Archive for May, 2008

Internet TV: Storyline Subscriptions wrote:

Internet TV: Storyline Subscriptions

Do you remember, about ten years ago, we used to talk about the "great jukebox in the sky", where every song ever made would be available online, and playable on a whim? Well, that reality has pretty much come true, with many resources available on the Internet for finding and playing music, and with digital back catalogs getting deeper and deeper making more and more songs available.

The Problem

Well, the same thing is going to happen to TV: every TV show ever made will be available online, playable at a whim’s notice. But unlike music, which for most of its popular life has been the defining "bite sized" media experience, TV content has always epitomized the serial rich media experience.

But TV has always been a bit self-defeating in that regard, with broadcast windows that make episodic TV so ephemeral. Here tonight, gone tomorrow, maybe back in reruns next spring. Secondary distribution mechanisms are starting to fill the gap, but ultimately only complicate the viewing experience. Today, if you want to watch a TV shows that has been on for several seasons, you might need to:

  • Rent or buy DVDs of previous seasons
  • Purchase the first several episodes of current seasons, because they’ve already been broadcast
  • Record the current episodes with your DVR, and save them until you’re all caught up

Then you have to coordinate across all these delivery mechanisms to watch the show in the proper order… What a hassle!

The Solution

There is a better way. More and more, TV shows are being (re)distributed as RSS feeds, which allows for a completely "on-demand" experience. What’s more, the coolest feature of Adobe Media Player, called "Storyline Subscriptions", takes advantage of the reverse chronological order inherent in RSS to deliver every episode of a show, in order, from the beginning, at a pace determined by each individual viewer.

Most video RSS aggregators will pull the most recent episodes of a show, which is great for news and magazine-style shows. But for story-based shows, viewers really want to start from the beginning, in order to follow the story arcs and character developments. When you subscribe to a show in Adobe Media Player, you can choose to either pull the N most recent episodes, or choose to pull N episodes starting with a specific episode, usually the first one. And of course you can change these settings, on a per-show basis, at any time.


What’s more, in storyline mode, Adobe Media Player won’t queue up subsequent episodes until you watch the ones you currently have, so you can watch each show at your own pace and not worry about falling behind or taking up too much disk space.

For Content Owners

Storyline subscriptions have tremendous benefits for content owners as well:

  • As you create your show, you can continue to grow your audience organically, without worrying about leaving new viewers behind.
  • If you’re paying the bills thru advertising, more viewers watching more of your show’s episodes means more impressions and more potential revenue.
  • After the initial subscription, you reduce bandwidth costs because only active viewers receive subsequent episodes.

Because so much video podcasting is news- or magazine-oriented, we couldn’t turn storyline subscriptions on by default for all RSS feeds. But we did define a new RSS extension that allows you to turn storyline subscriptions on by default for your show in Adobe Media Player. Simply add Adobe Media Player namespace and the following to your RSS feed:


When Adobe Media Player detects this, it automatically starts a subscription to that feed in storyline mode, beginning with the first (last) episode in the feed.

Emerging best practices for mapping TV to RSS wrote:

Emerging best practices for mapping TV to RSS

You’ll see me repeat this over and over again: Adobe Media Player is basically a video RSS aggregator designed for both viewers and creators. Viewers can easily and efficiently find and watch their favorite TV shows delivered across the internet, and content creators can monetize their content delivered to the desktop thru dynamic branding, advertising, measurement, and protection.

We architected on top of RSS because it is the perfect notification and delivery mechanism for serialized content. In terms of implementation, we map the traditional notion of a television "show" to an <rss> element, and each "episode" of a show to an <item> element within the rss. And using the Media RSS specification, each <item> points to media files or AMOD documents that define the orchestration of advertising in and around each episode.

None of this is new, as this is really another way to describe the underpinnings of "podcasting&quot. The real difference is that we now view major broadcasters and prime time content creators simply as podcasters who regularly publish high quality content. Media RSS has become the standard by which television is delivered across the Internet.

We are starting to learn a few things as we push RSS back up the long tail of television towards prime time, and I’d like to share some of them with you now:

  1. FIRST, make sure your RSS feed validates. For instance, proper implementation of GUIDs for the items in your feed is critical for Adobe Media Player to retain state information for your viewers.
  2. Make your RSS feed icon large. Aggregators can use this asset to represent your show in a variety of ways, and larger icons look better in featured areas. FWIW, there seems to be several ways to specify a show icon, and we’d like to simplify our requirements on this.
  3. Add unique thumbnails to each of your episodes. Really try to find thumbnails that capture the essense of each episode. For instance, look at what CBS did for the RSS feed of Star Trek TOS in Adobe Media Player…

    If you’re at all familiar with this show, some of these thumbnails will be instantly recognizable! Kudos to the CBS team for putting so much thought into this! You want your content to be instantly recognizable to your audience as well, so take the time to find the right "icon" for each episode.

  4. Consider NOT putting the show name in the title of each episode. LIke Adobe Media Player, all aggregators should be doing all they can to represent the brand of the content, and forcing too much branding to counteract poor aggregator UI design actually detracts from the user experience. In the case above, I’ll be reaching out to the CBS team to see if they’ll make this change to their feeds.
  5. Episode numbers ARE useful at the beginning of each episode title, but repeating the word "Episode" in each title is NOT useful. I’ve seen straight episodic number schemes (1, 2, … n), and I’ve seen season.episode schemes (1.1, 1.2, … 2.1, … n.m), and either is fine for now. Down the road, we’d like to address the notion of "seasons" within the user experience of Adobe Media Player, but I’m not sure if this should be parsed from the episode title or identified using a dedicate attribute of each item. If you have any feedback on this, let us know.
  6. Put dates for each episode. Note that the Star Trek feed has the original broadcast dates! This is fantastic because Adobe Media Player lets you watch shows starting from the first chronological episode. This is invaluable for viewers who are new to your show, or who are catching up… regardless of where you are in your production process, viewers can experience your story arcs as you intended. Most specifically, note that if episodes share the same date and time, we won’t know which order to play them in.
  7. PLEASE add <category> tags at the <rss> level. These will help make your shows discoverable in a variety of environments, including in the "genre cloud" in the Adobe Media Player Catalog.
  8. Finally, consider adding the branding extensions for Adobe Media Player to your existing feed. Other aggregators will ignore this information, and you don’t need to ask your viewers to pick a feed depending on their aggregator preference.

All that said, we’re also continuously learning about how to improve the user experience of Adobe Media Player itself, particularly in regards to presenting show and episode information. If you feel like you need to organize your RSS feed in a "less than elegant" manner in order to achieve a certain user experience within Adobe Media Player, again, let us know

One last note: television-style shows often don’t exist in a vacuum. Within the larger ecosystem of Adobe Media Player, and particularly in the context of our catalog, we define a "publisher" as the entity that controls the copyrights to a show, and a "network" as the brand that distributes a show. Networks appear in our catalog, and publishers are only used within our back-end systems. Sometimes publisher and network are the same entity, and sometimes a publisher has several networks, each with their own shows. It can get even more convoluted when shows are distributed across multiple networks from a publisher, and downright confusing when a publisher uses someone else’s networks. We don’t necessarily have solid solutions on how to simplify things here, but if we collectively need to represent these relationships as metadata in RSS feeds for shows, we’re willing to help figure it all out.