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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

OTT distribution channels are changing. Be ready

October 22, 2019 | By Dana Ghavami, CEO—Spotible @Spotible

OTT players and channels are changing faster than the seasons. The spring will bring a crop of new streaming entrants, joining an already crowded market. Still dominated by Netflix, a growing number of major players are drawing video viewers.

In the publishing industry, a remarkable level of transformation is happening by way of mergers that are driven, in part, by capacity to produce video. Recently, Vox Media and New York Media joined forces. This followed close on the heels of the recent tie ups of Group Nine Media and PopSugar along with Vice Media and Refinery29. An underlying theme is upping the production of quality video programming for seeking OTT platforms and rising streaming channels battling for subscribers. So, the question is: How will consumers be watching?

Get SmartTV

The answer is on a Smart TV—whether a Vizio with WatchFree powered by Pluto TV or an LG with LG Channels powered by Xumo—the CTV universe is made up of a growing number of streaming channels (or so-called FAST services). Now, major OTT platforms are following suit with Fire TV’s IMDb TV and Roku’s The Roku Channel.

In this dynamic, programming from media companies is produced in a seller’s market as FAST services look to differentiate with new and, if possible, exclusive content. The goal is to set themselves apart from aggregated CTV ad budgets. The result is that programming is starting to be distributed on 24/7 streaming channels (like the advent of cable news). The end game is to develop an audience that can be channeled to an owned and operated network/app.

Streaming channels that take form of the lean back TV world are also coming over-the-top via leading cable/MVPD companies. For example, Spectrum recently released a skinny bundle that allows viewers to choose what they actually want to watch. And that’s for approximately the same price as an SVOD service like Netflix. The skinny bundle is trending.

Netflix vs. niche

So, here we are. We find ourselves at an interesting intersection of an on-demand world (with active content discovery and viewing) and a programmed channel world with passive watching of round-the-clock streaming content. The king of OTT and SVOD, Netflix, is ad-free. It also set a high bar with premium content licensing and quality original shows as it outspends the competition.

However, we see an emerging universe fueled by advertising/AVOD and channels that run 24/7 content of essentially any genre of choice as an expanding orbit of media publishers become producers of OTT programming. On the sidelines, streaming sports and leagues are expanding their own OTT plus channels. This delivers their content straight to fans or through digital upstarts that make sports the core of their offerings, like Fubo and DAZN.

The best of the bunch

The pendulum is going to swing in a direction that improves the TV experience the most. At the heart of it all is content discovery and recommendation. The next show you’re going to watch is still the biggest unknown. According to the State of Viewing and Streaming study released by Horowitz Research last year, just over one-third (36%) of viewers consider personalized recommendation algorithms helpful in discovering shows. Whereas TV ads, word-of-mouth, and social media are attributed with 35%, 34% and 26%, respectively in frequency of new discovery. The better the content recommendation, the more that will be watched on-demand.

From there, the more “connected” your TV experience, the more it will look like a digital network versus a TV network. It will become a more social and shareable experience. The advertising that puts the A in AVOD will increase in value as it becomes more data driven complying with user privacy and better in targeting viewers. The better the social integration, the more that will be watched on constant programmed channels.

The lessons have been learned by media companies is that they must maintain their own brand and operated environments in the world of platforms. However, they must continue to experiment with publishing channels to direct audiences and own distribution (and monetization). In the grand experiment of OTT programming, content is being produced and distributed in 24/7 streams to start up on platforms that garner the greatest audience for the brand. The future of OTT is here, flipping your favorite channel.

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