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How the Verizon Media – Microsoft partnership is shaping the future of media

By Jason Friedlander, Senior Director Product Marketing, Verizon Media

Tue 14, 04 2020

Get ready, the streaming services landscape is about to become even more crowded. AT&T TV, HBO Max, and NBC Universal’s Peacock, to name a few, are debuting soon and looking to capture viewers’ screen time. And with U.S. SVOD subscriptions expected to climb from 199 million last year to 307 million by 2025, it’s clear the battle for viewers, and their dollars, is going to be even more fierce.*

While great content is a given to attract streaming audiences, an outstanding viewing experience is critical for retaining viewers. During a recent Verizon Media Customer Advisory Board meeting, our largest broadcast customers told us the most important criteria for choosing a streaming technology partner boils down to three criteria. First, reliable, TV-like quality OTT streams to every device. Second, the ability to monetize through personalized ads that avoid ad blockers. And finally, lower latency, especially for sporting events.

The Verizon Media Platform’s advanced suite of features and capabilities simplify every phase of OTT streaming, from encoding to delivery to data, enabling consistent, high-quality streams to global viewers. Integrating our video platform with our CDN means we can exert granular control of the video workflow and player experience. This is especially necessary when tackling the complex nature of time behind live, which is an important goal for live video streaming service providers. We achieve low latency by harnessing industry standard adaptive bitrate (ABR) technologies, like Apple’s HLS and MPEG-DASH, but implement shorter segment sizes for faster video playback start times. This has an impact on the player, which our responsive video workflow is built to manage. Our workflow, combined with the Verizon Media CDN server optimizations, means our network delivers low latency and easily handles millions of concurrent viewers and crowd surges that often occur during live sporting events.

To take advantage of Microsoft’s scale, we are porting our streaming product to Azure – one of the largest cloud platforms in the world. It enables unprecedented levels of reach and reliability that optimizes the end-user experience by delivering content from the nearest edge using fast, efficient global networks proven to outperform the open internet for TV-like viewing experiences.

Verizon Media and Microsoft Azure

Our partnership with Microsoft began in 2013 with our CDN. The Azure CDN from Verizon Media quickly established itself as a leader for delivering high-quality OTT streams to all connected devices, everywhere. Extending the partnership with Verizon Media Streaming on Azure will bring Azure customers a cloud-native video platform that has powered live and VOD OTT streaming for tier 1 broadcast networks and digital publishers since 2010.

This Verizon Media and Microsoft Azure partnership provides:

  • Streamlined workflow: We simplify every part of OTT, from encoding to content protection to delivery, enabling brands to provide consistent, high-quality streams to users, anywhere in the world.
  • Ultra-personalization: Our Smartplay technology generates unique manifests for every viewer that presses ‘play’, making millions of concurrent decisions to deliver the most personalized experiences. Smartplay provides a host of innovative capabilities, including Stream Routing (multi-CDN switching), content targeting (regional blackout and content replacement), DRM, as well as server-side ad insertion, enabling you to increase engagement with more viewers.
  • Better ad experiences: Our content, programming, and advertising experiences drive stronger engagement and higher CPMs. Personalized ads are processed in advance and inserted server-side to ensure a seamless TV-like experience from content to ads. Continuous improvement of technology provides more data so customers can fine-tune its business
    and maximize monetization.

Innovation leading to a new world of possibilities

The premium suite of features available to customers as part of this partnership includes utilizing Azure technologies to bring richer solutions to content owners. Azure Blob Storage will bring cost-efficient, fast storage for video files, which can, in turn, be pushed to Azure’s advanced AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning products. Azure Video Indexer unlocks video intelligence by automatically extracting metadata – such as spoken words, written text, faces, speakers, celebrities, emotions, topics, brands, and scenes – from video and audio files. Augmented metadata captured by Video Indexer can enable completely new, personalized viewing experiences. By integrating our partner Iris TV’s recommendation engine with Video Indexer metadata, content owners can build theme-based content channels that appear as linear channels, all comprised of stitched-together VOD assets that play out as a single stream with ads. This integration leverages Verizon Media’s Smartplay server-side ad insertion (SSAI), which dynamically serves up advertising best suited to the content, location, or business rules put in place by the content owner. And because ads are placed server-side, ad blockers are avoided. Our server-side technology stitches content and ads into a unified stream, guaranteeing TV-like quality.

This is just the beginning of true 1 to 1 viewing experiences. Azure’s AI and machine learning technologies – such as speech-to-text, keyword extraction, object and action identification – could provide levels of information and personalization that would have been impossible without advanced technologies in the cloud. This combination of innovation is bringing in a new era of hyper-personalized content recommendation and relevant advertising that increases engagement, loyalty, and maximizes monetization.

Improving the content chain

Verizon Media partnered with Microsoft Azure to address three areas where digital transformation is happening within the media industry: Production, digital supply chain, and monetization. Verizon Media Streaming on Azure solves OTT distribution and monetization complexities when it comes to high-quality streaming at scale. It is also being looked at to help production houses unlock video assets from content repositories and open them up for streaming and syndication. These three high-level themes also match the creative, technical, and business processes tackled by the IABM BaM Content Chain® – a flexible, extensible model designed to accommodate the fast-changing business environment. Microsoft Azure, with its partners, like Avid and Verizon Media, addresses all nine categories of the BaM Content Chain®.

Moving forward

As new streaming services come online, and the battle for streaming viewership grows more intense, broadcasters must choose how they are going to build viewership. They can continue to work with multiple technology vendors or take a streamlined approach that enables them to focus on content and managing their business. The integration of the Verizon Media Platform on Microsoft Azure ensures that all media enterprises can take advantage of advanced technologies like cloud computing, AI, and more. Our partnership brings greater simplicity to existing workflows, improves the quality of video services, lowers latency, and enables our customers to maximize the monetization of advertising and video content so they can quickly and efficiently build and maintain audiences – regardless of what content their viewers are watching.

*Forecast: US to hit 307m SVoD subs in 2025, AdvancedTelevision.com, 2 March 2020, advanced-television.com/2020/03/02/forecast-us-to-hit-307m-svod-subs-in-2025/. Accessed 3 March 2020.

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