Streaming platforms must deploy AI for content personalisation and subscriber engagement: Evergent’s Paolo Cuttorelli

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Despite huge spikes in streaming service viewership during COVID-19 lockdowns, streaming services have to remain vigilant in these uncertain times, especially in these pandemic-ravaged times.

Paolo Cuttorelli, VP and GM of Evergent, a global provider of revenue and customer management for telcos, streaming providers, and digital entertainment companies, dwells on the need for streaming services to remain agile in a post-pandemic scenario, the relevance of Artificial Intelligence in ensuring customer loyalty and subscriber engagement, and providing a hyper-personalized experience. Excerpts from an interview he gave to ottwatcher.com.    

How can OTTs rise to the post-pandemic challenges of shifting consumer priorities and recession?

Post-pandemic, more and more subscribers are likely to spend less time on streaming services as everyday activities and social events resume. OTT services need to strategize on how they can continue enticing consumers to hold on to subscriptions once this happens.

One way they can do so is by offering innovative and value-driven bundles that seek to retain customers that show signs of churning. In our experience, it’s a lot more expensive to reacquire a user than it is to make sure they don’t leave in the first place. This can be achieved by offering special retention offers that seek to capitalize on changing dynamics. For instance, companies can offer different packages to different markets and may also churn out new budget-friendly packages to address the recession brought about by the pandemic. OTT businesses may also team up to form alliances by providing consumers a wider variety of offerings to pick from, ultimately benefiting all parties involved. For example, Tata Sky teamed up with Amazon last year to offer an OTT bundle that would help them compete in a saturated OTT market. This opened up new doors for monetization and content offerings.

Now more than ever, it’s important for OTT streaming services to tap into innovative ways to bring more content into viewers’ homes. For example, leveraging technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) can open up new doors in terms of user experience and customer value for streaming services. 

There are a number of exciting possibilities for AI deployment in the OTT ecosystem. AI can help OTT services understand subscribers’ needs, demands and attitudes, which can open up new doors of personalization and monetization. It

How will AI determine the future of OTT services, especially in a post-pandemic world?

One major influence AI will have on the future of OTT streaming services has to do with customer lifetime value. In today’s increasingly crowded SVOD market, such value can separate a loyal consumer from one that will be more likely to churn. Customer lifetime value and churn go hand-in-hand, and can determine the success of an OTT service moving forward.  

By using AI, content providers can match the value they provide – in this case content for viewers – to offerings that would benefit their subscribers. It can allow services to provide a hyper-personalized experience for subscribers. It can create offerings such as packages, bundles, freebies, and loyalty benefits, and may make OTT services even more enticing for customers. All of these factors combined create a relationship that grows and develops alongside the consumer.

What are the ways in which AI will be deployed in the OTT ecosystem, such as determining subscriber attitude, etc.?

There are a number of exciting possibilities for AI deployment in the OTT ecosystem. AI can help OTT services understand subscribers’ needs, demands and attitudes, which can open up new doors of personalization and monetization. It is often used for content discovery on OTT platforms, and can greatly contribute to reducing churn. By having customer data at hand, OTT services will also be able to push out the right offering for each individual subscriber at the right time. 

Based on this data, OTT services can create highly personalized customer experiences. Platforms can be laid out and designed based on customer behaviours, reducing friction and providing ease of use. AI can also detect potential issues along the customer journey and flag issues on OTT platforms quickly. This gives OTT services the power to address these issues efficiently, at the lowest possible inconvenience to consumers. 

And when consumers encounter issues, be it on the platform or along their purchasing journey, AI can also help OTT services provide the best possible customer support to help address consumer problems. Chatbots Magazine found that 67% of respondents expect to use messaging apps to liaise with businesses. AI can be used to set up chatbots that can address customer queries in a timely manner. AI can also transfer customers to employees in advanced cases. This can greatly lower customer support costs and increase productivity among the team, as any basic queries can be handled by bots instead. 

Hyper-personalisation must occur from beginning right until the end of a customer’s purchasing journey. This means that apart from personalising content, streaming services must go as far as to provide a personalised customer support and purchasing experience.

After lockdown measures ease, how can streaming services stand out from the crowd by deploying AI? 

Lockdown restrictions or not, using AI can set streaming services apart from their competition by empowering them to create valuable relationships with their subscribers, one that doesn’t just hinge on the best price. A customer relationship with strong value will be able to withstand new competition, and help to churn-proof the service.

One way they can build this is by enhancing customer experiences through hyper-personalisation. Hyper-personalisation must occur from beginning right until the end of a customer’s purchasing journey. This means that apart from personalising content, streaming services must go as far as to provide a personalised customer support and purchasing experience. 

By studying consumer habits, businesses can pinpoint when customers are on the verge of churn, and can push out offerings to prevent it from happening. This can be done by adopting agile customer management platforms like Evergent, which can also help reduce time to market for both products and services. Such systems can greatly simplify back-office processes, and can even simplify monetization models.

When it comes to completing a purchase, businesses can provide the most convenient payment methods for customers in different markets. In Asia, many countries have different preferred modes of payment. Some prefer cash or debit/credit cards, while others rely on mobile payments and prepaid cards. 

It’s also important to provide different channels to connect with users. While chatbots are a great way to boost productivity among customer service staff, a human touch still goes a long way, especially when customers are in distress. It’s important to offer different ways for customers to get in touch with customer support. Having social media messengers and chat boxes on site may also allow customer service staff to address more queries in a shorter amount of time.

Businesses must understand that creating value for customers can come in different shapes and forms. To truly stand out from the crowd, businesses must be willing to innovate their customer experience strategies and experiment with technology to reduce churn and drive productivity in teams. 

How can AI and machine learning help OTT streaming services understand the needs of their consumers? 

AI can determine subscriber attitudes by going through datasets available on platforms. Coupled with machine learning (ML), these technologies allow OTT streaming services to predict future shifts in consumer behaviours. ML can also predict problems subscribers will face moving forward. Once OTT services identify these issues, they can promptly pivot to address these, even before subscribers are aware of these errors. 

In terms of ML, it can help OTT services grow customer lifetime value by firstly predicting the future value of existing subscribers based on their transaction histories. Teams can then focus their attention and efforts on subscribers who are most likely to leave their platform subscription. Likewise, when a new subscriber first joins the platform, ML can predict the future value of this subscriber, and teams can work out a plan to reduce churn and retain the subscriber long-term. With such data, OTT services can also decide how much they should spend on advertising and which subscribers they should focus these efforts on. 

Should OTTs resort to personalisation in order to stand out from the rest? How can they build trust and loyalty in an increasingly competitive marketplace? 

Yes absolutely. As mentioned earlier, personalisation can set OTT services apart from their competitors. It can help retain subscribers and convert new ones. 

According to a study by PwC, 73% of respondents consider customer experience as a key factor in their purchasing decisions. Personalization creates a superior customer journey from start to finish. Personalising content discovery through AI can also keep subscribers engaged longer, minimise conversion friction, and can build trust and loyalty.