November 2, 2021

Giving our customers the power to control their streaming applications

The streaming world is evolving fast and our customers want to respond quickly with adjustments to their content and user experience. In another of his Spotlight blog posts focusing on 24i’s fantastic team, CEO Joachim Bergman talks to backend developer Connor Woods about the ongoing evolution of Backstage, the UX and application management interface that puts our customers in control of their streaming destiny.

At 24i, our mantra is to make streaming simple. We know that most companies find all the interconnected technology involved in streaming to be a significant challenge. That’s the same if they’re the smallest OTT service or the largest Pay TV operator/tier 1 telecoms provider. 

The picture is also getting more complex all the time. Between the moment when you acquire some content rights and the point where you’ve got a population of satisfied streaming customers, there’s a whole mess of technologies to combine and get right: there’s transcoding, encryption, storage and curation of content, plus the design, development and maintenance of apps. Not to mention the business side of creating and monetizing products, authenticating users, driving engagement, monitoring performance, and so on.

Productised solutions for stress-free video application management

For smaller businesses, managing all this in-house on a custom basis is impossible and even for the largest operators it can be cost-prohibitive. That’s why 24i has developed productized video streaming solutions that enable our customers to by-pass all of this hassle and focus on their core strengths - acquiring the content and attracting the audience. Right at the heart of our cloud-based streaming platform is Backstage. It’s a real-time content and application management interface, but also an integration layer. 

Backend developer Connor Woods has been working on Backstage for more than four years, almost since its inception, so he is the ideal person to explain why our customers value Backstage so highly. “Initially it was just going to be an internal tool with basic functionality like switching the images displayed for each video asset from portrait to landscape,” admits Connor. “But quite quickly we started to see the value for our customers of being able to dictate the layout and content structure of the apps themselves, in real-time, rather than relying on us to do it for them.”

Abstracting the data to simplify application management 

Since those early days, Backstage has gone from strength to strength. “Once we gave customers the ability to arrange queries into grids and rows, to create their own dynamic pages, that’s when it became clear that it was possible to really customize pretty much the whole of the app,” explains Connor. “And of course as the number of apps used by each streaming service has grown, they’re now able to adjust configurations for all their apps in one place, even if they want the background colour or buttons to be a slightly different colour on their Roku app from their Android app, for example. Today there’s almost no static data in our whitelabel apps. We’ve picked off every area of the application and extracted it to Backstage, so customers get all the benefits of a productized, whitelabel app, but with the flexibility to make the user experience their own.”

Reducing integration headaches to speed up project timelines

All this work to abstract configurations and formalize them into an API meant that Backstage was rapidly becoming a hub for integrations with third-party solutions as well as an interface for application management.  “It’s the best way to serve as many platforms as possible with the least integration effort for everyone,” says Connor “and that saves both time and money. Take identity management, for example. In Backstage, we provide a whole range of APIs that allow the user to register, login, and change their password. For the front-end applications that’s always the same, but with a click of a button we can swap out where those requests are ending up so we can hook-in to a customer’s existing subscriber management system (subject to a feasibility assessment), or deploy one of the partner systems we’re already working with. There’s no hard-coding into the app at all.  

Maintaining flexibility because no two customers are exactly alike

When developing Backstage, flexibility has been the central theme. “We have some customers who are startups,” says Connor, giving the example of Cinessance, a new SVOD and TVOD service dedicated to French Film which is launching soon using Backstage as part of its end-to-end solution from 24i. “But actually many of our customers like Flow Sports already have a library of content that’s stored in an existing content management system when they move to 24i, so Backstage has agents that can pull-in that information and then it’s up to the customer whether we do a regular sync with their external system to get updates, or if they want Backstage to become the “source of truth” for some or all of their metadata fields. We find that this flexibility is the key to meeting the needs of the widest possible range of customers.” 

Flexibility is also key when it comes to curating content metadata and it’s a feature that streaming services really appreciate, as we found out when we spoke to six clients for our whitepaper “Tales from the OTT Frontline”. Connor explains how it works: “Each row of content in our apps is associated with a playlist within Backstage. When building a playlist you can apply a whole host of conditions that will then be applied to populate the playlist with matching content from your asset library. This can be as simple as Horror films or Ice Hockey Matches or Episodes of Friends, but it can also be much more complex, like Horror films that were released between 1990 and 2010 and have been in our library for less than six months, or Comedy shows that are expiring in the next two weeks. The real beauty here is that not only can you surface your content in interesting ways to drive engagement, but also that you can do your curation up front and the playlist is populated dynamically as the content in the library changes. The streaming service doesn’t need to intervene.”

Playlists can also be populated based on user-related data, to create all the features you’d expect from a streaming service: continue watching, favourites, recommendations based on genres that the user’s already consumed. And if you’ve chosen to pay for more content suggestions from one of the third party recommendation engines that’s already integrated into Backstage via its APIs, you can populate a playlist with a list of content suggested by the recommendation engine. 

Bringing video management tasks into Backstage alongside application management

The most recent enhancement to Backstage has been really significant for customers who use our award-winning, cloud-based Smart Video solution for transcoding and protecting their video assets. They can now manage these processes directly from within Backstage.

Work is also underway to enhance the Backstage analytics dashboard to keep our customers fully in the loop on the performance of their streaming service.   

You can see more about Backstage in our OTT solutions video. Or why not schedule a call with one of our pre-sales team who will provide you with a real-time demonstration. 

By Joachim Bergman, CEO
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