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The State of Video App Development 2015

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Then there’s the player and how it works.

“On a web-based player ultimately, there’s an HTML page. A lot of companies will have something on the server generate that page dynamically with the data the application needs to get started,” Tapper says. “If you’re running on iOS or Android or Roku, you don’t have that webpage. You need to have a player that can start up on its own, and say, ‘Tell me what the URL is.’ If there are no existing services to feed data to the application, those services will need to be created, which obviously adds to the development effort.”

The advertising piece itself can look deceptively simple, when actually there’s a whole lot of hidden complexity to it.

“If you have a midroll ad, what happens to the user controls? Can users seek out of that midroll ad?” Tapper says.  Usually publishers don’t want that. But what if they’re seeking within a stream and they cross an ad boundary on that seek?”

Thinking about ad models in multiscreen environments, you really have to consider how the ads are going to be delivered to multiple devices, ad stitching, and client-side serving, and not look at it as one magic bullet.

“You want to support multiple technologies, both client-side ad delivery and server-side ad delivery and it varies based on platform” Dale says. “If you’re on iOS or Android, you do have the expectation that the user interface will reflect the ad state. Or you could support a richer client-side ad event, in which case you want to do some stuff client-side, if not everything client-side.”

The complexity goes up when you have various custom requirements. For example, platform companies have a specific fixed amount of services in their app offerings, but if you want to combine something like five or six analytics engines, a custom player might be a better fit.

Another key area is planning for ongoing maintenance.

“I think a lot of media companies or folks not familiar with product development tend to think the work is done when you bring a product into market, but really that’s when the work is started,” Elia says.

“The level of investment, whether it’s internal or with partners, is going to be larger over time than it is for the initial build. You have to be aware of that and go in with your eyes open.”

“The fallacy is that getting the apps launched is 95% of the work,” Thompson says. “In reality there’s really a lot of ongoing changes that publishers want to incorporate because they have different aesthetic guidelines within their brands, the platform may launch a set of new capabilities, or they may have a change in their content catalogue or their merchandising. All those things can drive updates in all of their apps, so really think about the long-term maintenance plan and cost of that maintenance.”

“The other cost that’s not considered in app development is if you’re doing video, even with IOS, but especially trying to do video on the landscape of Android devices, either your testing burden goes way up or you realize you’re going to have people who will have video playback problems on the Android,” Hartman says.

While Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku are still the leading devices, developers say they're getting more requests to develop apps for Amazon's Fire TV.

Roberts spoke about the scalable development process she has built out with Discovery Communications to create apps to supply multiple brands with content.

“When we’re building, we try to think about how other people across the company would want to use it,” she says. “On the technology side, we try to develop a core app code base that can be reused for our different brands. That allows us to go out and spin off apps very quickly, so there isn’t a huge amount of investment for our new brands.

“Discovery has published 30 apps in the last year,” Roberts says. “With the skinnable app strategy we’ve published 24 apps. For the first app that we developed that would be skinnable it probably took 3 months. For each new brand on that same app it would take 3 days to build and 5 days of testing.”

Step Three: The Content

If you were serving progressive downloads to computers before, then you’ve upped your storage cost by 10 times. Each new platform will need additional files in varying sizes and maybe even format in order to be played on each of the devices. If you have thousands and thousands of videos that you want to offer, you’re going to have to be careful about storage costs at your CDN.

“As a publisher you have to plan for the low end on some devices and the high end on others,” Xiques says. “You may have as many from seven to a dozen different encodes. On mobile you really need to provide a rich set of low-end bitrates. On the opposite end of the spectrum when you’re doing Chromecast, they will not care if you have bitrates lower than 700Kbps, because they would look really bad on a 40" screen. So they’re going to be really interested in how many streams you have above 1500Kbps.

When encoding for delivery to Google Chromecast, it's less important to have low-bitrate resolutions than renditions above 1500Kbps, since consumers use the device to stream to large HDTVs.

 “Adaptive bitrate switching is a have-to-have, especially with mobile,” he says. “Your network conditions are going to vary so greatly that you have to have adaptive bitrate switching in place if you want to have an effective user experience.”

There are companies out there that will do encoding and transcoding for you, but you still have to decide what you want them to do.

“Video itself is a complicated issue and you need to decide if you’re going to take it on head-on or entrust it to a third party. I think that’s probably a decision you should make early on and that’s got to be an informed decision,” Eichele says. “We encoded for all our content when it came in for the devices that we had on our year long roadmap.”

Kidoodle TV faced the same dilemma any publisher faces—parking data until it’s needed, or revisiting its encoding requirements as it moves out to new platforms. “We want to get onto the bigger devices and we don’t have the encodes for it. It’s a decision we made at the time to not do all that and have it sit there for a year, but now we’re faced with redoing it.”

“If there’s one thing that you actually should know is that you cannot measure all of your analytics in a consistent way across all devices,” Jones says. “You get really rich analytics for desktop, you get fairly rich analytics for dedicated apps on Android and IOS, and you get very limited analytics across other devices.”

“So you’ve got inconsistent analytics and the reason that matters is it’s very difficult to tell which apps you should build in the first place,” Jones says. “On an ongoing basis it’s really difficult to work out where to focus your ongoing development efforts because you’re not quite sure what’s doing what.”

So there you have it. Enough advice to get your head swimming if you’re new to this, or a list of some of the things you’ve encountered if you’re deep into app development.

Key points for the audience step are to be aware of development costs by platform, be sure your audience is on the devices you’re considering development for, identify what your goal is for each specific platform you want to support, and design for the specific platform user experience.

When it comes to the technology component, the first advice is to iterate quickly, identifying and mapping out features along the way. Decide if native or nonnative development is your best route, and be sure your services from third-party partners for your ads, analytics, and ecommerce will move out across all platforms. Evaluate how your player, advertising, and other custom requirements will impact both your initial and ongoing development budget, then plan how you can develop core code features to fit with your brands’ needs.

For content, when planning out your encodes you’ll have an even wider range of device needs to plan for, regardless of whether you will do it in-house or with a supplier, so you’ll find you need to schedule when you want to start to have content for each new platform.

We hope we’ve left you with more answers than you had before, so you can start to navigate the next digital land grab with an informed idea about where to concentrate your budget and resources.

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