In conversation with creators: Maarten Devillé on artificial intelligence at VTM GO
"If our product works well, what we do is invisible"
Programme makers present entertaining shows, but for the team taking care of VTM GO's personalisation, it's like a compliment when their work remains unseen. "Only when our recommendations work poorly do you wonder why you are seeing something," explains Maarten Devillé, Head of Recommendation and Search.
Personalisation is the code word for all streaming services, whether they are free or paying. Anyone watching VTM GO today would almost forget that it is a youngster in the market. "We have managed in two years to put down a fully personalised product, as of now the maturity phase has begun. We build your front page according to certain principles. We know who you are and what interests you, we match that with our offer and we try to make sure you discover as many programs as possible."
One of the biggest building blocks for personalisation is viewing behavior, how exactly that works Maarten Devillé is happy to explain:
"We build a pattern by linking the interaction between what we know about our viewer to what we know about our content. For example, if we see that you watch The Masked Singer every Friday, we know that this programme is relevant to you. Because we have such a large reach and so much content, we can work at scale. For example, we see that people who like watching movies are also interested in a programme like The Voice of Flanders. On the basis of this information, we build a profile of each viewer and of each content item; these are statistical profiles that allow us to calculate the right match. That is step one of our knowledge: we know the viewer's match rate with a programme. We can apply that to every viewer at every hour of the day based on the constantly changing viewing behavior."
Keep watchingThat personalisation is pervasive in the front page you see, but it goes much further. "Personalisation is everywhere. The front page is the most dominant. We're looking for a programme that fits well with your interests and that you haven't seen yet. Most people come to VTM GO today to watch a very specific programme. Of course we make sure they can find that quickly, but at the same time we want to show that we have a lot more that could be interesting."
Netflix is out of our league, but there they do with a hundred people what we do with six.
Personalisation is not only important within VTM GO, marketing also works very much on a personalised basis. "TV is mass communication, but VTM GO is not, there everything is personal. That is one of the greatest achievements of recent times: all communication is tailor-made, that applies to banners, but also to emails you receive from VTM GO and push notifications. Only those who have a 60% match with the telenovela genre receive communication when the new season of Lisa starts."
And so it seems that VTM GO doesn't have to undercut other international players.
"Netflix is out of our league, but they do with a hundred people what we do with six," laughs Maarten Devillé, but he is happy to accept the comparison with other broadcasters."