CBS Bets Big on Star Trek, But Will Need Data to Win the OTT Game

Last month, CBS announced that its subscription-based video-on-demand (SVOD) service, CBS All Access, and live streaming will include Nielsen measuring capabilities. A few short weeks later, the broadcast giant announced that it will produce and distribute the next Star Trek series exclusively on its All Access service. In this battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of viewers, CBS is making much the same bet as SVOD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have made in the past. CBS believes that high-profile, high-quality, original-scripted (ahem: high cost) content is the ideal recipe for its network to live long and prosper, no pun intended. 

CBS’s decision to stream Star Trek, one of the television industry’s the most storied franchises, exclusively on demand was a strategic play designed to drive users to the service. CBS is betting that that the Star Trek brand will increase subscriptions and help the network claim a piece of the OTT viewership pie. Its decision to partner with Nielsen will allow CBS to offer third-party viewership metrics, opening the door to ad-based monetization. The more original, popular, and exclusive content a service can provide, the more subscribers it can acquire and retain, creating a virtuous monetization circle that will fuel its growth.

While third-party viewership validation (i.e. Nielsen) is a great first step toward measuring and monetizing OTT video, there are two other fundamental pieces of intelligence that OTT providers like CBS must embrace to achieve success: quality of service and viewer behavior.  If the key factor in acquiring and retaining viewers is high-quality, high production value programming, the industry must guarantee that the viewer experience reflects that investment. Great content cannot be great if it’s not seen, is slow to start, or just isn’t smooth (think buffering, jitters, and stalls). OTT video quality must mimic the experience of traditional television. After all, content is hardly worth the investment if you are not reaching your subscribers (and keeping them happy without the hassle of interruptions).

Nielsen third party-viewership numbers are required to monetize CBS’s investment in the next installment of the Star Trek franchise, but the network will also need impartial, third-party “Nielsen-like” intelligence that can measure video quality and viewer behavior. CBS must be able to understand the integrity, or quality, of the signal at every juncture in the OTT delivery chain—especially as OTT delivery  generally requires the service provider leveraging the services of many different vendors (CDNs, software defined video processors, app/player vendors, etc.). Providers must also be able to understand the behavior of each viewer as it relates to both the quality of the content and the quality of the delivery network. 

By choosing to stream Star Trek exclusively on All Access, CBS is upping its ante on OTT, and increasing its risk with a programming investment delivered over a network it doesn’t control and was not built to deliver something as complex or robust as video. Being able to understand its viewers’ experience without having direct delivery access to that viewer will be key. Even though the show attracts viewers, do they watch the show in its entirety? If not, when did they tune out? Most importantly, why did they tune out? Was it the content (including things like annoyingly repetitive ads), or a playback quality issue? And if a quality issue, how can it be fixed immediately, and prevented in the future? 

CBS and other networks making big investments in OTT streaming media must include some means of measuring the quality of the viewer experience, both direct quality measurement at the playback device and the correlated viewer response to that. But they also need a way to establish performance metrics for their distribution ecosystem vendors, and a way to gather these metrics in real time.  Only when they have these tools, along with the viewership metrics they are currently focused on, will they truly "own" their OTT businesses. Without answers to the inevitable "why" questions, and the ability to sort out and address both the operational and content issues, their entire initiative is at risk. It will be interesting to watch how OTT industry pioneers like CBS evolve their thinking on ratings, content exclusivity, and the continuing challenges of delivering a broadcast quality experience to an anywhere, anytime audience.

[Kurt Michel is senior marketing director of IneoQuest. StreamingMedia.com accepts vendor-contributed articles like this one based solely on their value to our readers.]

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