NAB Show Preview: Streaming as the new normal for broadcasting

As the media and entertainment industry converges on Las Vegas for the annual NAB Show, one of the dominant themes is the rapid rise and growing importance of streaming, particularly the rise of free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) channels.

“2024 is the year FAST content on leading streaming platforms moves from the sideline to primetime, with greater choice, depth and discoverability available. This heralds a growing demand for premium channels offering a richer mix of content genres, while at the same time, the lines between FAST channels, traditional TV and subscription streaming services are becoming increasingly blurred,” said Blair Harrison, CEO and founder, Frequency.

With consumers increasingly turning to streaming for their entertainment needs, content providers and video services are focusing on optimizing their offerings to improve reach, engagement and revenue.

Monetization and ad tech innovation

Monetization is a key concern for media companies navigating the shifting streaming landscape.

“Broadcasters have more ways to get their content in front of consumers than ever and those distribution opportunities are expanding rapidly, but it is important they can monetize them as effectively as broadcast TV or streamed linear channels, catch-up TV and boxsets in their own BVOD,” said Paul Davies of Yospace.

There is a growing focus on ad tech innovation to address this challenge, including in-video ad insertion and server-side advertising insertion (SSAI) capabilities.

“The broadcasters’ point of differentiation is their ability to deliver the same high-quality user experience in FAST as found on their flagship linear channels (streamed and broadcast), allowing them to maintain their CPM rates. That points to them extending their server-side advertising insertion (SSAI) capabilities to this new distribution type, ensuring seamless, frame accurate ad insertion regardless of device,” Davies added.

Lelde Ardava, sales and account manager at Veset, also highlighted the importance of ad tech innovation: “I’m especially looking forward to seeing first-hand the latest innovations in ad tech, including in-video ad insertion and exploring how the technology will help providers increase engagement and ad revenue.”

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The rise of ad-supported streaming models is a response to changing viewer preferences and the need for media companies to diversify their revenue streams.

“There are a lot of options for viewers right now, but they’re reaching subscription saturation, which is one reason why subscription growth has stalled even though audiences love streaming. At the same time, FAST is growing, which shows an appetite from viewers to pay less but access more content,” said Dave Dembowski of Operative. “Media companies are extremely focused on trends in this market – from how to keep subscriptions going, to how FAST will play out in the future and how the balance of ad-supported models will be increasingly important for media companies to sustain their revenue streams.”

“Today, large operators, studios, and content rights owners sit on a treasure trove of assets within their respective content libraries. And when businesses leverage generative AI or some other key innovation, they can build so many unique experiences around that content, unlocking new business growth in the process,” said Chris Wilson, head of product marketing, MediaKind. 

AI and cloud-based solutions

Another major trend at NAB 2024 is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to revolutionize content creation, distribution and monetization.

“With the growth of FAST, more media companies have hybrid revenue models and need the agility and scalability that AI and cloud can deliver,” said Dembowski. “AI and cloud make it easier than ever for media companies to deliver unified products, streamline delivery and grow their business.”

Cloud-based workflows are also gaining traction for their ability to provide greater scalability and flexibility. “We’re excited to have cloud-based solutions that help [media companies] to be flexible and scale across different models as needed,” Dembowski added.

“This translates into a future where viewers seamlessly navigate between a variety of viewing options: personalized feeds with fast-moving content aligned with individual preferences; live access to favorite news, sports, and entertainment broadcasts; the familiar experience of traditional TV with scheduled programming; and binge-worthy content libraries for in-depth exploration,” said Harrison.

The use of AI and cloud technologies is not only transforming the back-end operations of media companies but also enabling new forms of content creation and personalization.

“Trends to watch at the show will likely include the integration of AI and machine learning and how it will revolutionize content creation and distribution, cloud-based workflows for greater scalability and flexibility, and the increasing importance of data analytics in understanding viewer preferences and behaviors. These developments are reshaping the future of the industry,” said Ardava.

Quality of experience and testing

As streaming experiences become more widespread and varied, ensuring a high-quality user experience is crucial.

“Of course, a unifying factor for all of these different experiences is high user expectations. Viewers expect all streaming video to play flawlessly,” said Mathieu Planche, CEO at Witbe. “As the industry expands, testing and monitoring of streaming video will become even more crucial to delivering the quality of experience demanded by viewers today – on all devices and across any network.”

This is particularly important in the context of ad-supported streaming, where dynamically inserting ads can sometimes result in streaming errors for viewers.

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“We look forward to seeing the ways in which ad-supported streaming continues to develop and the focus on ad monitoring for service providers and technology aimed at resolving the errors caused by dynamic ad insertion,” Planche added.

The challenge of maintaining a high-quality experience is especially acute during peak traffic periods, such as major live events.

“Maintaining a consistently high-quality experience remains a paramount challenge for content publishers delivering live-streamed content, especially during peak traffic periods. This challenge has recently been underscored with the increasing amount of major events that are now exclusively streamed,” said Lisa Aussieker, SVP of marketing at Qwilt.

Promisingly, the heightened adoption of edge caching for content delivery has significantly improved the reduction of latency and buffering issues, particularly during major live events.

“NAB Show 2024 will be an essential forum for understanding how some of 2024’s big live events can be delivered for a large number of expectant streaming viewers. Discussions will center around how various streaming challenges—including encoding delays, chunk transmission delays, and the complexities of integrating advertising insertion—impact viewer engagement and satisfaction,” Aussieker added.

Quality, of course, means many things, but requires a standardized process and the right tools. This is where AI and machine learning may be able to provide rapid benefits for broadcasters. 

“In the video analysis and monitoring space, streaming service providers are faced with the challenge of finding a balance between maintaining high-quality video delivery and optimizing the efficiency of their QC and monitoring processes. As a result, there are many discussions around AI and Machine Learning (ML), and how these can be leveraged to effectively tackle this concern. For example, how AI/ML can help automate QC processes to handle large volumes of content efficiently, and how it can improve the accuracy of error detection and the reduction of false positives/negatives. Likewise, HDR compliance, captioning, and ad insertion monitoring are also at the forefront of the conversation,” said Anupama Anantharaman, VP, product management at Interra Systems.

“In the last year, we have worked on exploiting machine learning and Generative AI for a more ‘content-aware’ QC approach. This has enabled us to better understand the context and content of video files, allowing for more nuanced checks and increased QC accuracy. We have included this approach in our captioning product, Baton Captions, which can generate and QC captions, and provide subtitles in all popular languages used around the world,” said Anantharaman.

Personalization and elevated viewing options

“As the foundation of traditional linear broadcasting continues to fracture, audiences will continue to migrate toward short-form or mobile-based viewing. These market dynamics now compel businesses to find more creative ways to monetize content, either through personalization or collaborative partnerships,” said Wilson. 

Personalization and elevated viewing options are also emerging as key trends, particularly in the context of live sports streaming.

“We’re also observing a growing demand for elevated viewing options and personalized ads while watching live sports events. Advancements in hyper-personalization for live sports streaming will be a trend at this year’s NAB Show,” said Allan Nicholson, head of advertising solutions at Harmonic. 

AI is enabling personalization and minimizing the disruption caused by ad insertion.

“By comprehensively understanding user history, content preferences and real-time context, AI minimizes the disruption caused by ad insertion. It intelligently determines the optimal frequency and placement of ads during playback, ensuring a smoother transition and maximizing revenue opportunities,” said Till Sudworth of NPAW.

Looking ahead, the future of video streaming appears to be one of refinement, with incremental improvements driven by AI insights promising to make streaming services more attuned to viewer preferences, fueling business growth and, most importantly, delivering a more enjoyable and accessible experience for all.

The future of FAST

Looking ahead, the future of FAST will likely focus on optimization, particularly around issues of discoverability and user experience.

“As the FAST landscape continues to evolve, we believe that the industry focus will shift towards optimization of these channels, especially related to the critical issues of discoverability and user experience,” said Mrugesh Desai, VP North America at Accedo.

Innovative advertising formats, such as interactive ads and sponsorships, will also be essential for engaging viewers and effectively monetizing content.

“By strategically integrating these elements into the FAST experience and utilizing data to refine content and advertising strategies, we believe that providers can not only sustain but also amplify their market presence and profitability in an increasingly competitive environment,” Desai added.

Dan Marshall, EVP, global SaaS sales at Amagi, emphasized the importance of collaboration in fostering a healthy FAST ecosystem: “As we navigate these demands, it’s imperative that platforms and publishers collaborate to foster a diverse and healthy FAST ecosystem that not only caters to current audiences but also anticipates the future of streaming. At Amagi, we’re committed to leading that charge and ensuring FAST becomes an integral, enduring part of the global media landscape.”

The democratization of content access and the sustainability of the FAST model for creators and advertisers alike are key factors driving the growth of FAST.

“In the seismic shift from traditional broadcasting to digital platforms, FAST stands out for its ability to democratize content access while offering a sustainable model for creators and advertisers alike,” said Marshall. “However, the intricacies of managing content discovery, viewer loyalty and channel optimization demand a nuanced approach, one that balances innovation with viewer and advertiser value.”

Challenges and opportunities ahead

While the streaming industry faces challenges, including economic pressures and the need to monetize and retain subscribers effectively, there are also significant opportunities ahead.

“Tightened consumer and business budgets alike mean streaming services and broadcasters are under constant pressure to find ways to monetize and retain their existing subscribers more effectively,” said Paolo Cuttorelli, SVP, global sales at Evergent. “Content providers are experimenting with multiple viewing models and price points across OTT, AVOD and FAST services to identify what works — then doubling down on winning strategies to maximize success.”

Geoff Gordon, VP global marketing at MainConcept, also highlighted the potential for managed services to fill gaps left by shrinking engineering teams: “As a result, companies like MainConcept are taking on more consultative projects, in effect filling in for shrinking engineering teams elsewhere. So, alongside monetization being a key trend, I also suspect we may well see more managed services being promoted at the show.”

Gordon also emphasized the importance of distinguishing between genuine AI applications and more limited machine learning or algorithmic approaches: “AI has been a key trend for well over a year now and not just in M&E but also in virtually every market imaginable. There’s a lot of products out there being marketed as AI but rather than being true AI applications, they instead use complex algorithms or machine learning (ML) applications, which although is a branch of AI, tends to be more limited in scope than AI. So, as I explore the show, I’ll be on the lookout for those genuine and transformative AI use cases.”

The increasing demand for scalable and efficient live media transport solutions is another trend expected to dominate conversations at NAB 2024.

“The business imperative we are increasingly seeing is the need for media companies to achieve their transport goals without being bogged down in complicated workflows and overcomplicated costly infrastructure,” said Jonathan Smith of Net Insight. “We’re thrilled to be showcasing Nimbra Connect iT at this year’s NAB Show. This cutting-edge solution transforms live internet transport for small to medium networks, offering seamless integration, scalability and low maintenance. Today, more than ever, content providers are looking to reach previously untapped audiences in new regions. Connect iT enables them to deliver content seamlessly while expanding global reach.”

As the industry navigates these challenges and opportunities, the NAB Show 2024 promises to be a critical forum for understanding the latest trends, innovations and best practices in streaming and FAST. From ad tech and AI to personalization and quality of experience, the conversations and demonstrations at the show will shape the future of the industry and help content providers and video services deliver compelling, engaging and profitable streaming experiences to viewers around the world.

“A lot of the conversation at the 2024 NAB Show is likely to be around how widespread and varied video streaming experiences have become. On top of dominant subscription-based streamers cementing their place in the industry, free ad-supported services and FAST channels have found a way into viewers’ lives this year in a major way. Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have become ubiquitous in sharing streaming video and are well on their way to being as universal as YouTube. Sports streaming had a major moment with the NFL playoff games earlier this year and is set to expand in that space,” said Planche,

As the streaming landscape continues to evolve and expand, the NAB Show is a vital platform for industry leaders to share insights, showcase innovations and collaborate to shape the future of media and entertainment.


Explore our full NAB Show Preview series for 2024: