASS media: digital media is individualised, personalised to the minutiae.
In these complex but fascinating times, two broadcast media veterans – Dilip Venkatraman and his wife Savvy Dilip – with more than two decades of experience each, decided to address this very legitimate concern that plagues traditional broadcast channels making the jump to digital – What kind of individualised experience is the user missing out when it comes to mass media? How do we provide it online? Their journey ended up creating an entire ecosystem of products and technology that can be utilised by publishers (broadcasters), brands and the end consumer.
The ecosystem is called VideoTap – and it serves two purposes. For a regular online video watcher who binges watches on Netflix or YouTube videos during lunch, it provides a unique video-on-demand experience that is interactive, two-way and communicative, ensuring an attention span that lasts more than 8 seconds. For publishers/enterprises, it becomes useful to disperse marketing communication via its patented technology – Design Room, that creates these engaging interactive videos
Giving The Power Of Choosing Content Back To The Audience With VideoTap
Begins Dilip, “Taking news as an example, TV programming has always been linear, one-way, and sequential. You first hear of a terrorist attack somewhere in the headline, then you have your B block news and sports comes last. In between, you have ads for products which might, might not interest you, but is part of the programming. Your only recourse to escape this programming? Change the channel. Use the remote.”
This process is traditionally broken down as follows – content makers decide what the content is, collaborate with the sponsors and fix ad spots, figure out the order of content consumption and serve it up to the consumer. As TV is a flat medium, the progression is extremely chronological, with no scope of communication and personalisation.
With streaming and digitising media, the problem was slightly solved. Netflix’s recommendation engines or Amazon Prime Video’s interactivity screen ensured that the user had some control over what kind of film, TV series they watch. But this recommendation engine experience is hampered by the fact that the genres of movies, the availability of programming is limited to what is there in-house in Netflix as well as the set parameters decided by the engines.
“It was this passive content consumption experience, watching what you want, the kind of content you want to watch, be it news or a compilation of your favourite scenes by Rajnikanth or the greatest goals of Zidane, stuff that isn’t available on YouTube, not exactly the way you want it, that we were looking to address. Netflix’s unit of measurement for user engagement is an entire movie or TV series episode – 40 minutes to two hours. In contrast, we have fine-tuned it down to about three seconds.”
This rather enigmatic explanation begs the question: How does passive content tie in with units of measurement to increase user engagement? And the answer comes from the customer-facing product that VideoTap has designed: Design Room, a term coined by the Product Head, Savvy.
Customising Passive Content With Active Screens For Engaging Users
As per Dilip, all content that is available is passive – it already exists. Pre-streaming and VOD, the existing broadcast experience consisted of passive content on passive screens (the TV) which led to a consumer just passively experiencing the news/movie/TV show. With VOD, passive content entered active screens and turned into a convenient passive experience, mainly because the user finally had more choice and the power of broadcasting went to the user – for eg. Binge watching an entire series over a weekend or pausing a video to get back to it later.
The VideoTap team aims to take the next evolutionary step in the broadcast experience by giving an active experience on an active screen – with the help of the Design Room technology and other products on the platform.
But let’s rewind a bit and go back to June 2015 when the team first got together in the 91springboard Noida hub and built the first product in their bouquet – a video player. Savvy Dilip takes up the mantle of explaining the evolution of the VideoTap player.
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Existing video and streaming players were only built to identify and aggregate content a certain way, with specific algorithms and linear watching being the norm. So, their next course of action was to add a unique player to the platform.
“The player needed more than a platform to work. It needed a way for the content to be segregated and sorted for user preferences. And this whole process needed to be automated,” says Savvy. So, the VideoTap team ended up building an algorithm-based recommendation engine and integrating it with the VideoTap player. “The engine’s objective is to break down content into fragment-levels for ease of use for our audience. These fragments would then be compiled together and would appear on our video player as smart, interactive videos.”
Along with the recommendation engine, the team has also addressed a key problem faced by broadcast publishers on the Internet – tracking. Using a combination of mathematics and machine learning (big data), they have also added an analytics engine that performs metric-related functions when users log on. The engine’s aim is to provide content usage statistics as well as analyse user behaviour (keyword searches, time of logging in etc.) to feed recommendations.
Savvy also mentions that when it comes to the player – space storage is also a major issue. “From a process perspective, when we create video compilations, we have tried to be extremely efficient, and have reduced the need for additional storage space.” She also adds that, in order to ensure playability in connectivity issue-filled areas, the VideoTap player requires the minimum bandwidth that YouTube requires, in order to function.
The VideoTap player will also come with a unique, customised Vdopass (videopass) that will allow access to the platform’s extensive media library, from all available publishers and content.
Helping Publishers/Brands Design Content For An Active-Ready Experience
While the VideoTap player is the end product that will be available to users, publishers and enterprises looking to engage/market to their target audience can use VideoTap’s adaptive advertising platform: Design Room.
“Traditional advertising is all about showing the audience a 30-45 second video ad which has product/messaging/branding all enticing you to buy it: the creative makes the ad targeting the audience. Even in YouTube ads or Facebook ads, this process is followed. Using Design Room the ad can turn the video into a microsite that can be utilised to target the creative and the target audience.”
While all this sounds almost too fascinating to be true we delved further to find out how this really works!
“A publisher will be able to import videos to the platform’s media library that will be available for their extensive use. Once the video is in, it gets transferred to Design Room where the raw data is transcoded automatically,” explains Dilip. The video is then curated to become a ‘smart’ clip with ‘in’ and ‘out’ positions that will be used for adding tags in the recommendation engine: for instance, if it’s a 30-second ad for Amazon Kindle, an ‘in’ tag will be ‘screen size’ where the presenter talks about the screen size. The default sequence of the ad is then established – it will play in the manner prescribed by the ‘in’ and ‘out’ tag.
Publishers can then, using Design Room, use the 18 interactive elements present on the platform and add different buttons in order to communicate with the users. Using the Amazon Kindle ad example, a potential interactive button to pop up could be a multiple choice quiz when the presenter is explaining the screen size – Can you identify the font used on the page? The other elements to be added include pop-ups, quizzes, questions, reactions and more. Each activity on the video, right from when it appears on the player screen is an ‘event – and each interactive button helps in setting the behaviour of the video, in default and otherwise.
Finally, with all the elements in place, the final version is collated or ‘arranged’ and ready to be published to be consumed by the user: who gets a tutorial/infomercial/interactive experience inside a microsite instead of a standard, a static 30-second ad on Amazon Kindle.
While he is not willing to disclose any actual names, Dilip mentions that the platform is already being beta-tested with a few enterprise clients and regional TV channels. “Regional TV is still to find a footing in the digital world. What VideoTap aims to do is enable a faster, more spontaneous kind of engagement with online users for regional players to increase their digital consumption.”
He gives a hypothetical example of having a regional version of popular game show Kaun Banega Crorepati which can be played by everyone who is registered on VideoTap, all playing simultaneously, using the platform’s innate, interactive capabilities. “What this means is that eventually, these TV channels can actually draw their viewers back to TV too, if they make the content enticing enough.”
VideoTap On Tackling Competition: Present And Future
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Spuul are a few of the common streaming video platforms popular in India, as well as across the world. These platforms have created a new kind of streaming content based solely on user recommendations. A few other platforms such as KODITV and Swedish-based Valossa (powered by Val.ai) have taken strides in creating user-based aggregator content and serving it across the digital media spectrum. Netflix and the likes also have a successful revenue-generating model via their subscription service.
What none of them have managed to do successfully is create a new way of advertising to grab user attention. YouTube and Facebook’s in-video ads are compulsory viewing for the mandatory 30 seconds (in YouTube) or 10 seconds (in the case of Facebook), but the engagement is still rudimentary – one-way.
“Our real competitor would be competing for user’s attention. It is so difficult to engage with a user who is jaded and numb to existing ways of advertising and media consumption, that’s the real challenge we are trying to address,” Dilip admits candidly.
The 25-member strong team based out of Noida has managed to raise angel funding to the tune of $1 Mn in September 2016, based on technology strength alone. They have also appeared before global forums such as the Mobile World Congress 2017 where they were only one of two Indian startups to present. “We have interest from international publishers, investors and advertisers at the moment. But our immediate aim is to launch the product and scale it up the best way we can,” ends Dilip.
With content available on a plethora of devices across platforms – such as laptops, smartphones, TV, radio, tablets and more – the audience is now spoilt for choice when it comes to consumption. This is especially true in terms of video-watching or streaming, where the business model of old, allowing broadcasters to dictate content has now been replaced with the Netflix model, the watch what you want and when you want.
VideoTap and companies of their ilk are basically taking this conversion a step further by putting the user at the helm and giving him the power of choice and to define their own unique and personalised experience, thereby boosting engagement and attention spans. At the same time, VideoTap will also put the marketing power in the hands of the advertisers with the Design Room and the ad server that will serve ‘ads that user wants to see, the way he wants to see it. This would be made possible due to the highly interactive and personalised nature of the way the platform (player+recommendation engine+Design Room) is designed, to arrest user attention and keep them engaged.
If leveraged right and with the right kind of consumer interest, the company will have managed a new feat in the Information Age. That of changing the way broadcast content behaves. But without the product being launched, vetted, and validated by the masses, the pricing structure available for publishers and brands and the uptick of users, VideoTap remains a ‘dream come true’… for now.
VideoTap with interactive videos while addressing the broadcast and OTT market, is simultaneously taking on the consumer side and the B2B side. Addressing both B2C and B2B in one go has, in the past, proven quite challenging for most startups. However, the true power of the product would be realised only when both these sides are working together in consensus. Only time will tell, what the future holds for VideoTap and their bold vision to disrupt the broadcast industry with its smart interactive videos.
VideoTap is part of Inc42’s 42Fellowship – a year-long fellowship programme for India’s top growing and upcoming startups with the aim to build a close-knit community who can help each other multiply their impact.