App Voting to the Masses: Q&A with Tectonic’s Andy Shaw
This month, the Exchange blog is joined by Tectonic CEO and co-founder Andy Shaw who talks to us about his most recent project which bought App voting interactivity to a massive Eurovision song contest audience:
Q: The Eurovision Song Contest was watched by 170,000,000 people this year. Voting via apps was introduced for the first time– how did it go?
AS: The in-app voting worked without a hitch. The main challenge was to elegantly handle the spike in traffic. A service on this scale had simply never been done before – it was a 15-minute vote window, which is very short, and the service ran in 31 countries. So, we were very pleased that the platform has now been road-tested on the largest voting show on earth and we have gained invaluable experience.
Q. What was your role in the service for Eurovision?
AS: The TECTONIC® platform connected the apps across Europe to the vote counting platform and processed the votes. digame mobile (who manage the interactivity for Eurovision) turned to us because we specialise in highly scaled, reliable and secure IP interactivity. We provided consultancy, the technology platform and on-the-night support to manage the spikes of audience interaction with the show.
Q. Voting within apps/IP voting isn’t used widely in UK live TV – what barriers, if any, have halted the use of this route of entry before?
AS: Second screen interaction is sometimes a bit of a cottage industry – funding is agreed on a project-by-project basis and bespoke solutions involving multiple parties are put together for each TV series. As a result there have been some examples which haven’t gone very well. This has affected people’s confidence, especially the broadcasters who are accountable to their viewers an ultimately to OFCOM.
Our focus is on giving confidence to the broadcasters. Firstly, we invested in the platform and scaled it to handle millions of connected apps and 10,000s interactions per second. We have also built in a technology fail-safe which provides a predictable user experience in overload conditions. Secondly, we have introduced the best practices of a big company into our specialized team. For example, we are certified to ISO 27001 standards for data security. Thirdly, we have built a team of specialists from within the industry (and we’re still recruiting, so get in touch if you would like to contribute to the project). Fourthly, we are working with AIME to produce guidelines on how to get this right and widen the knowledge base within the industry.
My co-founder and I led the developments of BT’s RIDE Platform for phone interaction and we have simply done the same for IP interaction. So any app developer can plug in using our SDK/API and scale their vote/play-along quiz/competition to broadcast standards.
Q. This technology could be regarded as the first to bridge the gap between the online world and measurable interactive engagement with TV shows. What measurement/analysis capabilities does this technology give broadcasters?
AS: You’re right, there are lots of opportunities here. Broadcasters will know more about their audience and who is interacting and we can report in real-time to see the effects of any changes in the user experience. We can embed interactivity throughout an application, so we see what works and what doesn’t.
There are lots of opportunities to bring multiple data sets together and analyse them, but I think the biggest opportunity is for sponsors to create sales leads as part of the interactive experience in addition to the revenue from consumer payment.
Q. What are the technical challenges involved in delivering app voting to a large audience?
A. With most websites there are peaks of traffic, but with live TV response there are massive spikes. So, you need a platform that is optimised to handle lots of people doing the same thing at the same time.
Firstly, the technology needs to hold an open connection with the app – so you can open and close a vote, push the next question in a quiz with everyone receiving the update at the same time.
Secondly, the technology needs to process data quickly and accurately, so 10,000s interactions can be processed in real-time and the result is available immediately to the administrators.
Thirdly, you need to be in control of your own network, so it is risky to rely on public cloud, like Amazon EC2. Public cloud is cheap, but it doesn’t scale evenly or quickly enough and there is always a danger that Amazon misinterpret a vote final as a DDOS attack.
Fourthly, you need to ensure that everyone gets a predictable user experience, so if the system becomes over-loaded, those already connected carry out without interruption.
And lastly, the service must be secure, so only those with authorized access can see vote results and logged data.
Q. Do you think we will now see a precedent for live voting shows using IP/App voting as a paid route of entry?
AS: Certainly, Eurovision shows that there is an appetite from viewers and now there is a platform that can deliver at scale, so the precedent exists. People are used to paying for apps and add-ons, we just need to make it easy for them. No-one begrudges the odd £1 here and there for something they enjoy.
Q. IP/App voting may be a preferred route of entry for the connected generation and beyond – how do you think this route will impact on SMS or IVR routes of entry for voting shows?
AS: I think that phone voting will be around for years to come – everyone knows how to do it and the billing is frictionless. Voice Short Codes have been a great addition for mobile users.
However, in-app voting provides lots more opportunity to encourage voting. For example, app users can be prompted to vote after they have downloaded a contestant’s song, or when a friend of theirs has voted or when they have just watched a video on their mobile.
Phone voting tends to take place in response to an on-air call to action and is skewed towards the finals and semi-finals. In-app voting encourages a new section of viewers to vote and provides additional opportunities to prompt an interaction.
Q. Are there any plans in the pipeline to bring this to the UK live voting shows?
AS: There certainly are. Once, the trust of the broadcasters is restored, there will be additional opportunities to develop paid-for play-along games and quizzes.