OTT success requires continuous service improvement

The underlying key to success in OTT services is service agility enabling continual update of the offering with key features in order to optimize the user experience and maintain competitive differentiation. This is the principle conclusion of a white paper just published jointly by Swedish TV apps developer Accedo and the Silicon Valley online video technology provider Ooyala.

Consumers expect the same level of innovation and development for OTT video as they do from other online services and broadcasters or content providers will come under pressure to distinguish their offerings through personalization and availability of innovative apps that entice and retain customers. The paper, Building a Successful Multi-Screen, Multi-Platform OTT Service, is pitched particularly at content providers and broadcasters, with a call for them to focus more strongly on their multi-screen customers and create a long-term vision backed by secure funding and robust processes for achieving strategic OTT goals. This in turn means securing key suppliers with a proven track record in multi-platform technology and deployments, capable of helping create an efficient application lifecycle that can support service growth.

The paper starts by arguing that OTT has already reached a tipping point driven both by technology evolution and consumer demand, citing a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) called Beyond Digital: Empowered consumers seek out tailored, inspiring content experiences that transcend platforms. That report noted a clear shift in TV and video consumption, “with consumers increasingly demanding high-quality original programming in a flexible, on-demand manner across numerous devices—thus enabling ‘binge viewing’ and greater convenience. OTT services offer the best outlet for this type of consumption, helping to explain why North American subscription TV penetration is forecast to fall from 79.8% in 2012 to 78.1% in 2016.”

The Ooyala/Accedo report extrapolated this into four clear trends content owners need to address, firstly that the primary screen is no longer automatically the TV, but whichever happens to be available at a given time. That screen is now increasingly a mobile one, with more than half of all online video plays expected to be on a smartphone, tablet or other wireless device before the end of 2015.

Secondly the fragmentation of content packages, surge of content sources and services, and proliferation of screens have all led to search and discovery becoming critical for seamless, multi-channel viewing experiences. Thirdly the management, curation and optimization of audience viewing experiences across screens is becoming a core customer need—and at the same time an opportunity for service differentiation. Fourthly the rise of the device as an entertainment navigator has facilitated the development of multi-screen applications, carrying content and experiences that connect to viewers throughout their daily lives.

The paper then equates these trends with five key focal points for OTT success: the multi-screen consumer, multi-platform framework, personalization, continuous service evolution and application lifecycle. The multi-screen consumer is characterized by device shifting during the day for video consumption as well as general web browsing. Catering for this trend can help combat churn by providing features such as bookmarking, enabling consumers to start watching a video on one device and later continue on another device from the point they left off. Watch lists are also going to be popular, allowing users to browse and discover videos on one device and consume them at a later time on another device. Notifications for cross-device reminders of certain events, such as live programs or releases of new on-demand content, will also feature increasingly on multiscreen services.

Delivering such features will require a multi-platform framework capable of combining different networks and target screens within a single coherent service. This in turn will underpin the third focal point, personalized content and smart recommendations, which increasingly require one-to-one targeting to identify content appealing to individual users, hiding other content. The paper cited recent research indicating that when a discovery engine recommends personalized video content consumers will view it as often as half of the time, far more than before. Smart recommendations unlock a world of attractive content, and audiences will consume it in greater volumes, driving more revenue for the provider.

The paper urges broadcasters to look at all data holistically, connecting the viewer watch list with search and discovery functions behind the scenes. As the paper points out, “viewers are demanding an integrated experience, where they can add their favorite content to their playlists across screens, and then receive targeted recommendations on additional content they may enjoy. Too often, this process is broken, and recommendations are either not linked or are duplicative to playlist content.”

The fourth focal point of continuous evolution requires ability to analyze application usage so as to assess how and on what platforms the service elements are being used, how the consumer navigates through them and above all which content is most likely to keep the user coming back for more. It is about responding to analysis of user patterns to identify which emerging options and new content should best be targeted to a given individual.

Finally comes the application lifecycle, which is more about managing the process of continuous evolution and personalization, dealing with different application versions, profiles and updates for native as well as web-enabled devices. The paper exhorts service providers to establish professional service provisioning by using cloud solutions for dynamic application profiling and so securing maximum flexibility with limited costs. As one example, running the same video service in multiple countries will most likely elicit a number of unique requirements by country, with the aim being to meet these varying objectives by re-using as much code as possible.

The challenge is to maximize OTT scalability, flexibility and agility for one-to-one service provision at the least possible cost, given that few OTT providers have the resources of a Netflix.

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