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July 21, 2022updated 16 Nov 2022 5:45pm

The data platform which enabled RTE to transform its online video player

By Press Gazette

Partner Content*: When Piano Analytics began working with Irish state broadcaster RTÉ to help update its digital offering, the company knew it had a daunting task ahead. The broadcaster only had limited data on its online customer base from before 2013, and as the team at Piano soon discovered, much of the data that RTÉ did have had been handled manually up to that point.

Staff at RTÉ were having to input Excel spreadsheets and produce reports using PowerPoint rather than updating an API in real time. This added an extra layer of complexity and inefficiency to the analytics process, which ultimately meant that the data being collated wasn’t accurate, and hampered RTÉ’s efforts to improve its online service offering.

On top of this, according to RTÉ’s data and insights manager, Neal Cantle, it used to take an entire day and two members of staff to pull together the requisite data for weekly performance meetings. Consequently, these meetings were held on a Wednesday afternoon, by which time data from the week before had already become irrelevant and the online team were unable to focus on creating future value in real time.

Using analytics to improve RTE’s video player

“We needed a way of combining behavioural data with demographic data,” Cantle explains. “Something that allowed for the creation of specific dashboards to manage our service offering on a day-by-day, or even case-by-case basis.”

In this sense, RTÉ Player improved right away following the introduction of Piana, since staff were able to produce and analyse high-quality, real-time consumption data. Suddenly, Cantle and his team could view the total number of viewers, total number of devices, their age profile, geolocation, content preferences, and dwell time, almost concurrently.

Working with Piano Analytics has seen a number of initiatives undertaken, geared towards better harnessing full demographic data and an ability to  understand cross-platform behaviour of individuals – something that is not possible with anonymous cookie and device-based data.

This has led to RTÉ putting aside more of a marketing budget aimed at engaging younger viewers, as well as tracking down fresh content to entice that same demographic. RTÉ has also focused on providing additional exclusive and boxset content, repositioning the service away from being predominantly a catch-up platform to more of a full video-on-demand offering.

Cantle sees this as ultimately improving the quality of content on the Player, as well as measuring its impact on audiences. “For the first time ever, we’ve been able to commit adequate resources to the production of non-linear TV,” he says. “Accurate reporting has allowed us to move away from being a catch-up service – though we still offer that to customers who want it – and dedicate more time to becoming an on-demand service.

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“It’s affected our content offering in a big way, since not only can we now offer popular classic box sets like Frasier and Seinfeld, but we’ve seen that drama content in particular enthuses new users and garners longer engagement times. That ultimately feeds into RTÉ’s commissioning budget, and ensures that new talent is always coming through the pipeline.”

This focus on drama includes making popular Irish dramas such as Love-Hate available on the Player in full, as well as co-productions with other broadcasters – including global smash-hit Normal People. It may also lead to a renewed focus on acquiring rights from overseas – BBC drama Hidden Assets is one such example.

Based on insights from Piano Analytics, RTÉ Player also introduced an autoplay button on a number of such offerings to encourage longer engagements from individual users and to keep them watching where previously they might have clicked elsewhere. The ability to watch ahead of linear broadcast – that is, before the ‘TV premiere’ has taken place – has also encouraged many to consider The RTÉ Player where previously they hadn’t.

Major improvements

Now that RTÉ has introduced an API and measurement dashboards to its backend, as well as improved its commitment to analysing data and feeding engagement, there has been a 49% increase in time spent on RTÉ Player.

Like other traditional broadcasters, RTÉ recognises that streaming services like Netflix have changed the game, and it has changed its mindset toward what was once known within the industry as ‘binge watching.’

“Initial results show that this has not ‘cannibalized’ the linear TV model, which is still at the crux of RTÉ’s service offering,” Cantle says. “It has simply improved traffic to the RTÉ Player. This is because it targets a completely different audience who want to consume their content in different ways. Demographics who would rarely have watched TV to begin with are coming to RTÉ because of the online package that we offer.”

Aside from improvements to user experience and influencing the production of engaging new content, there have been tangible benefits for Cantle and his team. Quick access to an API, without having to do manual input, means that he and his team can focus on the week ahead rather than trying to decipher the strengths and weaknesses of the week before.

International-domestic viewer splits can now be gauged with a remarkable degree of accuracy, as well as video vs. on-demand, traffic sources, top content, and what devices are being used to access the Player.

RTÉ’s commercial team is using the improved data to drive advertising revenue as well, though Cantle stresses that for compliance reasons this has to be done through the liaising role of account managers; the commercial arm and the public broadcast arm of RTÉ must be kept separate. Ultimately, he says, their data is useful for matching certain advertisers to certain kinds of content based on demographic breakdown. What might someone watching a football match want to look at, for example, or how successfully might a product be marketed to a young person watching a box set.

What was a legacy platform struggling to keep pace with a new generation of digital arrivistes has been transformed into a standalone video service fit for the age of streaming, as well as a key driver of wider business and commissioning strategy. RTÉ is now well-positioned to engage and enthuse future generations of viewers, consolidating its position at the heart of national culture and further building on a storied legacy.

*This article was sponsored by Piano.

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