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Scripps' Yazmin Wickham Talks OTT App Development & Content Strategy

Tim Siglin, Founding Executive Director, Help Me Stream Research Foundation, and Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, sits down with Yazmin Wickham, Senior Director of Product, Scripps Networks, to discuss OTT app development and content strategies in this exclusive interview from Streaming Media East 2023.

Siglin asks Wickham to discuss her role at Scripps Networks and her background in the streaming industry.

“I work for Scripps Networks, [and] we are a division of the EW Scripps Corporation,” Wickham says. “So in my particular division, we broadcast 13 national TV channels, [including] include ion, Court TV, and Scripps News. And then I work on the product side of the house where we handle development and strategy for our web, mobile, and CTV apps.”

“And how does that strategy differ from the traditional television channels?” Siglin asks.

“So we have some really amazing and brilliant programmers who create these channels that everybody wants to watch,” Wickham says. “The addition of apps and CTV devices is just an extension of that particular avenue, but it also comes with different needs. For example, not only do people want to be able to tune into a TV channel and lean back and ‘let it wash over you…’” She mentions that she thinks someone said that particular phrase during a discussion earlier in the Streaming Media East conference.

Siglin agrees that someone did say that, and he mentions he’s never heard it described that way.

“It’s so apt, right?” Wickham says. “You just want to kind of sit down and lean back and just be like, okay…”

“’Tell me what I need to know,’” Siglin says.

“Tell me a story, right?” Wickham says.

“With an app, it begets a level of engagement from your user,” Wickham says. “So you want to develop an easy, low friction that allows [the user] to select the content they want to watch.”

Differences in Programming for Apps vs. Channels

“Is the content that they're watching there just a re-broadcast of what's on the television channels, or is it programmed differently?” Siglin asks.

“It depends on the app and the brand,” Wickham says. “Our programmers know their audience. For example, [with] our core TV channel, we have our linear broadcast, and then we also clip from the channel so that whoever missed the live broadcast can go back and get what they [want]. For things like Bounce, what may actually be in the app is controlled by content rights, so we'll put whatever VOD we think our consumers will really enjoy in the app, and everything else most likely on linear.”

Siglin asks Wickham how long she has worked with Scripps in this particular role.

“I was part of a company that was acquired in 2018,” she says. “I joined them in 2016 as a PHP developer, so I have a technical background and I just naturally evolved into a product role. And then, in 2018, we were acquired, reorganized, and restructured. And I found myself being assigned to a senior director or a product role and, you know, having a conversation with somebody going, ‘Hey, you're doing Product.’ ‘I am?’ ‘Yes, you are.’ ‘Okay, great. Thank you,’” she says with a laugh.

The Post-Pandemic Programming Glut and Consumer Choice Fatigue  

“So [with] you having that programmer background, [it] makes you more attuned and more empathetic to the developer who has to create the new features and functions than, say, a standard programmer might be,” Siglin says. “What are the changes? So as the company was acquired in 2018, two years prior to the pandemic, we saw obviously this huge uptick in people watching fast dial channels and other app-driven channels…what are some of the changes that you've seen even since the pandemic has tapered off that changes in the way that people consume content?”

“I think pre-pandemic, the illusion of choice was still there,” Wickham says. “We were presented with all of these platforms that had all of this content, and the story was, ‘Come join our platform, we have all these amazing [exclusive] things that you can watch…” She emphasizes that throughout the pandemic, viewers grew accustomed to binge-watching a massive amount of available programming, but now there is widespread collective fatigue over the sense of an overwhelming amount of content choices. Therefore, she says, programmers should develop a more curatorial approach and ways for improved discoverability.

Siglin notes that “The idea was this is exclusive content that will always stay on this platform. It will never be syndicated out to another platform. And in fact, you saw some of the big players pull their assets back into their own platform to enhance their subscriber rates, forgetting that the whole model of syndication was a way to do long-tail revenue. And so one concern I have in the industry is that a glut of choices come along [and] people will see the same content on 50 of those [platforms] and feel like we're right back in the TV days, and there's nothing to watch. So how do we counter that with compelling content? Is it a compelling experience? Is it a compelling app? What's the model to get there?”

“I think it's a combination all those three,” Wickham says. “Content still remains king. The fact is that the companies that invest in creating content and stories are going to have that little bit of an edge that just makes some sparkle. I mean, let's talk about Taylor Sheridan and Yellowstone and how amazing it is that the division of his empire is driving the growth of these two platforms. I'm definitely one of those people that loves to pay for an adless experience. But you best believe that I wanted to watch the last season of Yellowstone, so I sat through those ads. If Yellowstone were not as engaging as it was, I probably would not have sat through the experience that I had to in order to view that content.”

Siglin says, “So that content was compelling enough for you to choose to sit through that experience?”

“Yes,” Wickham says. “So it's never just one thing. It’s always a combination of everything.”

Learn more about OTT apps and content development strategies at Streaming Media Connect 2023.

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