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As the TV experience shifts toward personalization and increased immersion, enabled by virtual reality (VR)/360-degree video, operators are collecting and processing a massive amount of data. Of course, there are significant benefits and challenges involved with learning about viewers’ habits and preferences.

This article will discuss impact that immersive content and big data are having on television, highlighting the specific challenges operators face and strategies for leveraging data to provide the ultimate TV experience. The goals of the newly created VR Industry Forum will be discussed, along with tactics for improving video quality while maximizing bandwidth efficiency for delivery of VR premium content.

Three Reasons Why 2017 Is an Important Year for VR Video

BI Intelligence estimates that shipments of virtual reality (VR) headsets increased by about 1047 percent year-over-year to 8.2 million in 2016, enabling the virtual reality space to exceed $1 billion in revenue for the first time, according to research by Deloitte. VR head-mounted device (HMD) availability and consumer acceptance of the technology is one major reason why VR is gaining inroads for 2017.

Another factor that may contribute to the growth of VR and 360-degree video this year is the recent formation of the VR Industry Forum (VRIF), a nonprofit industry group that is dedicated to pushing widespread adoption of virtual reality. Founding members include Akamai Technologies, Arris International, b<>com, Baylor University, CableLabs, Cinova Media, Dolby Laboratories, DTG, DTS, EBU, Ericsson, Fraunhofer, Harmonic, Huawei, Intel, Irdeto, Ittiam, MovieLabs, NABPILOT, Qualcomm Technologies, Technicolor, TNO, Sky, Sony Pictures, Vantrix, Verizon, Viaccess-Orca, and Orah. The group is focused on defining industry standards for an interoperable, end-to-end ecosystem presenting high-quality audio-visual VR services.

Finally, VR and 360-degree video technologies enable pay TV operators to deliver a hyper-personalized experience, especially for live content, such as sports. Leading to up this year, there were several successful trials of using VR for sports, which makes it a promising application for 2017.

In Europe in 2016, we saw the world’s first live stream of a football match in 360 degrees and UHD to head-mounted displays (HMD) via French TV channel TF1. VR technology is also being tested by satellite operator Sky Italia for live and on-demand streaming of premium sporting events in 360 degrees, and 360-degree video was broadcast by Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

Aside from defining open standards for VR technology, a major challenge the industry faces is lack of VR/360 content. In order to fully monetize upon delivering premium VR/360 content, the video quality needs to be exceptional (i.e., UHD/4K), and bandwidth acceptable.

Making the Most of Data

Today’s TV viewers crave personalized search, recommendation services, and targeted advertising. Add in the introduction of new, immersive viewing technologies, such as VR and augmented reality (AR), and the amount of data that operators can capture per viewer per household is about to increase by monumental amount and become much more granular.

In today’s OTT environment, operators are looking beyond what’s being watched via set-top boxes, encompassing everything from smartphones to tablets. The amount of data and the variety of fields now being captured (including impressions, views, clicks, social media interactions, or geolocation data) has increased dramatically compared with a decade ago when the TV experience was more family-based.

As TV evolves to become personal and immersive, operators will have an opportunity to review viewers’ physical interactions with the environment via HMDs and other connected wearable devices. Data collected from VR devices will lead to an explosion in data volume, variety, and velocity.

As the value and nature of data changes, new data-driven business models will emerge. These next-gen business models are likely to improve TV operators’ internal processes, such as content acquisition or content marketing. Outbound monetization opportunities include addressable TV through third-party advertisers or channels.

As data volume, variety and velocity increase, one of the challenges that operators face is the need for greater viewer privacy and “safer” data management. Getting to know the changing market and legal requirements will ensure that operators can successfully monetize immersive TV experiences. Here, it’s critical to partner with a technology vendor that enables a “smarter” and “safer” TV experience.

Conclusion

The TV viewer experience is changing rapidly, and operators are being called to deliver higher resolution video, on a variety of devices, as well as explore next-generation technologies like VR. As the TV experience becomes more immersive in nature, operators will have a massive amount of data at their fingertips. How they manage that data will impact whether or not they’re successful at meeting the demand for a TV experience that is personal and contextual. Traditional business models may need to be replaced, along with content protection and viewer privacy schemes. Only then can pay TV operators truly monetize upon the paradigm changes that are taking place.

Alain Nochimowski is executive vice president of innovation at Viaccess-Orca.

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