Beyond Watch Parties: Enabling the Real-Time Social Future of Audience Engagement

Up until recently, the standard audience experience has been one-way. While OTT has vastly expanded what, where, and when viewers can watch, the lean-back viewing experience hasn’t changed. 

As streaming services look for new ways to engage audiences, enhancing the viewing experience with interactive video, voice and text offer a huge opportunity in the form of real-time engagement (RTE)

Yaniv

Yaniv Elmadawi is the VP of Solutions and Technology Services at Agora, focused on helping customers bring their real-time, interactive voice and video innovations to life.

How can this be implemented? The most common current example in the OTT space is watch parties that allow viewers to watch in sync with each other while chatting —but that’s just the beginning 

OTT’s first step toward real-time engagement

Watch parties are a great example of RTE technology as they integrate live interactive voice, video, and messaging directly into the co-watching experience. RTE allows you to add interactive communication features to any existing application.

 Instead of opening up your video calling or social app for a watch party or interactive live event, users can stay in the streaming app they are already using. Hulu and SlingTV have already integrated a native watch party feature, while social networks like Facebook as well as other third parties are creating their own watch party features and extensions.   

One of the primary user experience benefits of adding a real-time, interactive feature like watch parties to your own app is that it adds a shared context, providing the ability for people to digitally share the same space when interacting remotely without the need for an awkward screen share or separate application to see the same thing. For example, using a watch party feature built into an OTT app provides the shared context that attempting to watch a movie with friends on a traditional web conferencing tool like Zoom cannot.

Moving beyond watch parties 

With watch parties as the simplest and most obvious way to allow viewers to engage in real-time, the possibilities stretch far beyond the viewing experience. The major opportunity here is to engage your audience both before and after they watch your content. Instead of having viewers close your app to go discuss the episode they just watched on a social channel, create a space for that discussion and interaction to take place within your own app with a post-watch party. This keeps users engaged longer and creates new monetization opportunities at a much smaller cost than producing new content. 

Here are some innovative uses of real-time engagement that can be applied to OTT:

  • Sports: Real-time engagement is becoming an increasingly essential tool for sports rights-holders, broadcasters, and brands that are seeking to build fruitful relationships with key target audiences. 
  • Live games: While live communication within online games is nothing new, more game developers from mobile games to consoles are looking to add real-time engagement (with industry leaders like Netflix poised to join in). 
  • Remote production: Remote work is here to stay. Real-time engagement makes it possible for production crews working on live broadcasts to communicate remotely as if they were all in the same physical space.
  • Live shopping: RTE makes it possible for two-way communication between live shopping hosts and shoppers. This also opens up the possibilities for any brand or publication to deve intro live shopping by going directly to customers on any device. 
  • Live events: Virtual events used to be one way lectures, but with RTE attendees can connect l with presenters, sponsors, and each other in real-time, bringing the virtual event experience closer to in-person. 
  • Fitness: Live fitness classes with RTE help keep users engaged by building community between students and providing real-time, personalized guidance from instructors. 

How to overcome challenges to support real-time use cases

So how can you implement a real-time use case? 

Related:  OTT Content Consumption Patterns Pre and Post-COVID

First, there are some challenges that you need to overcome. The biggest challenge to any real-time, interactive experience is the network. Network-related considerations like latency and synchronicity can completely ruin any type of live communication. These considerations become increasingly important when you have a global audience or any users in areas with less-robust internet infrastructure. 

Latency

As you probably know, latency means the delay introduced during the transmission of digital media. For standard on-demand streaming use cases, latency isn’t much of an issue to the user experience. Even for one-way live streaming, a few seconds of latency won’t cause any issues. But when people are interacting in real-time, low latency is an absolute requirement. Any noticeable delay can make communication impossible. 

Synchronicity

Synchronicity refers to everyone interacting in real-time seeing the same thing at the same time. This is especially important in use cases like watch parties, where everyone’s video stream needs to be in sync. Similar to latency, the network plays a large role here. 

Scalability

It’s essential to consider the scalability of your RTE features. How many concurrent users can it support? Will it support global users? What if users have a low-quality connection or an older device? Supporting users across the globe on a wide variety of devices and internet speeds is another major challenge to overcome with RTE

So what is the solution to these network challenges? The public internet alone is not sufficient for any type of real-time engagement. While CDNs work very well for on-demand content and one-way live streams, they have too much latency for many types of real-time interaction via video or voice. RTE requires a dedicated real-time, global network, especially if you want to scale.

Another important consideration for OTT use cases is audio mixing. ​​

At a watch party, what happens when a viewer talks over movie dialogue? What if their microphone is picking up the audio from the movie?

It’s important to work with a real-time engagement partner that can properly mix the audio between your content and the interactive channel to prevent echo and feedback while allowing users to hear each other and your content at the same time.

You can build RTE functionality yourself with WebRTC—but there are limitations and layers of complexity, especially around the network. Working with an established RTE platform can make integration much quicker and easier while ensuring a low-latency network with global scalability. The bottom line is that you should weigh the pros and cons of building vs. buying when it comes to implementing any real-time, interactive features. 

Build the future now

These emerging real-time engagement use cases offer huge potential for OTT providers. RTE can enable streaming services to connect with their audiences in brand new ways. By engaging viewers beyond a one-way watching experience, steaming apps can better grow and maintain their user bases. Instead of waiting for the industry behemoths to move first, real-time engagement can provide your app with an edge over competitors while delighting viewers. 

Yaniv
Yaniv Elmadawi

Yaniv Elmadawi is the VP of Solutions and Technology Services at Agora, focused on helping customers bring their real-time, interactive voice and video innovations to life. He leads a team of audio and video technology experts, constantly pushing the boundaries of live streaming and chat experiences.

Agora’s Real-Time Engagement Platform provides developers with simple, flexible, and powerful APIs, to embed live video and voice engagement experiences into their applications. See how Agora's customers and partners are using interactive voice and video here: innovative examples of real-time engagement.

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