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MIT AI tries to eliminate buffering when streaming videos

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MIT has developed an AI capable of streaming video without making you wait for it to buffer. Buffering is one of the biggest hindrances publishers face when convincing viewers to watch their content. Visitors on slow connections will simply turn away.

 Engadget reports that MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has come up with a solution for buffering that could put an end to the loading icons and progress bars. It tasked a neural network with trying to solve one of the biggest challenges when developing conventional buffering systems.

“Buffering” refers to the chunk-based streaming of large files over a network. When you play a video, it’s effectively chopped into sections that are downloaded individually of each other. You can start watching the video without having to download the entire thing first. If your connection is slow, you might end up watching a chunk before the next one has completely downloaded, creating a frustrating experience.

Modern buffering technology uses an Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) algorithm to adjust the quality of the video as it’s played. If your network quality degrades while you’re watching a video, most sites will automatically reduce its resolution so chunks continue to download quickly. ABR can be implemented in two ways, either by measuring the speed of a network and dynamically adjusting quality or always working to maintain a downloaded buffer at the end of the video.

The problem is that neither approach fully solves the issue. This is what CSAIL’s new Pensive AI has finally overcome. It uses a combination of both ABR techniques, offering the benefits of each one. Current buffering systems use an algorithm to determine when to switch between the ABR mechanisms. Pensive has a neural network instead, allowing it to break free from rules and always favour smoother video playback.

Pensive gets smarter over time as it comes to understand how it can obtain its biggest reward. Like other neural networks, it determines success by looking for “rewards.” In this instance, the ultimate goal is to always achieve smooth playback. Any stutter causes the AI to be penalised, forcing it to an alternative approach. As it learns over time, it comes to consistently look for the highest reward, always favouring smooth video and effectively eliminating stutter.

According to the researchers behind Pensive, its behaviour could also be customised by the user. You’d be able to choose whether to allow some buffering and play at a higher resolution or to always force completely smooth playback.

“Our system is flexible for whatever you want to optimize it for,” MIT professor Mohammad Alizadeh said in a statement to Engadget. “You could even imagine a user personalizing their own streaming experience based on whether they want to prioritize rebuffering versus resolution.”

Pensive’s success means it could eventually be adopted by commercial video streaming services. The team behind the AI first wants to explore its applications in another growing technology though. MIT is eyeing Pensive as a solution to smooth wireless virtual reality, allowing the headset cable to be removed. Pensive could overcome the hundred megabit bitrate required for VR, making wireless high-performance headsets a possibility.

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DJG partners with GetStarted to create voice-activated content experiences for brands

DJG’s new partnership breaks ground for voice-activated branded content experiences.

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Content marketing firm Digital Journal Group (DJG) and voice technology platform GetStarted today announced a partnership to build voice-enabled experiences for brands wanting to reach audiences via smart home devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

This partnership will leverage DJG’s cross-industry content marketing and storytelling experience for leading B2B and B2C brands, and GetStarted’s technology platform that allows organizations to create dialogue and conversation via smart home devices.

“Voice is a really exciting space for us because it allows for totally new kinds of content experiences, as well as unique data insights that are possible as a result of the way people interface with content,” says Chris Hogg, President and Partner at DJG. “Up until now, a person’s interaction with their smart speaker has been largely query-based, where an individual asks for information such as weather, recipes or events in their calendar. Our partnership with GetStarted allows us to shape the experience on behalf of a brand, allowing an organization to have a conversation with a person around their interests.”

In Canada, 77% of the population is aware of smart speakers, and 26% own a device according to research from Edison Research and Triton Digital. In the United States, 80% of the population is familiar with smart speakers and nearly one quarter (24%) own a device.

The DJG-GetStarted partnership allows companies to connect their audience via the voice-activated speakers they already have in their home, so no additional hardware is required.

As part of its partnership, DJG will design and deliver voice-enabled content marketing experiences for brands via a managed service, and GetStarted will provide the voice technology platform. 

DJG will focus first on creating brand-audience experiences that deliver surprise and delight via voice, as well as deepen engagement and conversion opportunities for organizations exploring new ways to connect with an audience. 

“We are very excited to count DJG as a key member of our pioneering launch partner group to explore the rapidly growing voice activation arenas,” says Norbert Horvath, CEO and Co-Founder at GetStarted. “Using our innovative GetStarted dialogue management platform, brands are now able to design, launch, iterate quickly, and perfect their conversation-based content experiences with their respective audiences.  We are looking forward to pursuing this opportunity together with DJG by engaging and actually listening to what the stakeholders have to say.”

DJG offers consultation, design and build services for voice-enabled experiences for multiple stakeholders within an organization:

  • For marketers: Give your audience access to news and information, exclusive content, thought leadership and insight, as well as offers and contests.
  • For internal communications and HR teams: Deliver company updates, news and executive messaging on a one-on-one basis with distributed teams and remote workforces.
  • For virtual event organizers: Provide attendees with “backstage access” to speaker interviews, sponsor information and exclusive content. Attendees can engage with their smart speaker live during an event, deepening engagement and creating a new kind of virtual attendee experience.

“While the use of voice in content marketing, HR and events is still in its infancy, we anticipate audiences will move in this direction and be open to new kinds of content experiences via conversation with a smart home device, so we’re building for it now,” says Hogg. 

For more information or to discuss how voice-activated content experiences could be produced for your business, contact DJG.

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A marketing mindset translates to DX success for banks and credit unions

43% of banks saw a stronger ROI in digital transformation efforts by giving marketers a seat at the table.

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A winning strategy for banks and credit unions in their digital transformation efforts? 

Bringing marketers on board.

Global marketing agency Metia Group polled 500 senior financial marketers in the US and Europe between April 27 and May 17 — covering institutions of all sizes with active DX initiatives underway. Their research found that the most successful efforts are those where a marketing mindset was applied.

Of those institutions surveyed, more than one third gave their marketing teams a full seat at the table to determine company-wide DX efforts.

As a result of including marketing teams, 43% of banks said their initiatives exceeded expected ROI. This compares to only 23% of the other institutions not taking the same marketing-led approach.

Additional key findings of the Mindset Matters report include:

  • Institutions with a marketing mindset were able to pivot their customer experiences more rapidly in response to COVID-19, with 32% finding it easy to pivot the digital customer experience, versus 25% of other institutions.
  • Financial institutions with a marketing mindset were found to be more likely to have built digital experiences superior to their competition: 60% versus 35%. They also reported greater success in terms of customer acquisition, increased deposits, and improved cross-sell rates.
  • 69% of those surveyed believe that the role of marketing will be even more critical post-COVID in securing a strong future for financial institutions.

“Marketing experts are the most customer-centric personnel in any organization, and their absence from the digital transformation process in the majority of financial institutions is a missed opportunity,” said Liz High, Vice President of Insight and Strategy at Metia. Smaller institutions that have been further disadvantaged by COVID-19 have a clear opportunity to extend the impact of the resources they do have, by putting their senior marketers in the driving seat. The same is true of the larger banks that want their investments to deliver what matters to their customers.”

The report from Metia can be downloaded here.

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2020 digital transformation trends in media and entertainment

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Back in July, Netflix reported its first domestic subscriber loss since 2011, and lowest quarterly subscriber growth in three years.

Stock value, of course, plunged — a mind-blowing $17 billion in one day — proving that especially for the media and entertainment industries, immunity from disruption is non-existent, even for massive pioneers like Netflix. 

Writing in Forbes, Futurum Principal Analyst Daniel Newman explains that while last year’s digital transformation (DX) trends for media and entertainment were focused around the increase in video ads, buzz for digital experience, and the resulting rise in mobile data usage, predictions for 2020 focus on the need to “cap the crazy.”

There’s a need to “realize what types of technology and advancements and content creation will really drive business in 2020 — and which will merely drive companies into the ground,” Newman writes. 

2020 will also be an “inflection point,” he says, “where companies are going to better operationalize current technology.” Preparing will be key, with organizations working to handle emerging technologies like 5g, mobile AR/VR, and conversational AI — while maintaining a balance between profits and connecting with the customer. 

Here are Newman’s top four predictions for digital transformation in media and entertainment:

Applied AI for operations: Spending is growing faster than profits at today’s organizations, which is a business no-no. Media and entertainment companies need to take the wheel on spending, but the situation is still controllable. 

“Every company today, aided by AI and machine learning, has the power to be smarter about where and how they’re spending. They have the ability to see what’s working and what isn’t.”

Privacy: The trust gap is currently massive, and media and entertainment are at the centre. Consumers overwhelmingly (61% in one survey) feel that companies no longer have control over data and privacy.

“In the future, there will be a significant opportunity for brands to work on offering greater levels of data usage transparency,” Newman says, “to deliver best of breed experiences while also providing consumers a better understanding of how data is being used.”

This will translate into giving better and more levels of control to consumers, including information on what brands know about them and having the right to be forgotten.

Focus on building intelligent enterprises: Going hand-in-hand with the aforementioned spending issue, companies in media and entertainment need to shift their focus on building smart enterprise, “not just cool and exciting media arms.”

With the innovation that’s taken place within media and entertainment, it’s important that “companies apply the same effort to the back office to make sure operations can support growth and scale profitably.”

Personalization: Gen Z-ers and Millennials are willing to pay for personalization. Especially if it’s well done and lead to deeper engagement. In 2020, Newman explains, companies will take a closer look at both successful content and which audiences they’re attracting. The result will be, thanks to AI and machine learning, more niche communication and customized content geared to specific audiences. 

Going beyond content, “it’s time for the industries to clean up their databases and make smarter outreach,” Newman says. “2020 will leave no room for messy communication and customer relationship management.”

Given that consumers haven’t changed their habits too much, previous predictions continue to hold out. The coming year, however, “will focus more on getting a handle on the wild masses of content being created and shared across an endless number of channels.”

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