In OTT video, features are as important as content

For decades, TV networks have focused on marketing one thing: content. That’s because content was the only thing that broadcasters and networks actually controlled. Cable providers were the ones tasked with creating a user interface, which they did with remotes, menus and channel guides. Now, though, there’s a dramatically different media landscape, and with the rise of over-the-top (OTT) video, streaming video providers have to consider the user experience as well.

Despite the changing landscape, content is still king, and OTT providers are spending tens of billions of dollars on programming annually. Meanwhile, streaming services have spent $191 million so far this year on TV commercials promoting themselves, with Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV and Netflix leading the way. It’s safe to assume that the majority of that money went toward promoting content, whether specific original programming or the richness of their overall libraries.

In today’s age of cord cutting, cord shaving, unbundling and standalone OTT subscriptions, dedicating all of that ad budget solely to content promotion is a missed opportunity. The direct-to-consumer nature of OTT video means that marketing departments at these services should be thinking beyond content. Especially given the rise in mobile viewership, they should consider how to differentiate their product through mobile app features and functionality that can help them stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The trouble is that product and marketing teams have rarely worked so closely in the past.

Unified marketing and product teams

The recent newfronts and upfronts showed that networks recognize that OTT is their future, but rarely do these presentations tout features. Service providers slide from selling programming to advertisers at the upfronts to marketing programming to viewers ahead of the new fall season, missing a chance to push features.

This happens because the marketing and product teams often exist within silos at these networks and streaming services. Marketers who built their careers narrowly focused on promoting shows and movies don’t necessarily think to market, for example, a user interface. But marketers who are taking an innovative approach understand the benefits of collaboration and are working with their product teams to promote other aspects of their business that users care about, not just content.

Surviving within today’s streaming wars is not only a matter of having the best content, but of delivering the best overall experience. Services that exclusively market their content are living in the past, failing to account for a new landscape where viewing is no longer confined to the TV set. This change in modern viewership is why media companies are investing in creating mobile apps to begin with. To maximize the awareness of their app and its features, product and marketing teams need to unify their development plans and marketing campaigns, so that every effort promotes both new programming and improved capabilities.

Unique features and UI

Aligning marketing and product is crucial because features can make a difference in a competitive landscape. With viewers already fatigued by the number of available streaming services and encountering challenges when it comes to finding content they want to watch, it’s easy to conclude that dissatisfied viewers will cancel subscriptions or stop using services that deliver a poor experience.

The easiest way to slow this churn is to build a UI that separates your streaming service from the pack. That could mean a customizable home screen, or a UI designed from a mobile-first perspective if that’s how the majority of the audience accesses the content. Other features, like improved recommendation algorithms, subscriptions to episodic content and friction-free viewing with mobile download, are all potential difference makers that will keep viewers engaged. It’s important to market these and similar features so that viewers know that a service is easy to use and fits within their lifestyle and viewing habits. In some cases, the mobile app and the features will serve as marketing opportunities for the programming itself.

Compete against other mobile apps

Fitting into the viewer’s lifestyle is perhaps the most crucial part of the OTT competition. Again, viewers aren’t watching content the way they watched traditional broadcast or cable. They still watch in their living rooms, yes, but they also watch on the subway, in buses, in the back of an Uber, on planes, in hotel rooms and possibly even in the bathroom at work. In those environments, OTT services aren’t merely competing against each other – they’re competing against an entire universe of apps on viewers’ mobile devices.

The traditional TV viewing experience has been dealing with viewers’ divided attention for years, and now 70% of the adult population browses on one device while watching on another. TV marketing departments used to compete for primetime eyeballs, but now they need to be thinking about competing for space on the viewers’ mobile home screen. Having an OTT mobile app front and center, on the first page of apps a consumer sees whenever they open their phone, is a great way to remain top of mind. Plus, if your app delivers a great experience, that will become a brand attribute that the user will see each time they see your app on their phone- which is multiple times per day.

Any company with an OTT mobile app – subscription services, cable operators, TV networks and everyone else – needs to aggressively market their app as an app. It’s not just a conduit for programming. It’s something that matters to the consumer and fits within their daily life.

If the overall goal of a marketing department is to generate revenue, then OTT marketing departments need to expand their perspective to include the revenue that comes from deep viewer engagement and decreased churn. If marketing and product can work together on a cohesive marketing vision that touts programming and functionality, including features that separate the VOD service from the rest of the pack, then service providers will be able to increase their subscriber base and, in turn, their revenue.

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