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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

To maximize OTT performance, should we think lean back or lean forward?

May 6, 2019 | By Dana Ghavami, CEO—Spotible@Spotible

Given that OTT is the new TV, how should audience interaction be considered? TV is conventionally viewed on a large screen ten or so feet away and described as a “lean back” viewing experience. However, the new capabilities that come with OTT are associated with “leaning forward” – similar to browsing the Internet. In the digital age, people navigate content by swipes on mobile touch screens or clicks on portable laptops and desktops. In other words: They lean forward.

From a media perspective, it has proved optimal to follow traditional TV practices in order to maximize viewer time with OTT video content. This starts with playing video the moment the app opens just like tuning into a TV channel. These days, the practice is becoming standard particularly across OTT apps for broadcasters with linear establishments. (AKA, leaning back.)

By the numbers

The metrics behind the lean-back practice are particularly compelling when comparing average view time for media companies that have transitioned from on-demand menu starts to starting with video streams. Average viewer times have increased between 80-120%— more than doubling from less than a half hour to over an hour per session.

Moreover, Pluto TV, the leading free streaming service with more than 15 million monthly users, takes it a step further with 24 hours of programming on OTT channels. Pluto recently announced a view time of two hours per session, which already represents half the average daily view time of TV in the U.S. of nearly four hours. And consider Hulu (with 28 million customers), which recently announced binge watching on the service as a new ad targeting metric. So, length of viewing time is now a metric of significance in OTT viewership and even advertising.

Ad engagement

From an advertising perspective, lean-forward ad engagement can be far more impactful. This means capturing consumer attention with interaction of any kind, whether a game of sort for brand recall or data capture for direct response. In digital, user interaction is the driving force behind premium and higher value ad opportunities. 

However, when we consider OTT as the new TV — where leaning back is the status quo on a connected TV versus the underwhelming amount of time spent watching OTT on mobile phones — a new balance must be struck with the level of interactivity and added value that is possible. Compare this to the lean-back paradigm of TV in OTT, where the remote is purely a means of turning the stream on or off or tuning the volume up or down.

With lean-back, media companies and marketers will need to capture the most meaningful signals from viewers through their viewing behaviors and activity along their content journey. They will also need to break the mold with interactivity in simple and beneficial ways to the viewer, such as skip or continue to watch a certain commercial like done with simplicity in digital.

For OTT, we’ll need to take a hybrid view to maximize consumer understanding and ad performance. As a medium, OTT must be evaluated in the context of “lean back” in terms of programming presentation, and a “lean forward” opportunity in the presentation of commercials through viewership behavior.

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