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How Media Brands Can Harness Standalone OTT Apps to Grow Their Audiences

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As lockdowns went into effect last year, homebound people everywhere turned to the comfort of their favorite TV shows. But many weren’t watching on live TV. Whether it was The Office on Peacock, The Mandalorian on Disney+, or The Sopranos on HBO Max, more people than ever were watching TV on over-the-top (OTT) streaming platforms.

According to Comscore, 69.8 million homes used OTT apps in April 2020 — 5.2 million more than the year before. Trapped at home, Americans watched 1.4 billion more hours of OTT content than they did in 2019. The big five—Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video—all saw surges in viewers, and were joined by new services like Peacock and Discovery Plus. Even cable providers like AT&T are getting in on the action.

When Netflix went digital in 2010, it was in its own lane. But now the OTT market is quickly becoming as crowded and fragmented as the traditional cable TV market… or even the web itself. Media companies of all sizes are scrambling to carve out their own stake in the OTT market, as audiences come to expect the ability to watch their shows on any screen they want. 

However, not every media company has the resources, properties, or promotional power of NBCUniversal or Disney. This begs the question: How can smaller media companies compete in the OTT arena?

Some will choose to partner with major OTT service providers to gain access to their large audiences. But in a saturated OTT landscape, is it still possible for media brands to stay independent with OTT apps of their own? The answer is yes. Here are some considerations for media companies looking to launch standalone OTT apps: 

Exclusive Content

As the age-old saying goes, content is king. If you have niche, exclusive content and loyal followers eager to watch it, then OTT is the perfect way to keep those followers watching. With OTT apps, followers can watch your content anytime and anywhere at their own convenience.

Live streaming is another potent way to keep audiences engaged. According to our data, live streaming was up 400% in 2020. That trend will continue in 2021. In particular, media brands in verticals like faith, fitness, and sports are well primed to take advantage of live streaming on OTT apps.  

Airtight App Design

If you’re going through the trouble of investing in a standalone OTT app, you want to make sure it looks good and works well. Your followers will come for your content, but they’ll stay for a great user experience. That starts with app design.

You’ll want to keep in mind the demographics of your audience here. For example, if your audience is diverse or international, multi-language support should be a priority. Similarly, if your audience is dominated by the very old or the very young, you’ll want to make sure the text is large and legible.

But perhaps most importantly, the quality of the viewing experience matters. This includes not only the quality of the stream itself, but also the availability of features that enhance the viewing experience like the ability to pause, rewind, record, and save videos for later. 

Audience Engagement

If content is king, then engagement is queen. Audiences have dozens of options for content they could be watching — how can you keep them watching your content? This too is rooted in app design. That includes clear interfaces and fluid animations that put the content first. Indeed, strong poster images do half the work. You also want a simple taxonomy that provides viewers with a clear mental model for how to explore the content library.

Good OTT apps are also personalized to the viewer, tracking what videos they watch and recommending new videos they might want to watch next. Audiences have come to expect this level of personalization everywhere else, and they’ll want it in their OTT apps too.

In-app search is often overlooked as a tool for engagement, but if audiences can’t find new content they want to watch, what’s stopping them from looking somewhere else? One way to increase engagement is to personalize search results to the audience’s viewing habits. Moreover, search should be forgiving and show content related to the search term. For example, if there’s no “Stallone” movie in the library, the search results could show other 80’s action movies. 

Pricing Models: SVOD, AVOD or Freemium

Once you have your OTT app designed, you’ll want to figure out how to make money off of it. Subscription-based models make sense if you have a loyal audience committed to viewing your content. In contrast, advertising-based models are ideal if audiences are less committed or if they’re only interested in select videos.

Alternatively, you can get the best of both worlds with the Freemium model. Casual users can access your content with ads, and if they like what they see, they can subscribe for more. It’s a great way to expand your audience and bring new followers to your content that wouldn’t have watched it before. 

In my experience, a hybrid approach is the way to go. The money is in SVOD, especially for niche content. But if there’s a paywell when you first open the app, you’re bound to lose around 90% of your app installs on day one. A great model is one that has some content available free or with ads, for example the first episode of a show, and the rest behind the paywall.

If you decide an ad-based model is the way to go, you’ll want to leverage analytics to optimize your content and ad targeting so you can boost your CPMs. Standalone OTT apps can be a gamble, but a robust back-end with monetization analytics can help you maximize your ROI. 

Frictionless, Scalable Workflows

Audiences today have an insatiable appetite for content. To keep up with demand, media companies will need flexible, frictionless, and scalable workflows to deliver a steady stream of fresh content.

An ideal workflow automatically imports content and metadata to eliminate human error and ease workloads. The specifics of when and where different content will be available can also be automated. Furthermore, these workflows can be integrated with the aforementioned monetization analytics to help you optimize your content delivery for revenue.

The key to a successful OTT implementation is an API that can connect your OTT Apps with any existing in-house apps. APIs also allow you to seamlessly integrate apps in the future to add capabilities in, say, analytics or ad targeting, making your OTT platform forward compatible with new technologies.

In any case, setting up an independent, standalone OTT app can be a challenging prospect, especially for smaller media brands without the technical expertise to set up an OTT app in-house. If this applies to you, consider partnering with a trusted video platform who can deliver your content to your audiences at scale. With their support, you too can take part in the OTT revolution, grow your audience and monetize your content.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from JW Player. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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