Chris Wood explains why radical change is essential if TV companies want to take OTT to the next level. It’s time to build OTT 2.0.
You wouldn’t build a house without proper foundations and expect it to last. So why – if you’re a traditional TV company that’s made the move to OTT – would you persevere with patchwork infrastructure that’s been cobbled together on poor foundations? You wouldn’t – or at least you shouldn’t. Unfortunately, many arguably do. However, as technology advances and consumer expectations change, those organisations are reaching the stage where tinkering with the wiring to improve the user experience is no longer making any discernible difference. As OTT quietly continues to steal audience from traditional TV, incremental change is not enough. If companies don’t think radically and prepare to re-dig the footings, their lofty ambitions for DTC growth could quickly subside. It’s time to build Platform 2.0.
Engineering: the UX battleground
The argument for OTT has long been won. The growing popularity of Video On Demand and subscription TV has persuaded many media companies to go DTC – with research suggesting that all major networks will have introduced OTT-powered services by 2022. Some are already there. However, of those that are, many find themselves teetering on the edge of glory. They’re at the cusp of providing a high-class experience, but the piecemeal way their platforms have been constructed makes it difficult to push on to the next level. As viewing habits shift and consumers enjoy greater choice and control over what they watch, UX has become the industry’s biggest competitive battleground – a key driver of audience retention and commercial success. Improving it is a question of engineering that depends heavily on laying the right foundations.
A high number of platforms have been built incrementally, with companies reactively bolting on new functionality in response to emerging innovation, market challenges and App Store ratings. As brands have evolved, organisations have patched in shiny new technologies from their ever-expanding list of vendors, stitching everything together in the hope of transforming the user experience. The marketing story sounds brilliant, but the reality is less impressive. The piecemeal approach typically culminates in ‘patchwork quilt’ architecture that reflects a lack of strategy and soils the user experience. What’s more, it leaves brand owners out of control of the roadmap, requiring them to pick through complex wiring across multiple vendors to make seemingly simple improvements. Too often companies identify a problem only to find themselves at the behest of vendors’ development plans – preventing them moving at the speed and velocity that their businesses require and their customers expect. As fixing UX becomes painfully slow, the risk of audience abandonment increases.
The challenges are unsurprising. Traditional players built their heritage around broadcast engineering, so making the journey to a software environment was always likely to be tricky. But despite the bumps in the road, many are delivering decent experiences where users are prepared to stomach UX difficulties in exchange for high quality content. However, they won’t wait forever – and neither should you.
Journey to Platform 2.0
So what can be done? How can you move from the edge of glory to the promised land of Platform 2.0? It’s time to take a deep breath, think differently and rebuild from scratch. Sure, that’s a bold and radical approach, but it doesn’t need to be scary. With a clear strategy, expert advice and a structured roadmap, rebuilding from the ground up is not only feasible, it will lay the foundations for future growth. Every business is different and a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t exist. However, there are five basic steps to building an OTT 2.0 platform that delivers a great user experience.
#1: Look under the hood
Start by auditing your existing architecture to identify current problems and how they might impact the vision for your brand. It’s important to examine things from a customer perspective. Too often, companies focus on features and benefits and forget the customer at the other end. The key to an effective audit is to take your ‘product hat’ off, log in and start exploring what’s under the hood. Companies rely heavily on tools, SDKs, libraries and vendors to monitor individual parts of the chain, but few ever pull all that data together to understand what it means.
You need to know your customer’s world. So lift the lid and find out what happens when you click that icon. Where does it go? What API does it get? Where’s the API deployed? How long does it take to process and respond? What goes on behind that service? A deep, agnostic audit will highlight poor performance – the spinners, slow load times and application crashes – that silently determine your App Store ratings.
Similarly, it’s easy to focus on the features you think your customers want without properly considering the downstream impact of bolting them in or checking that they actually want or need said features. What’s the engineering cost? What does it do to load times? It’s only by lifting the bonnet and understanding the ecosystem that decisions can be made in context. Fundamentally, UX isn’t about products and features, it’s about engineering.
#2: Develop a strategy – and own it
The trend for outsourcing every component to third party vendors is well established – but the cracks are beginning to appear. Therefore, step two is to develop a strategy that builds on the learnings from your architectural audit to create a roadmap that prioritises the functionality that’s most important. Once you’ve decided the key areas of focus, identify which components can be offloaded to third parties and those where you need to exert greater control. Take ownership and responsibility for the critical components – and put plans in place to monitor and manage performance.
#3: Invest in the right skills
The best way of taking ownership and responsibility for priority components is to ensure your teams have the requisite skills. This is likely to require investment in engineering capability. Leaders understood early that to deliver a first-class service, they needed to invest properly in software engineers. The rules haven’t changed. Deep technical knowledge is a pre-requisite of DTC success.
#4: Invest properly
Developing the optimal OTT 2.0 experience requires genuine investment. Disney has invested astronomically in its new streaming service, whereas other new entrants are trying to get by on tiny budgets. Success is about investing in the appropriate resources, rather than fiddling around at the edges. This doesn’t mean breaking the bank – it means developing a proper plan that identifies Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and focusing resources accordingly. It’s the antithesis of the piecemeal approach.
#5. Be brave
Companies are acknowledging that their OTT 2.0 infrastructure has reached the limit of what it can do –they can’t keep bolting on innovation and hoping for the best. A radical rethink is required. Fundamentally, tomorrow’s leaders will be those who are brave today. Companies that take the bold decision to rebuild from the ground up will lay the foundations for long-term success. It’s a big call. However, with a good agnostic partner to help you design the right architecture and roadmap, the next level of OTT delivery might just be within reach.
You’re on the edge of glory. It’s time to be brave and build OTT 2.0.