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This article was contributed by Baskar Subramanian, cofounder and CEO of Amagi.

If there’s one thing we can all agree on in a digital world, it’s the power and value of data. How would it empower your business if you had access to detailed, minute-by-minute data on how your customers engage with your products and services?

In the world of streaming TV, this vision of real-time data is already a reality. But are companies making the most of it? In this highly competitive industry, with new streaming services popping up seemingly every few weeks, the ability to act on viewership behavior can be the difference between the life and death of a business.

Here are three ways industry-leading streaming services can leverage data and analytics to stay ahead of the competition: 

Turn personalized content recommendations into linear channels viewers actually want to watch

With analytics capabilities and access to robust metadata, streaming services essentially have minute-by-minute information on how consumers are watching or engaging with content. Leveraged wisely, this data gives streamers invaluable insight into content viewing preferences, patterns and behaviors of specific cohorts of viewers—whether defined by region, household, or device.

How best to use this treasure trove of viewing data? First, for content creators, knowing who your audience is, what is interesting and engaging to them, where they are (in the Midwest? On the coasts?) and how best to reach them is truly essential for effective content planning. The data reveals a tremendous amount about what is really resonating with various audience cohorts, allowing creators to put their fingers on exactly what content to produce next and how to market and distribute that content for maximum effect. 

Secondly, and perhaps most interestingly, detailed, real-time data allows OTT content providers to personalize content recommendations on an individual level. This not only creates a better, more engaging on-demand viewing experience — helping viewers to find what they want to watch more quickly and easily in a world of content overwhelm — it can also help streaming providers program linear channels, customized specifically to viewers’ interests and preferences.

Surprisingly, we’re seeing that more and more viewers are seeking a linear experience. Due to the paradox of choice — the more content options available, the harder it is to find something to watch — we’re finding that viewers today actually crave a passive, “lean back” experience. Rather than sift through recommendations or search through content categories, audiences want to be happily surprised, to flip on a channel and discover hours of content that precisely suits their tastes. And that’s precisely what linear programming provides.

When we can create those moments of serendipity for viewers — informed, of course, on the back end by sophisticated data models—that’s when the real magic happens. This is what the next generation of streaming looks like. And the services that can capitalize on both their data and their viewer insights to make it happen will win the day.

Optimize your ad strategy to increase engagement and reduce ad fatigue

Beyond personalizing content, data also empowers streaming services to personalize ad content for their viewers. While the day will come when specific advertising offers can be targeted toward specific individuals, today, ads can be served up to viewers based on location, time of day, their content choices, and the content choices of others in their household. In addition, real-time data offers key signals from viewers — such as the duration of viewing, when they hit pause or play, or if they switch between shows or movies — that can help advertisers target ads and even decide how many ads to show a viewer.

Together, all of this data, all of these real-time signals from viewers can help streamers combat ad fatigue. We all know that viewers can only tolerate so many ads before they get sick of them, and that they’ll respond better to advertising — and watch for longer periods of time — if ads are more relevant to their interests and preferences. So good data is crucial when it comes to minimizing the number of ads viewers see, and serving up ads they not only won’t mind watching, but may actually enjoy watching. It’s a win for content creators, streaming providers and advertisers alike.

Embrace data privacy while still extracting valuable insights the future of streaming

All this talk of collecting, leveraging and tracking viewer data might suggest that the future of streaming is dependent on a complete lack of consumer privacy. After all, today, consumer data gets traded across multiple companies with frightening speed. But, there’s another way forward — one that protects consumers while still enabling streamers to gather valuable viewer insights.

Today, in the media industry, we’re starting to see that targeting and privacy can, in fact, be complementary, rather than oppositional. It all hinges on how companies handle consumer data. Instead of leveraging data on an individual, consumer level, streaming services can choose to obfuscate distinct consumer identities, creating cohorts of viewers based on viewing behavior. This, in itself, changes the currency of how we target consumers today. With richer data available around both content and viewership, companies can effectively gather the insights they need to power successful business decisions—without having to trade consumers’ personal information.

In fact, I believe that, with the next generation of streaming, the monetization of individual consumer data will go away. Given the strengthening of privacy regulations, as well as growing consumer awareness of and loyalty to brands that protect their privacy, this is certainly the direction the industry is heading. And this is precisely where data can be compelling — enabling companies to target content and advertising to consumers based on their affinities, for example, rather than crass targeting of IP addresses and other similar tactics. Businesses can still extract the key insights they need to thrive while, at the same time, doing the right thing and earning customer loyalty by handling the vast amounts of data at their disposal with care.

It’s undoubtedly true that the business of content is increasingly becoming the business of data. For next-generation content creators, streaming services and advertisers, the power of data must be harnessed — responsibly — to power business decisions that fuel success. In such a crowded, and ever-growing space, it truly will be the difference between winning big and fading into obscurity. 

Baskar Subramanian is the cofounder and CEO at Amagi.

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