Personalization and Responsible Use of Data

Personalization is one of the cornerstones of a successful streaming video service. It provides significant user benefits, enhancing the viewer’s experience at every touchpoint. But, effective personalization can require huge amounts of data that is only possible by accessing and analyzing huge swathes of information about a viewer and their usage habits.

Steven Kopec

Steven Kopec has over 20 years in Broadcast, PayTV, and OTT with some of the largest brands in the world. He currently leads the Service Management team for Accedo, which is responsible for Information Security, Customer Support, Infrastructure Operations, Support Engineering, and Internal IT.

How can viewers trust that the data being collected about them is being put to good use, and being handled responsibility and practically? Concern about the usage of data and its protection are growing, and have become front-page news more and more often.

At the same time, trust in the brands that viewers and customers use is falling. According to a recent report, consumer trust is at an all time low, with only 47% of brands being found trustworthy. 

The combination of massive data gathering, lack of transparency, and falling consumer trust create a dangerous recipe for streaming video services which are already constantly fighting a battle against churn.

Yes, video streaming service providers should use data responsibly, with transparency, appropriate limits, and respect for user privacy.

But what does this mean in practice? And how does a video streaming service get the delicate balance right between personalization to enhance their service and the responsible use of data?

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Video Streaming Needs Personalization

Personalization is crucial for video streaming services. By customizing the user experience and content recommendations, the whole viewing experience becomes more enjoyable, intimate, and presents a “designed for me” perspective for viewers and customers of the service.

When recommendations are accurate and what viewers want to watch, the value the customer perceives and receives from the service increases, engagement improves, and the likelihood of retention of that viewer increases. These benefit both the viewer and the service by providing a mutually beneficial situation in quality content recommendations for the user, and revenue retention for the video streaming service.

Without personalization, the amount of content that viewers have to sift through becomes overwhelming and nearly impossible to deal with and find something worth their time to watch. If another service has excellent recommendations and makes it easy to discover something to watch, the viewer will undoubtedly choose that service over one that is confusing and hard to find decent content on.

In the crowded video streaming market, getting personalization right can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful service. By making sure it is easy for your viewers to find something that they would love to watch, you are making sure they see a video streaming service offering personalization as a necessity, thereby reducing the chance for churn and cancellations. 

This, of course, benefits both the viewer and the streaming video provider, but this level of personalization is only possible via data gathering and analysis to make recommendations accurate and welcome.

Big Data is Big Business

The prospect of continuously analyzing large amounts of data collected from a video streaming service may be daunting to many, but it is part of the way effective video streaming services operate. It makes possible data-driven decisions on content licensing, personalized recommendations, design and user experience improvements, feature implementation priority, troubleshooting problems, and many other possibilities.

Big data analysis clearly provides a crucial role to the effectiveness of a successful video streaming service, allowing viewers to get content they want to see discovered for them, identifying potential problems with the service, enabling data-driven improvements and investment. That is all true, but what about the legal and ethical obligations associated with the gathering and processing of that data?

Data is big business, and it is incumbent on video streaming providers to use that data transparently, and to both their and your video streaming service’s benefit. Does that mean burying consent for use of collected data in a 20 page T&C pop-up at first use of your service, or does it mean going further and making sure that your viewer is aware of what you do with their data, and knowingly consent to that gathering and use?

Most people would argue for the second approach.

What Does Responsible Use of Data Look Like?

As our lives become ever more digital, concerns around user privacy and data use have unsurprisingly grown. Just like other service providers, video streaming services have a legal and moral responsibility to use gathered data in an ethical and transparent way.

This simply means being clear about what data is collected and how it is used.

It means having clear and understandable privacy and data gathering policies, and obtaining consent for data that is gathered. Viewers want to be able to control how their data is used. 

It is therefore important to be clear that there are ways that data can be gathered and used ethically.

A good example of this is gathering data for performance analysis. As an example, if a video streaming service needs to understand network performance, device performance, etc to be able to troubleshoot issues should they occur.

Most viewers would be ok with, and consent to that data gathering. This is the core of the legitimate interest exception for data gathering in the GDPR and an overwhelmingly acceptable use for data that is gathered.

Alternatively, considering user data gathered for the purpose of targeting advertising to customers may not be considered a valid use of legitimate interest. You may see this targeting as core to the success of your video streaming service enabling higher ad dollars for your spots, but many users would ot consider this a legitimate interest of theirs in the gathering of data.

Video streaming service providers have a responsibility to ensure that data use is fair and non-discriminatory. This includes ensuring that algorithms do not perpetuate existing biases by leading to discriminatory content recommendations.

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Gaining (and Keeping) Viewer Trust

Responsible use of the data being gathered by your service is critical for building trust and loyalty with your viewers. It is important that this data is gathered in a transparent manner, and is used only in alignment with your privacy policy and legal requirements for the jurisdictions in which your service operates.

While viewers may understand that data is needed to make the viewing experience enjoyable, they don’t want to feel like their device or OTT service is spying on them and the data gathered is then being sold to third parties.

However, if video streaming service providers enabled users control over how their data is used, including the ability to fully opt-out of personalization, this would likely render the viewing experience much less enjoyable. It’s a hard balance to strike. 

And getting it right is only going to become more important as consumer awareness around privacy and data use grows.

There is no doubt that personalization creates a better user experience by delivering content that is relevant and engaging to specific viewers. It enhances the experience for the user and at the same time, increases customer retention.

But if video providers take a cavalier approach to data and do not behave in a responsible, transparent, and ethical way, they run the risk of alienating and losing customers, as well as falling foul of their legal responsibilities. 

If they are to maintain user trust at the same time as creating a positive user experience, video streaming service providers must prioritize user privacy and choice in their data strategies.

Steven-Kopec accedo
Steven Kopec

Steven Kopec has over 20 years in Broadcast, PayTV, and OTT with some of the largest brands in the world. He worked for Turner Broadcasting, including CNN and Cartoon Network, for 15 of those 20 years, in several key roles, such as Global Information Security Head, and Head of Operations and Technology for Asia Pacific. With a total of 30 years of experience in Program Management, Information Security, and Operations Management, he now leads the Service Management team for Accedo, which is responsible for Information Security, Customer Support, Infrastructure Operations, Support Engineering, and Internal IT.

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