Innovation @ BBG » Video Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Meerkat, Periscope and the Gamification of Live Streaming Mon, 27 Apr 2015 17:23:00 +0000 Randy Abramson Periscope and Meerkat are barely months old and they have already become the ‘platforms to most likely to replace your TV/browser/mobile stream/favorite YouTube channel.’ Why have these platforms grown so quickly? Because the streams are personal and interactive, but most of all, the entire experience is fun. Live video streaming is nothing new, but pre-Periscope/Meerkat streaming was far from a ‘fun’ experience, neither for the people shooting the live stream (which required a decent amount of configuration and prosumer equipment, at the very least) or for the viewer who passively watched streams with the exception of those that included chat modules that often competed with the stream for your attention. Periscope and Meerkat are easy to use for both the shooter and viewer and the entire experience has addictive game-like qualities for everyone involved. Here are the fun gamification challenges for both the viewer and streamer:

Gamification for the stream shooter:

Can I pack a room?
On Periscope, after a certain number of people join your stream, new viewers get a ‘room full’ message that blocks them from using the chat feature. This is frustrating for the viewer, but it reaffirms that the host can draw a crowd.

Can I keep up with the comment stream?
Watching someone like Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) of the on Periscope can be exhausting. Users continuously fire questions at him, personal and work related and Jack attempts to answer each one, alternating between brash opinion, keen insight and snarky defense, all while continuously smoking cigarettes.

Can I get keep the hearts flowing?
On Periscope, when users see things that they like, they tap on the screen and hearts float up the side to show their approval.

What’s my score on the Leader Board?
On Meerkat, each broadcaster is assigned a score and the app displays a Leader Board that shows rankings. Time spent on Meerkat and the number of viewers you have impact the score.

The Meerkat Leader Board – the ultimate in live stream gamification

Can I get all followers to do what I ask them to?
Once you have a loyal fan base, is it possible to get viewers to read an article of yours, follow you on Instagram, share your website URL, etc.?

Can I get more followers by broadcasting?
Ultimately, increasing your number of followers is the most addictive part of Periscope and Meerkat. If you missed out on getting a big following on Twitter, you get another shot with these new platforms.

Can I get my stream featured on the Welcome page?
It’s not clear yet on how Periscope or Meerkat is featuring streams on the screen users see when they launch the apps. There will be a future where getting your stream promoted on the Welcome page of the app will be worth as much as page 1 results in Google.

Gamification for the stream viewers:

Can I get into a room before the chat room is at max capacity?
If there is a celebrity broadcasting on Periscope, you better get there early if you want your question answered!

Can I get my comments answered?
Even if you get into a stream’s chat room, you still need to say something interesting enough for the host to acknowledge you.

Can I get the streamer to do what I ask or show me something?
One of the most popular requests on Periscope is ‘Show me what’s in your fridge?’ Enough said.

Can I make the host stay on longer?
Often the host will say they have to get going, but an interesting question can keep them on the stream.

Can I rattle or stump the host?
This can lead to either hysterical laughter or flat out disgust, depending on the question and temperament of the host. Either way, the questions are embedded in the video for all to see.

But What Does All This Have To Do With Journalism?

Both of these platforms are still young and we’re starting to see various news outlets experiment with the tool. Some broadcasters are doing quick, informal recaps of trending stories and a handful of anchors have set up streams of their broadcasts in real time. There have been some breaking news stories on Periscope, but those broadcasts are competing for eyeballs with the intimate ‘ask me anything’ sessions that Jack Smith IV or billionaire Chris Sacca broadcast on a regular basis. Chris and Jack have mastered the gamification points listed above and audiences keep coming back for more. As a journalist for the Observer, Jack Smith has been keen to interact with his fans on a personal level, but he also makes mention of his digital work on the Observer site, Instagram and other platforms. He says that the Periscope fans have been anxious to consume that content and have been passionate sharers of his work.
Jack Smith
@jacksmithIV has found a regular following on Periscope by broadcasting daily

When you try to cover hard news with Meerkat and Perisocope, you get something that is interactive first, broadcasting quality second. Video is shot in portrait mode only, comments obscure the view of your broadcast and the user is free to float hearts (on Periscope) and unfiltered comments up the side of your video, even during the most downtrodden of events. There are other streaming tools that journalists should explore. StringWire, for example (a NBC owned app), allows for multiple mobile device input, landscape shooting and a mixing console where a producer can control the view of what users see and download clips for editing. StringWire is an incredible piece of broadcasting technology, but the interactive components of Meerkat and Periscope are absent in their early version release. StringWire is more about showing the news. Meerkat and Periscope audiences become part of the news and if they are winning ‘the game,’ the broadcaster might actually let the audience drive the camera views and the broadcast itself.

As a viewer, I’m drawn into Periscope and Meerkat streams that I would normally not seek out through Google search. I can sit shotgun with a parasailor or watch the bustle inside a Swedish restaurant kitchen. Hard news has always competed with whimsy for attention, but the number of cameras on the ground has just increased tremendously. News organizations will have to engage with viewers and build trust and allegiance in a way that they’ve never had to do before. As the young kids say, Game On!

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Top Writing Tips for Journalists Writing to Video, Multimedia Fri, 14 Feb 2014 17:48:43 +0000 Erica Malouf Have you ever watched a news segment or video and been completely and happily absorbed in the story? Or conversely, have you ever been so distracted by the choppy audio and unnecessary narration that you didn’t enjoy it?

As many a broadcast and multimedia journalists know, achieving “happily absorbed” is a skill and an art. But as with any kind of writing, we can study what the pros do.

I’ve adapted most of these tips from a webinar given by a master: Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty, Broadcast and Online at The Poynter Institute. (With some notes of my own.)


When writing to news videos, whether for broadcast or a digital platform, it’s important to keep your writing tight! As Al Tompkins says, ‘the biggest sin is wasting the time of the audience.’

Understand Storytelling: Engaging stories usually follow a tried-and-true formula because…it works. I like to think that the basics of such formulas were figured out during the campfires of cavemen. Storytelling is a defining characteristic of humanity, and your audience is definitely familiar with common story structure even if they aren’t conscious of it. Generally speaking, the audience will like it when a story starts with conflict and ends with resolution.

Pick a Formula: Tompkins recommends the “Hey! You, See, So” structure for news videos. Meaning, start with “Hey!” (the attention grabber), then “You” (the WIIFM—why this is relevant to the viewer), “See” (show evidence), and “So” (the point—what this is all about).

Start Strong: For a news story, jump into the information—don’t waste time with a fluffy introduction. For a narrative, create tension right away.

Remove Redundancies: When you’re editing the accompanying narrative to a video, Tompkins says to “train yourself to spot redundancies.” And cut sound bites that repeat what was said earlier.


  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I need that word for people to understand?’
  • Read your sentences backward in order to catch superfluous words.

Prioritize Video Over Narration: Use narration only for what cannot be shown in the video or told in sound bites and ambient audio. For example, if the video is a man walking down a dirt road, don’t waste time telling us “a man walks down a dirt road.” Instead, explain what can’t be understood from the visuals or audio but is critical to the story. Let the viewer figure some things out on their own.

Use Sound Selectively: Sound—ambient noise and sound bites of people speaking—should not stop the action or cut into the narration in a choppy or jarring way. Tompkins says that “popcorn audio” (described as sound that comes from no where and stops the story for no good reason) is a fad in editing that should be forgotten because it’s distracting. When woven into the story carefully, sound can add credibility to the action and bring the viewer into the scene.

Write the Facts: Narration should be almost all factual. Let the emotion and drama come through sound bites and visuals. I once had a professor tell me to “write flat to drama,” meaning let the action speak for itself and leave out subjective opinion.

Review Grammar: Be judicious with adverbs—try to remove words that end in “ly” because often they are unnecessary opinion.  For example, in the phrase “she cried happily,” happily can be removed, especially if the video or the story indicates that she was clearly happy. Use more active verbs that clearly tell who and what did what.


  • I suggest reading the book, “Writing Tools,” by Roy Peter Clark, and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, to brush up on grammar.

Write for the Platform: Create the narration and edit each video based on the platform. Keep in mind that TV is still a passive experience (except for the second screen, meaning people using another device while watching TV). The Internet is about interactivity, plus know that people have shorter attention spans online and so are apt to bounce more quickly if a video isn’t interesting right away. (Try this free, journalist-friendly tool for creating interactive videos online called KettleCorn that our team at ODDI created.)


Watch this video about VOA’s use of Google Glass to record concert of a Beatles cover band. Do you hear any narration that could be cut because the visuals tell the story without it? What worked and didn’t work?

See more videos of the concert on the Relay platform.

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Journalism stories transformed into interactive videos with KettleCorn Wed, 04 Dec 2013 18:55:59 +0000 Brian Williamson Over the last few weeks we’ve been introducing USIM journalists to KettleCorn. One of the best ways we’ve found to showcase KettleCorn’s power is to remix video from our journalists’ archives  at BBG and enhance them with a layer of interactive content. Here are some of the sample projects we created:

Example A: Capitol Hill Shooting

( Alhurra | Middle East Broadcasting Networks )

Alhurra journalists captured this exclusive raw footage of the Oct. 3 shooting on Capitol Hill.

On Oct. 3, Alhurra’s Khaled Khair and Danny Farkas were reporting from the U.S. capitol when they captured exclusive footage of Miriam Carey fleeing from US Capitol Police and Secret Service agents, driving onto the steps of the Capitol and being fired upon by authorities as she sped away. The raw footage that Alhurra posted on YouTube has been viewed over 430,000 times.

It’s compelling raw footage of breaking news. But it raised a lot of questions and presented several opportunities for remixing in KettleCorn.

Here are some of the KettleCorn enhancements we added:

  • We added a basic lower thirds title at the beginning.
  • Within a few hours we had some background on Miriam Carey.
  • We created a map that shows how the events unfolded from the White House to the Capitol. We explained what Alhurra is.
  • We linked to additional coverage.
  • Because the journalists were broadcasting in Arabic, we provided English subtitles.
  • We were able to quickly translate the project and provide Arabic subtitles of the people being interviewed for Alhurra’s target audience.


Example B: Pussy Riot releases ‘Red Prison’ video

( RFERL | Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty )

Russia's punk protest collective, Pussy Riot, criticizes the state controlled oil industry.

Russia’s Pussy Riot is known for wearing brightly colored balaclavas and staging guerrilla performances in unusual public locations that are edited into music videos. In July, the punk protest collective released a new video criticizing Russia’s state controlled oil companies. RFERL received an advance copy of the video, added English subtitles and posted it inside of an article.

We saw this as another opportunity to provide additional context by bringing video into KettleCorn:

  • We added a basic lower third title at the beginning.
  • We linked to the Wikipedia article to provide some basic background on Pussy Riot.
  • We added images and popups to explain iconography and references in the lyrics.
  • We added the subtitles in KettleCorn. KettleCorn makes it easier to add new translations and republish the project in different languages with new subtitles without having to re-edit and re-render the video in a video editor like Final Cut. The translations can be edited by any journalist, not just the person in charge of video editing.


Example C: Explosions in Nigeria

( VOA | Voice of America )

In April 2013, suicide bombers attacked the This Day newspaper in Nigeria.

In April 2012, Boko Haram launched two coordinated attacks against the This Day newspaper in Nigeria. VOA frequently posts raw (VEL) videos. This raw video shows the devastation of the explosion, as well as reaction from people in the community.

KettleCorn provides a simple way to quickly enhance and add context to these raw videos:

  • We added a basic lower thirds title to the video.
  • We created a map showing the two attacks in Nigeria.
  • We displayed wikipedia articles for This Day (in English) and Boko Haram (Arabic).
  • We spliced in footage from the attack.
  • We linked to additional VOA coverage.
  • We added optional lower thirds titles for the people interviewed in the video.


Example of Non-linear Storytelling: Immigration Debate

( VOA | Voice of America )

KettleCorn can help create non-linear, user defined paths through stories.

Traditional audio- and video-based stories are linear. The video starts at the beginning and the user watches it straight through (or until they become bored and click over to watch some animated cat GIFs).

One of the features we were interested in baking into KettleCorn was an easy way to create non-linear interactive stories — a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure for journalism-based stories. We considered creating a stand alone “Choose your own adventure” plugin, but ultimately decided to add the functionality to the existing text- and image-based plugins.

In this example we’re allowing users to click on different participants in the U.S. immigration debate to hear their opinions.

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Synchronizing MLK’s speech with PopcornJS, Skrollr and Google Docs Wed, 11 Sep 2013 14:06:47 +0000 Brian Williamson On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream speech” at the March on Washington. As part of VOA’s 50th anniversary coverage, ODDI decided to transform archival footage of King’s speech into an interactive video with subtitles and synchronized interactive content to help provide context for the speech for an international audience.

In the end we weren’t able to secure the rights to the entire speech. As a result, this abridged version of the project is meant as a proof of concept and an inspiration for future stories (currently the project works best in Google Chrome). The JavaScript libraries we used support modern browsers and mobile devices, but for this demo we decided to limit the time we spent making it work across browsers and devices.

Making More Popcorn

One of our goals this year is to help international journalists create more interactive audio and video stories. We’re approaching this challenge on three different levels:

  • Quick turn video projects where journalists want to add simple context.
  • Medium-scale projects with more interactivity and more layers of information.
  • Larger scale, custom built projects that require a designer and developer.

For the smaller and medium scale projects, we’re currently forking a version of the Popcorn Maker project for the specific needs of journalists. We’re restyling the look and feel, adding new plugins to reduce the time to publish and building in translation support to promote sharing across language services.

For larger custom audio and video stories, like the “I have a dream” project, we’re using the Popcorn.js library to synchronize media with layers of context and interactive elements.


We added popup explanations and links throughout the speech.


We were definitely inspired by NPR’s “Lost and Found” project, created by Claire O’Neill and Wes Lindamood. “Lost and Found” tells the story of the obscure but masterful photographer Charles Cushman by synchronizing a radio story with a portfolio of Cushman’s photos.

The project used Popcorn.js to synchronize the audio with photographs and text. According to the website, “Popcorn.js is an HTML5 media framework written in JavaScript for filmmakers, web developers, and anyone who wants to create time-based interactive media on the web.”

Using Popcorn.js you can include a variety of plugins for synchronizing different types of content—like images, wikipedia articles and maps—with audio or video. For this project I stuck with the popcorn.code.js plugin, which allows you to easily execute JavaScript at specific times during the audio or video.

var p = Popcorn( "#video" )
  start: 3,
  end: 8,
  onStart: function( options ) {
  alert('Insert your JavaScript magic here');

When the video reaches the 3-second mark, the browser executes whatever JavaScript you’ve included.

Scrolling with Skrollr

A parallax site features different elements appearing on the screen and moving at different speeds as the user scrolls down the page. Over the last year, we’ve seen a number of journalism stories told with parallax scrolling, from ESPN’s story on Dock Ellis to La Tercera’s story on the 40th anniversary of the Chilean military coup.

At ODDI, we’ve also been interested in using parallax scrolling for storytelling. As an added challenge, we decided to create a story where the scrolling was driven by the video.

We experimented with a number of different parallax libraries. Ultimately we decided on Skrollr.js for the following reasons:

  • It has a proven track record for professional projects (inside journalism and out).
  • It played nicely with our CMS.
  • It supports mobile (which wasn’t a priority for this project, but it’s nice to know for the future).
  • Several tutorials are available here, here and here.
  • It has a simple, familiar syntax (most of the action is handled by CSS-like attributes).

The animation is defined by “data-#” attributes in the HTML tags. Any CSS attribute can be animated over time.

< div id="king_cutout" data-100="opacity:0;top:-100px;" data-500="opacity:1;top:50px;">
    < img src="../img/photo.png"/>

In this example, when the the scroll position is 100 (“data-100″), the opacity is 0 (invisible) and the position is -100px (off screen). As the user scrolls to 500 (“data-500″) the image fades in to an opacity value of 1 and moves down to 50px from the top of browser. Positions can be described in pixels or percentages, but you’ll need to use consistent units across the entire animation.


We used PopcornJS to synchronize subtitles and kinetic type.

Creating Subtitles with TabletopJS + GoogleDocs

One of our major goals for this project was to include subtitles for King’s speech. I wrote about using Google spreadsheets and TabletopJS to support translations in a previous post. The idea here is very similar.

I started off with a spreadsheet page in English that includes the speech broken up into sentences. I added a column to timecode each block of text by seconds. I then create a separate page for each translation.

There’s a quick and dirty solution for translating a spreadsheet. You can use Google Translate to translate cells in a google spreadsheet.


“English” = the name of the spreadsheet page source (optional)
“B3″ = the cell source of the text
“en” = English, the language you’re translating from
“zh-CN” = the language code for the language we’re translating into (simplified Chinese)

This technique offers varying degrees of success. Google Translate appears to work better for western languages (Here’s a link to the Spanish version translated by Google). But regardless, it offers a starting point and is a very quick way of translating the speech into dozens of languages. For a public facing project we would still rely on human translator to provide an accurate translation.


Map overlays were used to show the path of the protesters and places mentioned in King’s speech.

…But Wait, There’s More

Since we’re already loading in a Google spreadsheet, I decided to use a spreadsheet page to handle the timing and locations for the scrolling.

Rather than manually creating a separate popcorn.code.js event for each scroll, I added a spreadsheet page with the start times, end times, scroll position and length of time for each scroll. Then I created a loop that runs through the page to create the code events. This made it significantly easier to add and edit times without having to update the JavaScript file.

var numberOfScrolls = scrollData.length;
//scrollData is the data that was loaded in by TabletopJS
var scrolls_array = [];
for (i=0;i<numberOfScrolls;i++){
 var startTime=Number(scrollData[i].starttime);
 var endTime=Number(scrollData[i].endtime);
 var scrollPosition=Number(scrollData[i].scrollpos);
  start: startTime,
  end: endTime,
  paragraphID: scrolls_array[i],
  scrollPos: scrollPosition,
   var currentElem = options.paragraphID;
   s.animateTo(options.scrollPos, {duration:1000});

Future Storytelling Opportunities

There was definitely a learning curve trying to integrate Popcorn.js and Skrollr into a project that runs in our CMS. But we were able to resolve most of the technical issues, and now we’re looking forward to working with language services at the BBG to find new stories that could benefit from this treatment.

What do you like about this project and what suggestions do you have? Please comment!

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How To Have a World Class Google Hangout Fri, 02 Aug 2013 20:31:22 +0000 Randy Abramson Google Hangouts, the video conferencing tool that lets you chat with up to nine other pals, is an incredible piece of free technology. For casual gatherings online, hanging out couldn’t be easier. To set up a Hangout, first make sure your guests have laptops, mobile devices or PCs with camera and microphone capabilities. Next, send invites to your friends via email or by tapping them in Google+ and, boom–you’re having a real-time video chat session.

As the Director of Audio/Video at the Office of Digital and Design Innovation, I wanted to explore how our journalists could use Hangouts to cover breaking news and for in depth analysis. Hangouts can allow news organizations to quickly react to breaking news and have their best and brightest join from wherever they are, including from mobile devices (as long as they have adequate bandwidth–more on that below). No need for satellite transmissions or rushing talent to studios. Additionally, Hangouts On Air (a separate product from standard Hangouts) can allow broadcasters to record their Hangouts to YouTube and download those clips for further editing.

However, the requirements of a global news organization like the BBG reach beyond those of a casual video chat. We’d want to create a broadcast with journalists from around the globe, some of whom may be on mobile devices. We’d also want to market the broadcast, take feedback from users in real time and present a professional-looking broadcast with graphics, plus have timed camera changes and high quality audio. With this in mind, we realized the process would be a lot more complicated and require coordinated preparation. But going the extra mile to make sure Hangouts look great and perform well for a global audience is worth the effort.

Here are some tips to turn a Hangout into a broadcast quality production.

Assemble Your Team

You’ll want to come up with a team roster that looks like this:

1. Hangout On Air Producer: The producer hosts the Hangout, controls the Cameraman (allows switching camera view between guests) and the Hang Out Tool Box app (provides lower third graphics that identify your host and guests), plus sends out YouTube links to social editors and more.

2. Host/Moderator: The host/moderator comes up with an agenda, asks the questions and drives the conversation during the Hangout.

3. Social Media Editor: The social media editor promotes the Hangout on social channels, edits and moderates comments on the Google+ page during Hangouts and updates the status/ending of Hangouts on social channels.

4. Guests: The guests participate in the real-time conversation along with the host.

5. Video Editor: The video editor downloads the Hangout On Air from YouTube, edits it, then uploads the polished clip to YouTube, Google+ and other platforms.

A peek at the Google Hangout Toolbox App which allows you to generate lower third graphics and more

Check Your Equipment

1. Bandwidth: Perhaps the most important thing that can ensure a high quality Hangout is bandwidth availability, both for the host and the guests. Although Google has added features to allow participants to lower their bandwidth requirements to help smooth out their broadcast or opt for audio-only transmission, you should shoot for each participant to have a minimum of 1 MB per second transmission speed, for upload and download. There are several speed check applications out there that can help you determine your speed. Have your guests check their bandwidth performance (especially mobile participants) well ahead of the Hangout.

2. Microphones and Cameras: Sure, you can rely on the built in camera and microphone on your laptop, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Pay some extra bucks and greatly improve your broadcast quality by getting stand alone microphones and cameras.

3. Headphones: This one is easy to forget, but it’s imperative to use headphones. Why? Because without headphones, your participants will be listening to the broadcast from your computer’s speakers, and that sound will loop back into the microphone, causing a screeching feedback sound. In short, don’t forget the headphones!

A look at how media organizations are using Google Hangouts

Do a Dry Run: Have An Agenda and a Backup Plan

Nothing can kill the excitement of a live broadcast than an unprepared host and technical problems.  You should definitely have a practice dry run to make sure everyone has equipment correctly configured.  Additionally, be sure that your host has a full agenda and shares it with your guests ahead of time.  Also, if you are planning on including a guest on a mobile device, be sure to have other guests that are on traditional wired connections ready in case the mobile participant’s connection is not up to par and needs to drop out of the conversation.

Promote and Polish Your Hangout

Decide early on if you want your Hangout to be promoted and viewed live by others. Of course, promoting the Hangout and having it watched live is high pressure, but you’ve already gone through the steps above, did a dry run and are ready to conquer the world of real-time broadcast, right?  If you do decide to promote your Hangout, be sure to create an event on Google+ and promote it on Facebook, Twitter and your own Web and mobile properties. Also, a site called Hype My Hangout can help you create some very slick promotional materials. Finally, if you broadcast a Hangout On Air that has been recorded to YouTube, be sure to download the clip, edit and polish it. Add title cards and relevant graphics. And don’t forget to reduce the clip to include just the best moments. Hangouts tend to be visually dry, so be sure to keep your editing tight.

Improve With Every Hangout

With each Hangout, your producer and the entire Hangout team should be getting more comfortable and confident. The team should start using Google Chat to take direction from the producer. Social editors should become more and more independent and hopefully you will have repeat guests who don’t need as much up-front training. The practice sessions and early live broadcasts will help form valuable habits that will especially come in handy for breaking news situations. Follow the tips above and you’ll be broadcasting world class Hangouts in no time.

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5 Keys To a Successful Global IPTV Strategy Mon, 24 Jun 2013 21:16:03 +0000 Randy Abramson The International Broadcaster Opportunity

If you’re a video publisher, your interest in IPTV surely spiked when you read that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reported last July that the company streamed over one billion hours to its customers that month.  Knowing that there are over 27 million U.S. Netflix customers as opposed to only 6.3 million overseas, it can be assumed that most of that streaming didn’t happen in places like Nigeria or Indonesia.  Still, the Netflix numbers are inspiring and international broadcasters surely began to be think about distributing to IPTV hotspots outside of the U.S.  IPTV, which is defined as video delivered to connected devices via Internet Protocol on a closed network, has to be part of any broadcaster’s strategy, but the challenges to international broadcasters are especially great.

A Fragmented World

Once you step beyond the Western IPTV monsters providers of Netflix and Hulu and hardware solutions like XBox and Roku, it becomes clear that, well, the path to IPTV distribution is anything but clear.  Below we look at how users in the U.S., Japan, China, France, Germany, Italy and the UK connect devices to IPTV content.


Source: NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Smart TV Usage Study, April 2013

In looking at the device usage, it’s clear that there is no standout hardware platform to chase.  Game consoles appear to be in the lead in usage, but this metric fluctuates by region.  For example, in China, OTT media center boxes lead with 23% whereas the UK sees more people using game consoles to consume TV media at 20%.

Chasing IPTV Users

Americans might be surprised to know that well over 40% of IPTV usage is happening in Asia.  There is also explosive growth in Russia (ROS TV added 50,000 subscribers in one month in St. Petersburg alone) and the Middle East/North Africa region is expected to see 10X growth in paid IPTV subscriptions by 2014.  However, figuring  out where IPTV customers are, and are going to be, is only one piece of an effective international IPTV strategy.  Below we lay out five steps that can help focus your international IPTV strategy:

1. Where to start? Find your sweet spot

Figuring out where to start distributing your content in the world of IPTV can be mind numbing.  If you’re targeting the Western world, things are easy: you’d probably start by going after Netflix, Hulu and Roku.  And if you’re feeling extra aggressive, develop for Google TV.  But when you look at the global landscape, the playing field is a lot different.  You have local TelCos that offer IPTV services.  You have independent hardware manufacturers that are more than happy to distribute content to their custom OTT boxes.  And, you have frontrunners like BesTV in China and  MT in Russia who are massive growth.  What platforms should you target first? The best thing to do is to take a step back and find markets and partners that represent your ‘sweet spot’ – the place where  your mission, partner reach and content inventory intersect. Think about these buckets when figuring out where and how to distribute your content:

  • Mission: As a publisher, you may have a mission to reach a particular population. Focusing on where these people are and what platforms they are using to connect to IPTV content can help you focus on where to start.
  • Partner Reach: You may have found a partner that will make getting on an IPTV platform easy for you.  They’ll ingest and encode your content, they’ll build you an app for their OTT box…you’ll be up and running in no time.  However, this is the time to ask about this platform’s penetration and usage in your target market.  Although the relationship sounds risk free, there are always updates and upkeep to think about. Go with the platform that has the largest reach to justify the work.
  • Content Inventory: Early on, you should form a strategy around the content volume and mix you have available for your IPTV presence, but realize that requirements vary from partner to partner.  Some platforms require 24/7 live feeds, others are happy with loops of content that make up the 24 hour cycle.  Also, try to find out what type of content performs best for the market you are trying to reach and program appropriately.

2. Have a Marketing Plan
Once your content is on a platform, you will be competing with other publishers that want to capture the eyes of your potential audience. The sheer number of choices in IPTV environments can be daunting. Take a look at the number of channels that exist for these three platforms:


How does your channel stand out in a sea of hundreds? Having a marketing strategy can help. Trying to negotiate promotion with the platform provider is great place to start. Having your content front and center when users fire up their OTT box, for example, is worth its weight in gold. Also, think about the platforms you control that can help market your content on this new platform. Do you have available ad space on your Web site? Market the IPTV platform there. Same goes for available time on your radio, TV, mobile or print outlets.

3. Maximize Your Development Efforts
If you go ahead and develop your own app for IPTV platforms, take a good hard look at how your code can be repurposed for other platforms and devices. For example, can any of your code for a Google TV app be repurposed to drive an Android mobile phone app? Or, if you are programming primarily in HTML 5 for a particular partner, be sure to find out what other platforms require similar code so that you can reuse code and maximize your development efforts.

4. Diversify Your Content Distribution
IPTV is promising in many markets, but technology trends change rapidly, as do user habits. Don’t put all of your eggs in one platform basket. IPTV may be working in certain locations now, but users may, for example, move to mobile phone video viewing once mobile plan pricing changes. Or, bundling of IPTV delivery into existing technologies like traditional cable boxes may push users to abandon OTT devices. In short, stay alert and be aware of emerging trends.

5. Learn From Your Audience
When it comes to new platforms, metrics are your best friend. It’s imperative to not only monitor how much content your users are consuming, but also understanding what type of content they are consuming. Are they more inclined to watch short form content or long form? Is it hard news or lifestyle content? Also, be sure to watch metrics that are tied to major design elements. Are your users finding content? Are your navigation and search interfaces effective? Researching and iterating on your product is essential to your ultimate success.

RELATED: Download our IPTV: Opportunities and Challenges for International Media infographic (right click, save)

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Streaming Media: Opportunities and Challenges in 2013 Fri, 24 May 2013 16:56:24 +0000 Randy Abramson If you’re a developer at a media company these days, you’re sure to run and cower in a corner the minute your biz/dev team announces they have some new ideas around distribution. You’ll be asked to deliver to content to Apple devices, which use native media players on their phones but allow for HTML 5 players on their tablets. You’ll be asked to develop an app for one of the dozens of ‘over-the-top’ boxes that have their own unique requirements. And when someone says flippantly, ‘we’ll only develop this for Android,’ you’ll pipe up and shout out that there are multiple Android operating systems in use and a never-ending list of hardware manufacturers using the platform. In short, things were never easy when it came to digital distribution, and it’s not getting any easier.

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Streaming Media East, a conference that took place in New York City on 5/21-22 brought together some of the strongest minds in the media industry to walk through emerging trends that are disrupting the very nature of the television screen as well as the pathways to get to those screens, wherever they may be. Below are some of the big takeaways from the conference:

No Silver Bullets
If you were hoping that 2013 would be the year that we saw device and platform fragmentation wither and die, keep dreaming. MLB reported that they see thousands of unique Android device models hit their services everyday. You were able to get a sense of how fragmented the industry is by just visiting the conference Streaming Pavilion where you could lose yourself in the line of 50 leading hardware devices and platforms (and, no, they did not have the new Xbox One there). As you can see in the chart below, globally there are no clear platform winners for digital delivery. Even digital powerhouses like Google have seen low sales on their Google TV device (1,000,000 active units, world wide) and Roku has only recently hit the 5,000,000 units sold mark. The smart move for media companies is to try to target specific regions or demographics and cherry pick platform development that are the best fit.

IPTV Device Usage

Source: NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Smart TV Usage Study, April 2013

It’s Gotta Just Work
If you want your digital media delivery to be taken as seriously as a traditional television network, then your apps, whether on a phone or over-the-top box, need to work flawlessly. Users expect things to ‘just work’ (just like that good, old fashioned TV set) and meeting that demand may mean that you have to scale back on features that can slow performance down. Damon Phillips of ESPN spoke about starting simple and the care the digital team takes to eliminate buffering when delivering video assets to the user. Additionally,  there was a lot of conversation around making the most of the team that you have by focusing in and taking care to develop great performing apps on key platforms instead of trying to get on as many platforms as you can.  Again, you’re better off having a lite, optimized app on one platform that users enjoy using than a handful of apps that don’t feel native to the platform they are on and are not prime time.

Interactive TV Ain’t Easy
There have been endless critiques of the Huffington Post interactive TV effort, Huffington Post Live, but it’s impossible to deny that from workflow and scale perspective, the folks at HuffPo are pushing the limits of innovation. Tim McDonald was on hand from HuffPo to discuss the work that is involved to deliver programming for 12 hours a day, every day. One of the biggest parts of the effort is the search to find, as Tim calls them, ‘contributors that have skin in the game.’ The community managers at HuffPo are not looking for your standard talking head…they are looking for folk who are passionate and normally do not have a major media platform to voice their opinions on. Finding these people requires a good deal of trolling for experts in the HuffPo forums and also searching through the high volume of user ‘auditions’ that come through the site. Once guests are identified, HuffPo employees then train the guests on how to make use of the Google Hangout or Skype conferencing interfaces, and go over things like mic controls and lighting. Even though there are some bumps, it is astounding how much of the HuffPo Live experience goes off without a hitch.


Forget What You Think You Know
If you read digital strategy blogs, you can be lulled into submission when experts start to talk about ‘engagement on the second screen’ (meaning mobile devices used while watching a traditional TV set) and the benefits of personalization. But the conversations at Streaming Media East were more forward looking, providing new ways to look at these emerging themes. First up, there were brain twisting conversations about what makes a ‘second screen’ in the first place. A user may start watching a show on a mobile device on their commute home from work (acting as a first screen here), but on entering the home, the viewer may throw the programming to an over-the-top box like Apple TV. Now, the mobile device becomes the second screen and is ready to be used for engagement instead of straight consumption. The challenge is there for content producers to create exciting experiences around this sort of functionality transition. In the case of personalization, we normally thing about specific content sent to your device based on what media orgs know about you through analysis of your past viewing behaviors. You see this all the time in the ‘you might also like’ list of recommended clips on any video asset page you visit. However, we are entering a time when device capabilities can help transmit more data about who you are and what your likes are than your past viewing habits. Apps like Google Now can make use of the accelerometer in phones to learn how much you travel, if you like to bike vs. walk, your favorite places to get coffee, etc. Content can be delivered around these themes (example: travel, sports) based on intelligence gleamed from your normal behavior. Of course, someone in your org will request that the personalized recommendations work across all platforms, which is a daunting task. Mobile analytics experts at Flurry recently reported that developers who want to reach 90% of the market of active devices need to actually write for 331 unique models. That’s a lot of developer overtime.


This is a magical time for publishers as they are able to reach viewers with personalized content and on devices that didn’t seem possible before. Publishers are bound to feel like they’re already behind in distributing to all platforms and services, but the smart move would be to take a deep breath and find the most relevant audiences, see how they are consuming content and deliver to those places first. In short, prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.

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Interview with Andrew Golis, PBS FRONTLINE Tue, 05 Mar 2013 01:11:21 +0000 April Deibert Andrew Golis is the Director of Digital Media/Senior Editor at PBS FRONTLINE.  In September 2012, he and the rest of the FRONTLINE team won the General Excellence Award for Online Journalism from the Online News Association.  In December 2012, Golis was listed by Forbes in their annual “30 under 30” list for media.  He expanded FRONTLINE’s digital-first original reporting and analysis, and grew its digital audience by over 50% while launching a series of experiments in interactive video.  During this interview, Rob Bole (Director of Innovation at ODDI) and I speak with Golis about how he is continuing to help steer FRONTLINE’s traditional broadcast toward their digital future.


Full Video Interview [33min 42sec]


Key Takeaways

– Thinking about and producing content for the ‘Bored at Work’ Network vs. the ‘Lean Back at Home’ Network is equally important. Referring to phrases by BuzzFeed Founder/CEO Jonah Peretti, Golis notes that there tends to be a ‘bored at work’ network of users (those who like to access quick, bite-size pieces of information through video or easy-to-read articles in between other tasks) and a ‘lean back at home’ network of users (those who enjoy kicking back at home to watch a thought-provoking documentary).   The ‘bored at work’ network likely browse places like Buzzfeed, Gawker, Huffington Post, or Yahoo News/Blogs, while the ‘lean back at home’ users are likely to enjoy traditional evening broadcasts.

Within each of these networks are different ‘tribes’, or communities of thought.  Golis notes that FRONTLINE’s tribe is a uniquely difficult ‘tribe’ to organize, because it has to be built around “abstract and high-brow things such as transparency, accountability, fairness and the importance of narrative.”  Whereas most other tribes can be built around simple things like political party or niche interest.

Overlap in viewing and engagement practices between these audience networks is expected.  There are over 150 FRONTLINE shows streaming for free on the website.  Those who tend to be part of the ‘lean back at home’ network can also easily browse through the guilty pleasures of the ‘bored at work’ network. There is a seemingly endless supply of digital content linked to each documentary including full-length interviews, news about ongoing investigations, digitized official documents from archives, transcripts and more.  Golis notes that this strategy has encouraged engagement with a core group of FRONTLINE fans that continues to grow.  People tend to want to know more about issues that intrigue them and are eager to read follow-up threads about what happens with individuals, companies and organizations that FRONTLINE investigated.


– Creative audience engagement is keyTo build up your ‘tribes’, sometimes you must go to other ‘tribes’ and show your goods.  Sometimes there are scheduled live chats where the FRONTLINE producer and a reporter from a major news outlet take questions from the audience about the show (as was done for Cliffhanger).  FRONTLINE’s audience (a tribe) is made privy to the upcoming chat and the major news outlet (the other tribe) is made privy as well.  Thus, there is a pooling of two audiences that may be interested in what the other has to offer.  Golis explains that this is a great time to show your best content to the ‘other tribes’ so their audience will come on over in the future.  This may translate into converted users and a potential uptick in Facebook followers or newsletter signups.

Live-tweeting is another way to engage the filmmakers, reporters, commentators and audience members during broadcast.  This practice encourages all viewers to converse about the program as it’s happening.

Audience engagement can also come in the form of being receptive to groups most directly affected by the documentaries.  For example, Golis points out that after Flying Cheap aired, a lot of airline pilots contacted FRONTLINE to say that the investigative piece was missing a huge issue relating to the subcontracting of maintenance.  With a commitment to expanding on the comments to develop a story worthy of nearly an hour of television, the pilot’s comments facilitated the follow up show, Flying Cheaper.


– The depth of audience engagement means more than measuring the face value of web analytics.  Golis says that it is indeed important for FRONTLINE to know how many people they reach, but it is particularly important to understand the depth of that engagement.  While it may be great to reach a couple million unique users, Golis and his team are interested in keeping people engaged for a proper amount of time—either by watching the full-length documentaries or by getting them to click through all the other videos and documents on the FRONTLINE site.


– Design is important to create a natural stream of ongoing reporting for the audience to follow-up on.  Golis acknowledges the uncommon practice of FRONTLINE reporters publishing reports ahead of and after commissioned broadcasts.  For example, Law & Disorder reporters produced lots of follow up threads due to the huge interest in what happened following the broadcast.  After all, the original documentary resulted in the arrest of eight New Orleans police officers for corrupt conduct and boosted police department oversight policies.  Golis and the editorial staff have learned that the production of interactive reports (artifacts, transcripts, other documents) before and after a broadcast really creates a core demographic of interested followers.  Golis believes that “the more material that surfaces to show transparency, the more credible the reporting and the more interest it drives.”


– Storytelling with interactive artifacts counts for extra.  The process of developing the David Headley piece for A Perfect Terrorist evolved through several stages.  Golis expresses that YouTube is great, but it lacks interactivity to turn it into a real digital artifact.  To figure out how a story would look as an interactive video story, FRONTLINE invited several creative filmmakers to come up with new techniques.

One gentleman, Tom Jennings (FRONTLINE Producer for Law & Disorder, Doctor Hotspot, A Perfect Terrorist, and Money, Power & Wall Street), suggested that the Headley story should be told as a web of relationships.  For those who are not familiar with this story, Headley was the American who masterminded the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.  He was a former heroine smuggler and a DEA informant.  According to Golis, Jennings knew that “Headley’s life was only made possible by this really complex web of relationships that he was able to play.”  Jennings laid out his vision for what this may look like as an interactive.

So a hack day was set up.  Initially, a radio piece was created.  As the audio progressed, the Headley story moved across a timeline. As the timeline moved along, it elaborated on various individual relationships that Headley had (such as law enforcement or terrorist cell connections).  Jennings then drew the Hadley network out on a whiteboard to create a visual.  The hack team felt that it would be ideal to be able to click on each item to watch video–then pause the video to look at other related bits of information.

The team then thought about a viral YouTube video of Picasso painting on glass.  So the team bought a giant piece of glass, set it up and they filmed Jennings talking to the camera while drawing the interactive web of relationships.  To create the interactive portion, FRONTLINE hired an interactive-focused firm to animate it to have nodes to click on.  The interactive team creatively used Popcorn.js to design custom-made interactive graphics.  Golis credits his editorial team’s success with this documentary to the fact that they developed the script first and then sought out the technology to build the visual form.


– Golis feels that collaboration between broadcast teams and digital teams will lead to some of the best reporting that FRONTLINE has ever done.  Reports are beginning to be posted for a broadcast about the NFL and concussions (scheduled to air later this year).  In it’s current form, their website Concussion Watch aims to continuously update digital artifacts to add to the transparency of the interactive publishing and broadcasting format.

With the adaptation of interactive reporting, FRONTLINE has also attracted new talent to the team through their broadcasts who are interested in expanding on the design of interactive materials.

And, to make videos more accessible and user-friendly, the FRONTLINE tag management system has been improved so that things can be easily sorted and found.  As an example, Golis specifically references the way they broke down the oral history site for The Choice 2012 by allowing for keyword/phrase searches like “Obama and Drones” or “Romney and Abortion.”


No time to watch the whole interview?  Here’s a couple snippets.

1. Golis on producing content for different types of audiences [3min 14sec]


2. Golis on the creative, editorial and technical process behind the interactive David Headley piece, A Perfect Terrorist [7min 41sec]:


For more information:


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(Thank you to Andrew Golis (@agolis) and Rob Bole (@rbole) for their contributions to this post.)

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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How to Select an Online Video/Audio Platform: A Perspective From an International Broadcaster Mon, 17 Dec 2012 11:57:01 +0000 Randy Abramson I’m Randy Abramson, Director of Products and Operations here at the Office of Digital and Design Innovation at BBG.

Digital audio and video delivery couldn’t be more important to our organization. The BBG creates over 1500 hours of audio content alone in over 40 languages each week and delivers it to a worldwide audience. Selecting a new online video/audio platform (OVAP) was a great challenge (and fantastic opportunity) that presented itself to our group over the summer. We needed to find a best-in-class platform that would integrate with our existing content management systems and leverage the performance from the content delivery network that we are currently working with.

When selecting a new platform, we judged providers on the following criteria and how they would best serve our organization:

1. (Improve) File Performance and Quality + Services
How could a potential OVAP provider help us deliver audio and video content to our users quickly and in the best quality possible? Being an international provider, we have a wide array of devices being used and bandwidth capabilities. We carefully looked at OVAP player ‘click-to-start’ speeds in order to ensure that clips played quickly and that player downloads were lightweight and speedy. We also wanted to make sure that the providers played well with our partnered content delivery network and provided an intuitive content management system for our multimedia editors to upload their content into, create playlists and manage metadata. API access was also key for us in order to create a workflow that was seamless for our editors. For that group, only one log-on and interface experience should be present. It will take some time to integrate these systems, but having the capabilities and flexibility via APIs was a paramount concern for us.

2. (Extend) Access/Reach
We were also very interested in the OVAP’s ability to reach more people, again focusing on the challenge we have with varying technical limitations within specific devices. Does the player offer HTML 5 players for iOS devices and also provide Flash fallback for browsers that are not HTML 5 compliant? How would our audio and video files render on lower end phones? And can we get our content and metadata out of the OVAP environment and into syndication destinations that were perhaps not being blocked in closed societies? Drilling further on that point, we were looking for providers that would help us syndicate our content to key strategic media portals quickly. We understand that there are always diverse requirements that syndication partners require, but finding a provider that offered connectors for the bigger syndication partners out of the gate would save us time and get us to market quickly.

3. (More) Innovation
Being the Office of Digital and Design Innovation, we have great respect for those who focus on moving beyond their current product offerings. We were looking for providers that had robust road maps, full of concepts that would help us deliver audio and video storytelling experiences that went beyond clicking play and leaning back. Providers would need to help us think beyond the audio and video player. How can other elements be synched with a timeline to create a new experience? How can a vendor help us deliver true HD experiences from devices that range in size from a smartphone to a wall sized TV? How does your company interact with the development community? Does your technology have sharing tools that exploit the explosive engagement around social media platforms? These are the questions that we asked around innovation and were looking for when assessing providers.

This wall display from NDS is made up of 6 panels and runs on Google Chrome and HTML5. Could this be your next television set up?

4. (Richer) Data Analysis
Lastly, we analyzed capabilities around delivering audio and video metrics. As we drive to be more metrics driven, we needed easily exportable data that would inform play count, play duration, file format played, browser and device used, as well as analytics around what part of the world the clip was played back in and sharing. Ultimately, we want to know more about what platform the media was played on. Did a user view or hear the clip on BBG language service site? Was the player ‘snagged’ and then embedded into a personal blog or played back on a Facebook page? These are all data points that will help us understand our audience and continue to develop content and services that best fit their particular needs.

We are very excited about helping to distribute the great BBG content that is created each and every day. Partnering with the right OVAP technology group can help us make sure that our users have an experience that matches the quality of the content that our organization provides.

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MPEG-DASH & the Future of Adaptive Media Delivery Fri, 12 Oct 2012 13:15:34 +0000 Adam Martin Delivering high quality viewing and listening experiences to diverse audiences across an ever-expanding range of connected, digital devices is a technology and workflow challenge for any media organization. When the complexities of available digital infrastructure in emerging markets are introduce, the challenges become even more formidable.


MPEG Dash in Live Tests on Google Chrome, 8 Oct 2012 via BeetTV on YouTube


MGEG-DASH is an emerging international standard for efficient, high-quality delivery of streaming media over the Internet that takes a universal, open approach to solving this challenge. It offers content producers and technologists an opportunity to simplify their process and provide an improved experience to audiences on multiple platforms and devices with varying levels of bandwidth connectivity.

DASH stands for Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP and takes an open standards-based approach to delivering an adaptive streaming service similar to current solutions provided by Apple, Microsoft and Adobe. This more open approach to the challenge of adaptive streaming focuses on providing formats that enable more efficient delivery of audio, video and related metadata without strict proprietary requirements for codecs, containers and protocols.

While Apple’s HLS for streaming video and audio content to iOS devices, Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming for Silverlight and Adobe’s HDS for Flash all share similar technologies for creating multiple media file segmented encodings of various sizes and bitrates and pairing them with a time-coded manifest file.  They also all rely on methods that are incompatible with one another and require individual configurations on the media player client application to be successfully played-back by the end-user.

With DASH, the plan is to implement the best features found in each of these HTTP adaptive streaming solutions and create a new standard that can be used in all connected devices including mobile handhelds, tablets, laptops and desktops as well as over-the-top devices and connected TVs while remaining agnostic toward the codec (think H.264 vs WebM vs Vorbis) and file format container (MP4 or MPEG-2 TS). This new specification would allow audio and video content producers, content delivery networks, device and software manufacturers to simplify existing workflows and infrastructure while optimizing the user experience on all platforms.

DASH does face challenges on its way to full adoption from key stakeholders in the video delivery ecosystem who have invested significantly in their current technologies. Mozilla, makers of the Firefox browser, also may not support the new specification because of underlying dependencies on patented technologies that require royalty payments.

MGEG DASH in its current form does not present a clear path to a single solution for content producers or technologists targeting the growing multitude of connected devices and HTML5 browsers. It does however offer the potential for emerging international markets to provide flexible audio and video presentations that reach across the entire bandwidth spectrum to engage audiences in new ways without the burdens of high operating costs or over-commitment to any single technology provider.


Additional Resources:


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(Thank you to Adam Martin for his contributions to this post.  To contact Adam: amartin at bbg dot gov or @adamjmartin on Twitter]

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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