Source Digital: Personalization and the Omni-Screen (MESA)

For Source Digital, the company’s technology and platform monetization strategies center around a simple combination of ideas: personalization, smart content, and the omni-screen. Put them together, and you’ve got a data-driven engagement platform for a new generation of content viewing, with Source allowing content owners and viewers to create personalized experiences on any device. This means creating anything from a storefront for the in-screen sale of products and services, to crowd-sourced marketing allowing consumers to share offers, to programmatic, enhanced advertising using in program metadata, to enhanced entertainment experiences like virtual reality. Henry Frecon, co-founder and CEO of Source Digital, took the time to chat with the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) to tackle the importance of metadata, the concept of the omni-screen, and the future of personalized content.

MESA: Source Digital is a champion of the “omni-screen” concept. How does the company define omni-screen, and how crucial is this approach for today’s content owners and distributors?

Frecon: I think the stat right now is that the average living room can have as many as five screens going at any point in time in the average family household, whether the number is three, four, five or seven, it doesn’t matter. The point is, there’s a plethora of engagement opportunities, and they’re all sitting there in the room. Some people will drift to different forms of content, others will be engaged directly with information tied into programming, and if you look at what’s coming out with both virtual and augmented reality, you can get an idea of what omni-screen means, and the subsequent personalization of it. That’s how we define it, and what we define as the opportunity is that content owners can really work their content personalization strategies, so that the same essential experience and goals of that experience are there, but everyone can have an individualized option and engagement model that is unique to them. And therein lies the monetization potential, without interrupting the primary viewing experience.

MESA: What does Source Digital’s platform do that’s unique in terms of crowd-sourced data and production metadata?

Frecon: I think a lot of that goes back to the inception of Source. My sister is a costume designer, and she would forward me emails from fans, asking about what the characters on her shows were wearing in any episode. It started to hit me: in my previous company we were really good about managing data and the relationship of data to the frame in technical terms, focused on things like RGB and aspect ratio. Our new platform treats data as a more expansive layer, where content owners can take advantage of what we call ‘cultural currency,’ where any frame of video has an enormous amount of potential. We allow that to exist, without increasing the payload of the program itself. This is because our tech virtualizes that layer of data that can exist, and create unlimited engagement possibilities. People don’t just want to just know about the information behind a production, they may want that information to talk with their friends about it, take action around it like make a purchase, etc. There’s this potential for crowd sourcing as well, to get involved, and that can be defined in a lot of ways. One way is to allow people to add to data set. Another is to capture the conversation for time shifted viewing models. Another is to crowd source the marketing around the content. The impacts and moments that can occur within the content around any particular moment the viewer is at can now be captured. That’s where our technology works around: the ability to essentially synthesize and virtualize these layers of data, whether they came about before the content existed, or three years after the content hit the market.

MESA: The company’s solutions promise to help turn almost any video into a deeply personalized experience. Where does Source Digital see the opportunity in this?

Frecon: Two general big growth trends over the next few years are online retailing and industries that support personalization strategies. Smart content finds itself in a unique cross section of both of these trends. With traditional and digital advertising models starting to flatten and projected growth in brand and product placement, making content more personal through data can bring a nice layer of monetization around content in the future. The basic definition of personalization is tailoring a service or product to an individual vs. a general group, and for a long time the way the industry has thought about content strategies was to try and create a “lean back” format with mass apeal. With that approach, if you look at how the current programming world is monetized, it’s got to have big wins, ‘We need to have 11 million viewers,’ and if you think about how other businesses work — retail for example — it just doesn’t work that way. Monday might bring you a 1000 units of this and 750 units of that, and Tuesday only 300 of this and 600 of that. But in the end, it all adds up. We believe that with the amount of content being produced today and the amount of platforms that exist to reach the viewer and the amount of emerging viewers; by using the metadata to get very personal, and the format to tailor the experience to what the individual wants, you subsequently monetize by accumulating lots of revenue in micro forms because of the sheer amount of data available at any moment in time that can be leveraged. Also, if you think about what social media does and think about how you can handle different types of outreach on the internet, what really drives the value of that medium is being personal to you. By thinking about what about the content can be personal, and what are the things about the content that are potentially unique to a viewers wants, therein lies the opportunity. For someone watching a specific program, they may be really interested in the costumes, for someone else it may the location, for someone else it may be a cultural reference point. You can even help contribute information against the content.

MESA: Source also touts its ability to gather crucial information about entertainment viewers via the company’s cloud architecture. How does Source balance getting clients the information they need with not encroaching on consumer privacy?

Frecon: People have generalized this thought that companies are monitoring them personally, and want to know everything about them as a big brother approach. Instead, they really just want a general idea of your wants as it pertains to your content preferences and the reasons behind those preferences. With our tech, we really are more interested in the result of the engagement and how it pertains to the particular moment it occurred against the content, and generalizations about trends of types of viewers and their wants. So in this mode, there are many ways viewers can restrict their identity but we can still gather the valuable information that allows them to shift from hoping they can find content to watch, to a mode where the content can find them. Also, knowing that the TV is turned on doesn’t matter as much. Instead we can know, did the consumer grab an advertised coupon and redeem it? Were they able to take a piece of information with them about the programming and share it? Were they interested in a piece of clothing and wanted to buy it? That’s what we’re talking about: bringing the same level of experience that goes on every day in the internet world to the contents relationship with the consumer.

MESA: ATSC 3.0 isn’t too far off on the horizon. What does Source see as the main benefits of this next-generation standard, and how will Source utilize it?

Frecon: First, the ATSC deserves a lot of credit for taking this on, because content owners have had to deal with a lot on their end trying to handle the different opportunities offered by consumer electronics companies and tech platforms. The ATSC has taken the lead to say that now the industry has made it through the first wave of digital, and now that it’s ubiquitous, we need to evolve more standards around digital so content owners can begin to take full advantage of what the medium offers. What we look at it is that within ATSC, there are these groups that are very focused on personalization, interactivity, and with those standards, we want to be there at the forefront. If there’s a watermark embedded in the ATSC 3.0 signal, we want to use it. If there’s a layer of data structure around the audio, we want to use that information. If there’s an opportunity to have an application presentation layer within a device, we want to make sure our platform can respond to that.

MESA: What’s next for Source, what can we expect down the line from the company?

Frecon: We’re a young company and we’re trying to work in a world that’s emerging and constantly moving. For us it’s building our brand recognition and building our customer base. It’s working to take advantage of new technology and help pave the path for monetization concepts that need to be supported.

A lot of people say TV is dead. For Source, we see it as a medium ripe for revolution.