Over the last several years I have spoken with hundreds of media brands that are looking for guidance on how to prepare for and/or transform themselves for the future of streaming TV. In nearly every single one of those conversations, the dialog always begins with the question “What does it take to launch a successful OTT channel?”
There are many things to consider as you think about launching an OTT channel, but at its foundation, it really comes down to just three key elements; programming strategy, user experience, and effective promotion. Seems simple enough – but, what is essential is that you execute well on all three of these strategies simultaneously and it’s a never-ending process.
You would be surprised to learn how many media brands, some from amazing pedigree, fall short on this simple framework time and time again. Having the best content in the world isn’t enough if you don’t have a thoughtful user experience or if no one knows it exists. Or having an amazing looking channel with content that is never refreshed isn’t going to get you very far either.
For those of you that are building plans for an OTT channel, or for those of you who currently have one that isn’t meeting your expectation, this simple framework will give the foundation to build a very successful business. Regardless of your business model (free, ad-supported, subscription, or transactional) or the size of your company or your library, following this tenant will enable you to maximize the lifetime value of your audience.
Before you get too excited, there is still a quite a lot of work and nuance involved in building and maintaining a successful channel. The OTT ecosystem is in a constant state of change so I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on all three areas at all times and come to terms that it is a never-ending process. It’s important not to take short-term risks that will limit your long-term upside.
I. Captivating Programming Strategy: A successfully executed programming strategy will help drive engagement with your audience and maximize your customer’s lifetime value. Just having captivating content isn’t enough. Your long-term strategy should very much be built like you were programming a cable network designed to attract and maintain an audience.
- Know Your Audience – Understanding your audience and their viewing habits enable you to confidently and creatively give them more of what they want.
- Regular Scheduling – Building viewing habits with your audience to drive engagement. Publish your content on the same day of the week or at the same time of day.
- Original Content – Exclusive content can be very powerful in attracting and maintaining an audience, especially if you plan on a charging a monthly subscription.
- Keep it Fresh – Make your content feel fresh even if it isn’t. Build programming stunts around holidays, anniversaries, or current events that play to the strength of your library.
- Human Touch – Algorithms are great, but they lack soul and authenticity. Consider adding human curated features like staff picks, ‘movie of the week’, or even having celebrity commentaries to build more of a personality and buzz around your brand.
II. Strong User Experience: You want every touch point with your audience to be as optimized as possible. Creating a seamless and smooth user experience will instill confidence in the viewer. Defining your brand’s persona in OTT framework may seem overwhelming for those of you coming from a traditional TV or print background. So I’d encourage you to think about more like you were building a mobile website with the goal of minimizing the number clicks required to get to the content. Be sure to remember OTT is a ‘lean back’ experience – people want to find something to watch and put their remotes down.
- Ubiquitous Distribution – There will never be just one dominant OTT platform, so you need to plan on being on all the major players (Amazon Fire, Apple, Chromecast, and Roku) to increase the size of your potential audience. It’s okay to launch on one before you move to the next, but your end game should be to be everywhere.
- Multiplatform Consistency – The user experience should feel the same regardless of your consumer’s entry point. More and more consumers are using different platforms and want them to feel at ease every time they go to your channel.
- Sampling — If you are building a subscription (this includes TV Everywhere) or transaction based channel you need to let users sample the content before they commit to buying anything. This can take the form of always having a limited amount of free content or by offering a limited trial (at least 2 weeks). Highlight reels can also help.
- Advertising – Always be careful to construct and follow good ad rules. Minimize pre-rolls before content (especially short-form content) and keep an eye on ad creative fatigue.
- Simplicity – As much as possible, make your experience as intuitive as you can with the never-ending goal of minimizing the number of clicks to get to the video. Consider having video auto-start when the channel launches and to have clips continuously play with short-form content.
- Personalization – Use data science and algorithms to your advantage. Make it easy for users to continue watching a series or a movie they stopped when they return. Make recommendations for other content they might like as well.
- Promotion – Use your channel to promote upcoming content, especially if you are a subscription channel. Think of the tactics that HBO or Showtime uses to let consumers know about upcoming programming in an effort to keep you a paying subscriber in the mean time.
- Never Stop – Even if you’ve built an incredible user experience out of the gate, with the rate of innovation and the high level of competition for eyeballs, it will just be a matter of time before it starts to feel outdated. So plan for at least two channel updates per year.
III. Effective Promotion: As technology has as lowered the barriers to entry for OTT channels, the number of channels available to viewers is staggering. The competition for eyeballs is greater than it has ever been, so your marketing and promotion plan is very important. Getting viewers to sample your channel (Acquisition) and getting them to stay users (Retention) is equally important. While the tactics and budgets may very depending on your business model and where you are in your product lifecycle, any promotional plan should allocate resources to both of these efforts on an ongoing basis.
- Off-Channel – The reality is that you will need to allocate resources for paid off-channel promotion. This can take many forms but assume you will be spending money to acquire consumers. Consider using OTT platforms as one of your primary channels – with the deep-linking functionality it can be incredibly effective and efficient.
- On-Channel – You have tons of real estate you can use to promote your channel. Customize the experience to when some is a new or returning user to focus on overall awareness and upcoming programming/events, respectively.
- Video Promos – Create video promos for your channel just like you would if you were a TV network. Run them in commercial breaks or between clips to help keep them coming back for more.
- Sampling – Promote free 2-week (minimum) trials in your marketing to get people to sample your network.
- Partnerships – Consider forging agreements with the platform partners (Apple, Roku, etc.) to help promote their brands in exchange for promotion of your content within their ecosystems.
- Your Channels – Use your other platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) to promote the availability of your channel.
Go Forth and Conquer: No two channel launches are ever the same, so some of you may need to focus more on certain parts of this framework than others depending on your situation. Remember, a well-designed strategy that simultaneously and relentlessly focuses on content, user experience, and promotion will maximize the lifetime value of your audience!
At Float Left, we’re experts on launching OTT services. We’d love to hear about your service and how we can help.