The first wave of video content attempting to reach audiences through the Internet in the early 2000s had technical challenges.
Delivering quality content at low Internet speeds was short of an impossibility.
Streaming OTT solution was a reclusive and challenging business, a side job for many media organizations who didn’t yet see value in bringing their content to the Internet but were open to toying with the idea.
It took only a handful of years for the Internet to become the predominant way of engaging with video content and for streaming to be available on a growing number of connected devices.
The technical barriers of entry have all but disappeared, leaving the economic barriers of developing and launching a video service as one of the main challenges for content providers.
During this evolutionary period, user experiences (UX) went through several iterations that saw video players growing over time as content quality increased alongside Internet speeds.
To some extent, experience differentiation eventually stopped being “a thing,” and that video streaming OTT services are now differentiated predominantly on their offerings vs. their technology.
This is not to say that there isn’t some uniqueness to the look and feel of Over-the-Top (OTT) video streaming services, but that the core tenets of OTT content presentation have become industry standards.
While content catalogs are a key area of service differentiation, with platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, and Peacock investing billions of dollars in original content, there are also investments happening in at least three key areas: content discovery, service personalization, and OTT pricing and packaging.
Content Discovery Platforms
A vital issue most content providers try to solve for their users is helping them discover the content they are entitled to quickly and efficiently before they move on to a different platform.
Simply stated, how can users get to the content they want in the least number of interactions?
Several standards have been created that simplify content discovery: “Continue Watching” which presents a list of serialized content or incomplete movies for the user to resume consumption; “Favorites” delivering content the user has opted to follow; and “Recommended Content” which uses algorithmically generated recommendations to offer suggestions for discovery.
Search continues to be one of the top ways of content discovery, proving that sometimes even algorithms can’t predict the complicated tastes of human beings.
One of the most valuable advances in this field has been the introduction of voice commands in platforms like Google TV, Apple TV, Roku, and Xfinity.
Voice search reduces the editorial burden of predicting user behavior, empowering content discovery at a whole new level by letting users speak queries into their remote control.
Voice technologies in the video streaming services space can be said to still be at a nascent phase.
There are a significant number of differentiating advantages that can be gained from creatively building experiences that leverage conversational AI to help users engage with the right content.
A basic search allows the user to say the name of the show they want or to find content in a specific genre (i.e., “Show me Comedies”).
The queries can even become more complex, refining outcomes by artist (“Find Tom Cruise Movies”), audience type (“Shows for kids under 5”), and even business model (“Free Premium Movies”).
With some imagination, voice interfaces will evolve to provide a conversational journey allowing users to clarify their queries and delivering more optimized results.
An example of such an interaction could be:
AI: “Sure, you watched a couple. Do you mean Seinfeld or The Office?”
The challenge in this field will be in the ownership of voice technology.
Voice services typically exist at the device level, so application developers can seldom use them in their full glory, stifling any significant innovation in this space.
However, this is bound to change as platform providers realize the many benefits of opening their voice APIs to third-party developers and unleashing experiences that engage users at a whole new level.
Service personalization is at the top of the list regarding video experiences.
User profiles have become a standard, allowing functionality like favorites, history, and recommendations to present more tailored results to an individual user vs. a household.
While content consumption can be an individual experience, it is often a social one, and that context matters when it comes to service personalization.
The innovation in this space will be around joint profiles, family experiences, and co-watching (when users in two separate locations choose to watch something together).
Combine service personalization with voice AI, and you end up with a world of possibilities.
Expressions like “we’d like to watch the news” would allow a system to infer that it is a shared user experience and respond with relevant content recommendations based on combined profiles.
Service personalization could extend beyond the screen, enabling users to set the theme for watching TV with a single command. The command not only invokes the right content but also dims the lights, closes the curtains, and turns on the home alarm while putting your mobile on “Do Not Disturb” mode.
This is an area where companies will want to “break the glass” and try creative integrations that provide a futuristic experience for consumers.
OTT Pricing and Packaging
We’ve seen the rise of subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, which arguably started when Netflix moved away from its DVD business and built a dominant OTT streaming platform, forcing content providers to follow suit and provide OTT package with custom OTT solutions.
Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock, among others, are boasting subscriber growth by offering OTT streaming platforms and significantly contributing to the decline of traditional video.
However, the combined pricing of discrete SVOD services is becoming an issue for subscribers, driving OTT providers to supplement their growth with advertising revenues by introducing free or low-cost alternatives.
Another emerging trend is OTT aggregation, where traditional distributors hope to keep a stake in the game by combining the content offering of multiple providers into an aggregated experience.
This provides content discovery benefits to subscribers but has yet to offer any financial benefits.
Disney has already attempted packaging with their “Disney Bundle” offering, which includes Disney+. ESPN+, and Hulu, but with the explosion of content across multiple services, subscribers will unlikely be satisfied with a single source for all their content needs.
A lot must happen behind the negotiating curtains of the Media and Entertainment industry.
Still, from a product offering standpoint, we can see an evolution of billing platforms allowing cross billing, micro-payments, and easy on/off OTT subscription capabilities, allowing users to move across services without committing to a long-term OTT subscription price.
OTT engineering is nothing but the reinvention of the video business.
It took time for OTT engineering to become pervasive in the video space.
The major reasons were the technical limitations and the complexity of the business models.
New players like Netflix have been hugely successful; incumbents are finally finding their stride, and consumers are leaping into the new content economy.
Are you ready to capitalize on the future of entertainment?