I recently got some time with SundaySky’s President and Chief Revenue Officer, Jim Dicso, to talk about their SmartVideo product which offers real-time personalized video to better engage and connect with consumers. It’s an interesting product so I thought it best to get the info straight from the source. I couldn’t embed the videos so I had to link out to them on the SundaySky site, but they are worth looking at if you think that SmartVideo might benefit you, they do really show off some of the flexibility and capabilities of the service SundaySky is offering.

The way SmartVideo works is by combining user-specific data, due to them having purchased a good or service from somewhere, with interactive video to make a video experience like no other. This goes far beyond simply having your name in a video, it can drill down to things like order or account status, payment due dates, etc.

The real power of SmartVideo, I think, is when it’s tied to a database full of pertinent user information.  That is all, obviously, on the advertiser’s side and you have personally authorized them to have that information when you signed up for their site or service. It might look a bit ‘Big Brother’ to some but I don’t think that’s really it at all since you’ve already agreed, knowingly or not, to give them certain information that would be used to target you with this sort of video. Plus, SundaySky offers opt out, so if you are actually concerned, you can go do that. Now, let’s get to what Jim had to say about SmartVideo.

SundaySky SmartVideo – An Interview With Jim Disco

How are the creative elements generated? Is SundaySky using an internal creative team or is it outsourced to various other teams as project work?

SundaySky has a turnkey solution supported by an internal creative team. We work closely with our customers and their creative agencies to create videos mapped to their brand guidelines and goals.

In order to fully leverage the potential of SmartVideo, a different approach to video is required. SundaySky’s segmented, “object-oriented” approach selects and stitches together elements that are created separately, in real time and based on smart business logic. In this way, we can control the inclusion and exclusion of data, the order of the elements, the length of the video, and more. For example, if a certain product got bad reviews, the video will skip the review scene. But if positive reviews exist, the video will show two to five snippets based on the number of words in each and the level of enthusiasm in each.

It’s important to note that our creative team does not create video. It creates SmartVideo.

SmartVideo apparently has two pieces, the SaaS VideoLet and the Rendering Engine. It’s obviously a package deal so I’m curious on the interaction between the two. Does the Videolet just tell the Rendering engine what data and creative elements are available and the engine does all the heavy lifting on what should be shown in the video?

Your description is pretty much right. The only change I would make is that the SundaySky Videolet is more than a list of creative elements; it’s actually a recipe that dictates which elements to choose and how those elements should interact with each other given different conditions on the input data, the viewing environment, etc. The recipe uses a rules engine to take input data from multiple sources and make direction-level decisions about what the video should include. The output of this recipe is then plugged into the real-time renderer, which takes these instructions and generates a unique SmartVideo.

Have you got some other example than AT&T (view here) for personalization?

Take a look at the Expanding Relationships video. This demonstrates a personalization solution offered to the online retail market. There are several levels of personalization. The AT&T example, like the demo video above, is highly personal, and that might not be right for every deployment.

For example, when SmartVideo is used as an online ad, we personalize the video but not to the same
extent. One example is a campaign we had with LivingSocial in which each viewer got a different ad
based on his location and the time he viewed the video.

With Office Depot, we take this approach one step further. We show users who abandoned the
OfficeDepot.com site a video ad that is derived directly from their browsing behavior on the site. The
name of the person might not appear in the video, but the fact that the user gets a targeted relevant ad
with the product that he’s most likely to buy significantly increases the engagement with these ads.

How does the system track, gather and analyze behavioral data? What specific data is being collected and what kind of privacy policies are in place? Can users opt out? Is there a clear list of what is being tracked?

In order to measure and optimize the performance of the videos, we track collective data about user
interaction with the video (click-to-play rate, average viewing time, interaction rate, etc.). Based on the
trends we’re seeing, we optimize the creative elements, the logic used to select those elements and the
video’s surrounding (player, page, media buy when relevant, and more). Privacy policies are in place
(see link) with an option to opt out.

What’s a ‘standard’ number of permutations for a personalized video? What factors determine how many there are and is there a suggested number in a best practices paper from SundaySky?

We don’t look at it as one video with many permutations. In a way, this question is like asking an
EA sports game developer how many different ways there are to play his game (don’t get me started on them -C). Each user gets a personalized experience. Every data element in the Videolet can be included or excluded – from whole scenes to the smallest visual icon. Order and placement of the elements are also determined in real time. So you can imagine that really, there’s an endless number of possible permutations. This is further increased by the fact that live data is displayed in the video. How many customer from AT&T get the exact same bill, for example? They’re all unique, and so are the resulting customer support videos.

Are the creative elements in the videos interactive? So, for example, in a product showcase, can I click on a product to get further information right in the video stream and then return to the showcase after viewing it?

The elements in the video are interactive. When users click on them, they can lead to a URL, open
another video, open an application, engage with a chat agent, or other options. Whatever brands can
trigger with a URL call, they can also do in their video links. Most of our product showcase customers
choose, following our recommendation, to include a few strong calls to action that reflect their goals
(e.g., “add to cart”), rather than scattered links that might distract the user from taking action.

For the personalized pre-rolls, where is the system getting the shopping history and is that also opt out? How is it tying that history to specific users? What is the tracking technology?

Retargeting technologies are common today, especially in display ads. Retargeting methodologies use
tags and cookies to track users. The eco-system for that is already in place, and we only take advantage
of that. We either drop tags on the site or collaborate with existing tag vendors on the site to get data.
In any case, users can opt out if they decide to do so.

How does SundaySky keep the personalized videos for things like confirmation emails from being totally cheesy? I would be expecting something like:

Hi ,
Here are some other offers that we think you might be interested in

That’s me being my typically skeptical self. -Chris

I hope the videos above managed to demonstrate how personalized videos can be compelling and highly
engaging. One tip we constantly share with our customers is to think from the point of view of a user. In
order to engage users over time, you need to not only promote your objectives but also give them what
they want. In every new deployment we think about where the user is in his journey at the moment
of viewing the video and what he wants to hear about.

For example, in order confirmation emails we include information about the status of the shipment, expected delivery date, what the user should do in case he decides to return the product. All of these pieces of information might not directly increase revenues, but they can increase customer lifetime value and prevent potential calls to call centers, reducing costs per customer.

In any case, the videos shouldn’t be cheesy. The platform allows customers to use their own voices and
build tailored customer experiences based on their brand strategies.