How Discovery Plus markets complex streaming options to an international audience

The streaming network delivers automatic recommendations and notifications to a large, multi-lingual audience through orchestration platform Blueshift.

Chat with MarTechBot

Nothing makes the case for a CDP like a complex web of streaming TV channels, especially if it’s serving different types of content to users in different regions, with different interests and speaking different languages. That’s an audience which is going to generate, in aggregate, a huge volume of data, but it’s data that requires a myriad of different responses.

That’s the challenge facing Fredrik Salzedo, recently appointed Global Director Martech/CRM at Discovery Plus (he was formerly Director Retention/CRM for the EMEA division.

Discovery Plus in Europe

The European presence began with a series of Nordic channels with names like Norway TV Play. This network was rebranded as Dplay. In January this year, the European operation became Discovery Plus; then Discovery Plus was launched in the U.S., establishing one streaming service name globally.

The Discovery Channel itself and sibling channels like Animal Planet, TLC and the Food Network, are familiar in the U.S. In Europe, the scope of Discovery Plus’s offerings has been much wider.

“The big difference between the U.S. and Europe is that, in the U.S., you have the old Discovery Networks Inc. channels like Discovery, like Animal Planet. Over in Europe we have the content coming from the U.S., but on top of that, how Discovery has grown in Europe has been by buying a lot of different companies.” In the Nordics especially, but other parts of Europe too, Discovery Plus has very strong local content. Sports is big too — in Sweden, for example, they have the rights to the premier soccer league, and they also hold the pan-European rights to the Olympics.

Discovery Plus leverages an instance of CDP and marketing automation platform Blueshift to manage and market to their strikingly diverse audience. “You have to be clever when you do your campaigns or orchestration because you have a bunch of Spanish users — they don’t need to receive recommendations about some Finnish show,” Salzedo said.

Although Blueshift is a CDP, Discovery Plus had already installed another CDP, mParticle, which now runs alongside Blueshift. mParticle ingests events data across Discovery Plus channels and sends it over to Blueshift.

Looking to take control of your data? Learn about trends and capabilities of customer data platforms in the latest edition of this MarTech Intelligence Report.

Click here to download!

Cdp Mir 2024

The shift to “smart hub” CDPs

To understand how that part of Discovery Plus’s stack is structured, we spoke with Blueshift co-founder and CEO Vijay Chittoor. “They do use mParticle,” he said, “but as their event data infrastructure. A lot of companies, for example, have used Google Tag Manager or Tealium for data collection (Tealium also offers a separate CDP product). As that space evolved, companies like Segment and mParticle started coming in, positioned not so much as a tag manager but as an API for data collection and data routing.”

Foundational to CDPs, said Chittoor, is profile unification, audience building and activation. “Those are the core functionalities. All of that we are doing for Discovery Plus.” The emphasis on orchestration and personalization leads Chittoor to refer to the Blueshift offering as “smart hub” CDP, a term which originated with Gartner; and he distinguishes between data integration platforms in the space, typically purchased by a technology bar, and marketer-focused and execution-focused platforms. “The customer data platform starts to act as your marketing hub,” he said.

Discovery Plus is using Blueshift, he said, at the “intersection” of CDPs and marketing clouds. The traditional marketing clouds were built from acquired solutions which were very much focused on individual channels. “Today what marketers need is the idea of a central decisioning core for marketing, which is where the notion of ‘smart hub’ is emerging.”

“The kind of data we are capturing comes from multiple sources. Some of it is tag management data about website browsing, but a lot of richer data is coming in which includes subscription transactions, householding — this customer is part of a group that has three or four different profiles. All of that grouping functionality is happening in Blueshift; subscription upgrades and downgrades, linked to one object, is happening in Blueshift. Preference management is happening in Blueshift; storing multiple identifiers in terms of different devices is happening in Blueshift. The fact that someone watched this specific episode, if they watched it to completion, if there’s a new episode coming — all of that data is coming together in Blueshift. They don’t have this profile in any other system.”

That’s how things are set up for Discovery Plus, but Chittoor notes that stacks are structured differently across the various parts of Discovery Networks. In some cases, data collection itself is happening through Blueshift, not through another solution like mParticle.

How Discovery Plus approaches retention and acquisition

That’s the stack, but what is Salzedo using it for? “Priority number one is engagement, of course. Our goal is to increase the time spent on the platform — consumption is the main KPI. It’s mostly about retention, because the more shows you have, the more you’re watching, the more likely you are to stay with us. It’s easy math; if you don’t watch anything, why do you keep paying? Netflix has the advantage that users don’t churn even if they’re are no shows [to watch] because it’s Netflix and at some point some new shows will come. Discovery Plus is not really there yet.”

To complicate an already intricate picture, there are different types of users in Europe: SVOD users (subscription video on demand), but also AVOD users (advertising-based video on demand). The latter have access to only a percentage of the Discovery Plus library, but they view it with ads. Sports, for example, is mainly behind the SVOD paywall. “Here you have the acquisition part because, of course, AVOD is opening up the door into the product; when you create an AVOD account our goal is to make you an SVOD.”

Once users are acquired, the goal is to take them beyond the show they were originally watching and “hook them” to other shows. “That’s where Blueshift really comes in and why we ended up choosing Blueshift because of their recommendation engine capabilities. We use those functionalities in Blueshift to create recommendations based on the data we have on users, what they’re watching. We create recommendations and expose you to those while you’re bingeing the first show.”

He saw this strategy at work at HBO. Facing the likelihood of massive churn when “Game of Thrones” ended, HBO began promoting “Chernobyl” to the same audience. The same challenge came around, of course, when “Chernobyl” ended: “But at least it maximized and prolonged the lifetime of the users. This is exactly what we try to accomplish with Blueshift.”

Automated recommendations improve user experience

For this large, highly differentiated audience, the recommendations need to be automated. “We are ingesting the content metadata, as we call it — show description, the length of the show, it could be anything — into the catalogue feature that Blueshift has, we map it against what viewers are watching, and it creates recommendations on which shows you are most likely to enjoy. It’s done on a one-to-one level.”

And all in one instance of Blueshift, which means it’s necessary to recognize the location and language of users, for example.

Currently, the recommendations are distributed not only in the stream itself but in email, push and in-app notifications, and there are plans to launch pop-ups for desktop to reach those users who don’t provide the consent for email or other notifications required under European law.

Discovery Plus has been using Blueshift since 2019, and given the very limited technology capabilities they had before that it’s hardly surprising, Salzedo reflected, that they’ve seen a lot of success with what they’re doing now. For example, they’ve had success with a predictive model in Blueshift which tells them, based on viewing behavior, which soccer team a user is likely to supports, triggering push notifications when the team is playing live. Push notifications are also used to automatically make users aware that a new episode of a show they are watching is available.

“It’s not only about selling subscriptions,” said Salzedo. “It’s a lot about the user experience and engagement.”

About the author

Kim Davis
Kim Davis is currently editor at large at MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for almost three decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Shortly thereafter he joined Third Door Media as Editorial Director at MarTech.

Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.