Reconsidering Format and Media in the OTT Era

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Andrew McCargar: The one upside of the situation we find ourselves in now is that, fortunately, we have a lot of tools available to deal with these challenges. And I've just kind of roughly grouped video streaming technologies into four different categories here: video chat, video conferencing, video live streaming, and on demand. And obviously there's a lot of overlap between them. It's nice that we have so many options, but of course it also presents a problem trying to figure out what's the right tool for the job, or even the opposite that--maybe as a company you chose the tool because it had the right title. We need a very comfortable, competent solution. We'll grab a video conferencing tool. And then you find out after the fact that it maybe it wasn't the best solution of what you were trying to achieve.

And this finally brings me to the title of the presentation, 'The Format vs. The Medium.' In this case, by the medium, I'm talking about the medium or media, the way that the channels that we use to transmit information--so in this case our video chat, video streaming client solutions--are all different modern media that we have for transmitting our message, whether that's just a meeting or marketing or advertising or whatever we're trying to convey. And the format is what we're actually trying to convey. And I thought to illustrate this, I'd use a an example we're all familiar with. Imagine if you'd asked somebody about 50 years ago, what's the difference between a TV and a feature film? They would look at you like they were like you were crazy and say, 'Well, it's obvious: TV is what you watch on TV, and a feature film is what you watch in the cinema.' For awhile, it was true. The media--the TV or the cinema, the thing that you were using to transmit information--was tightly interwound with the format of the thing you were actually watching. But what about now? I don't know about you guys, but I haven't watched broadcast TV in maybe 10 years. And I watch my TV and my feature films on Netflix or Amazon or whatever else.

So now that the medium that they're being transmitted on is the same, what's the actual difference between them? It turns out that when you decouple the media and the format, we find out that actually the different formats that we have for these different different stories we tell, like a series or a feature film or a television film can be completely decoupled from the media. It can be delivered in a variety of different ways. The technology has evolved and kind of in the same way, these media that we have right now for distributing our information so that your chat conferencing on each technology has its pluses and minuses, and they all kind of lend themselves to different applications. Video chat might be really good for ad-hoc conversations or interviews, and live streaming might be better for a live concert with 100,000 people watching, but actually they're completely decoupled, these formats, these things we're trying to do. There's a variety of different ways that we can present them as a variety of different channels that we have available to us. And I think the danger is making that association between, 'Okay, I need to do a concert, so I need to use RTMP live streaming, or DASH, or whatever else.'

There are many different examples I could take, but for the sake of time, I've limited myself to one example, which is about online training. I was involved in organizing this online training with about 80 participants in three different offices. This was during the pandemic, so a lot of them were already at their home offices, and all this was behind a corporate intranet, which means that from their own testing, they found out that video chats or video conferencing really only worked up to about 10 to 12 participants, but that they could use an eCDN to live stream to their intranet for up to about 80 people. So these are the restrictions we have, this is the format, which is an online training. So it's interactive. So I want each of you to just think briefly for yourself, how would you organize this? How would you do it with the tools that are available for you?

One solution--and possibly what a lot of you were thinking of is--okay, we want interactive training. We want people to be able to ask questions immediately. So we're going to use video conferencing software. They have this technological restrictions. We're probably going to have to break this up into like eight to 10 different sessions. And it's probably gonna take us two days to do all this. And that's one solution that would probably work. But if we think a little bit further, we might say, half of this training is probably me talking for about half an hour, so we could break it up and we could do a live stream for everybody. And then still do multiple breakout sessions afterwards, but each of these breakout sessions can be shorter. And so we can probably do this whole thing in one day instead of two. Maybe that's the solution.

We ended up doing the whole training by a live stream and just formatting the the training to fit for live streaming. And the way we did this was just by using low-latency streaming, being cognizant of the fact that a lot of people were going to have bad connections for an internal live stream. We designed all the slides so they looked good on 360p. I arranged to have an internal comment moderator who could already catch most of the comments and keep people interacting while I was presenting, and just formatted the training itself to create multiple calls to action, get people in the habit of writing, and broke it into blocks so that there was space for the Q & A afterwards.

In some ways, this was actually even better than doing it in person. We were able to do it all in one instead of multiple sessions. And it turns out that a lot of people who ordinarily would be afraid to raise their hands in front of their colleagues and look stupid were less afraid to write a comment when somebody else was reading it out. And I'm not even saying this is absolutely the best way to do it, but my point is that you should be mindful of what you're actually trying to achieve, the format, what is it you want to actually do, and be aware that there are multiple ways of doing this and that every technology has its strengths and weaknesses. Use the strengths that are available to you, even if that means taking this thing that you used to know as a live, on-set event, and maybe thinking more flexibly, how can we take advantage of the technology to use the tools we have to do this effectively online.

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