Steve Davi

Steve Davi, SVP Engineering at Synacor, is responsible for their overall software product development as they innovate and launch modern/multiscreen experiences, advertising and next generation products enabling subscribers to access all their favorite shows, apps, games, news, and cloud services, all in one place, any time, anywhere, on the device of their choosing.

Steve is also passionate about agile software developing helping to move the entire Synacor and SeaChange software engineering organizations to agile. His experience at SeaChange is briefly described in Ken Schwaber's book, Software in 30 Days.

Steve holds a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Computer Science and has more than 29 years of professional experience in the software industry. He received the Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1985 and currently sits on the WPI Arts and Sciences Advisory Board to help shape the future direction of WPI's Engineering department.

The “Me” Channel in the Age of Personalization


I spent last night with Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Stephen Colbert, a bunch of zombies, and my smartphone. It made for an entertaining evening that was uniquely me; however, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this experience.

Mobile devices are changing our world; report after report indicates that these devices are having an enormous impact, especially on the video ecosystem.

“Over 29% of online video views are on a mobile device, a market share increase of 45% YOY. Video viewing on smartphones is continuing to gain popularity with 56% YOY share growth.” - Adobe Digital Index Q3 2014

“Mobile video may account for over 50% of online video consumption by 2016. The amount of time people spend watching mobile video increased 719% from Q4 2011 to Q4 2013. Mobile viewers aren’t just watching short videos anymore; 53% of them are watching videos that are over 30 minutes long.” - Ooyala’s Global Video Index Q4 2013

“28 percent [of millenials] watch television on a tablet and 22 percent on a smartphone” - Preliminary results of the second NATPE and the Consumer Electronics Association joint research study on consumers’ attitudes toward television viewing Q1 2015

Clearly, video viewing on the smartphone or tablet is increasing significantly. Content providers (e.g. HBO and CBS) and Service providers (e.g. Dish Sling TV and Sony Playstation Vue) are offering more content (live and on-demand) across more devices, fueling more OTT activity. As more OTT offerings are made available to consumers and mobile devices get cheaper, the impact on video viewing will increase. Hence, OTT technology providers must conquer the challenge of creating a user experience on devices with small screen real-estate that is pleasing, personalized, and profitable.

1) Pleasing

The ample OTT choices available to consumers put them in the driver’s seat. If the experience isn’t quick and easy, they will experience fatigue and abandon it for another option. For example, automatic authentication of the consumer (i.e. bypassing login credentials when the consumer is in their home and federating those credentials across multiple mobile applications) has reduced abandonment rate from 50%+ to 0%.

Due to the short attention span of most consumers, content must be presented in a relevant way in order to quickly grab, and retain, their attention. Given the video aspect of the content, it must also be presented in a visual appealing manner, which can take up a lot of precious screen real estate. Hence, personalized ordering in the experience is critical; e.g. a consumer might want to see what they have been paused first, then what's new, and then what’s recommendation. Just as critical is video quality; i.e. ensuring that the consumer sees the best quality picture regardless of device and connected speed. The technology provider with the most relevant personalization, ensuring that the most applicable material is presented first and foremost, will win.

2) Personalized

Smart data about viewer activities enables the technology and provider to react to behavioral change; i.e. they can quickly analyze, recommend and enhance the entire consumer viewing experience. Another key to engagement is giving the user reasons to keep coming back. By constantly reordering the content, the experience gives the impression that the video catalog is changing more often than it really is and rewards the consumer for constantly coming back to the experience.

Data to drive the personalization engine can be collected from a large number of consumers or a larger number of sources. Millions of on-line activities each month from people searching, viewing, buying, and sharing can be turned into personalized recommendations, such as, since you followed “Vikings” a lot on social media you might want to watch “Outlander” or upgrade to HBO and watch “Game of Thrones”.

Key to this technology is ensuring content has keyword metadata that captures its distinct characteristics. Many technology providers extend basic metadata through multiple sources; e.g. IMdb, Rotten Tomatoes, Freebase, and many others. The differentiation will come from those technology providers who can augment the metadata from unstructured information (e.g. Netflix reviews, social media posts, and fan community conversations) as well as the video itself (e.g. music tempo, action versus dialog, and closed captioning).

Since consumers watch video on multiple devices, the best solution will understand the user’s identity across set-top box, smartphone, tablet, PC, Roku, game consoles, etc. to track the consumer’s habits and predict their future interest. This cross-domain personalization provides better cold-start information in addition to better personalization.

Also, context must be collected along with activity data and plugged into the recommendation algorithm. Time of day, location, and device have major impacts on what videos are most relevant for a consumer; i.e. video recommendations must be different when the consumer is in their home at night versus on the train during their commute.

3) Profitable

Once you’ve won over the consumers, everyone in the ecosystem of delivering video to personal devices needs to make some money. With more and more inventory (i.e. content), advertisers can turn these OTT offerings into personal experiences; i.e. personal viewing devices enable personalized ad delivery to the consumer. Instead of creating promotions for everyone, advertisers and service providers can create promotions targeted to niche. With mobile video CPM on the rise and an expected annual mobile video advertising revenue of $1B, the OTT technology providers need to track viewing habits and frequency cap advertisements, not just on their personal devices but across all platforms.

All of these personalization practices will grow as a way to enhance the consumer viewing experience. The right combination of taste, habit, and context will increase satisfaction and engagement, enabling everyone to spend quality one-on-one time with their favorite TV personalities.

OTT technology providers must conquer the challenge of creating a user experience on devices with small screen real-estate that is pleasing, personalized, and profitable.