The streaming market has never been more competitive, with providers and broadcasters increasingly remodelling around OTT in response to a shift in viewing behaviours accelerated by the pandemic. On demand platforms were galvanized by Covid, with locked-down customers signing up to both new and established SVOD brands in high volume. However, the spike in subscriber acquisitions has plateaued. As the world returns to more out-of-home experiences, consumers are becoming more selective in the subscriptions they retain and less forgiving of substandard experiences. It’s reframing the challenges facing on demand platforms, in particular their CTOs as they look to make good on their OTT investments.
Ten years ago, people accepted the odd bit of buffering or network disruption as a small price to pay for video on demand. Today we don’t. If a platform consistently fails us, we’ll quickly abandon it for one that won’t. The market has moved on from “build it and they will come”. Keeping customers there for the long-term is the only metric that matters.
Customer loyalty is about building things properly. And so, as the Covid-led clamour for SVOD platforms dissipates, OTT players have returned to slugging it out on a familiar battleground: the user experience (UX). The smartest are discovering that success is an ensemble performance.
Great UX is the key to subscriber retention and OTT growth. More often than not, the glitches that blight the user experience – and persuade frustrated customers to unsubscribe – are avoidable problems buried deep in the delivery chain. The challenge is identifying where those problems are and designing architecture that helps to mitigate them. It requires creative collaboration; the ability to look at problems from several different perspectives at the same time and find innovative solutions through open dialogue and partnership.
OTT video distribution is a totally different beast to the linear models of broadcast TV. The end-to-end delivery chain is complex – loaded with third party solutions managing everything from customer acquisition, authentication and authorisation, through to device management, UI, content delivery and personalisation. User journeys pass through a myriad of checkpoints – log-in, language, restrictions, entitlements, billing, payment gateways, licensing, etc – many of which are facilitated by standalone products spanning multiple vendors. And those journeys need to progress with split-second timing. There’s a lot to get right – and a lot that can go wrong.
OTT: the big band theory
OTT architecture calls on a big orchestra. But for the CTO, it isn’t enough just to ‘put the band together’
– enlisting specialist vendors who can play their parts well. The trick is to ensure that everyone performs in harmony, because one stray note can cause major discord. Data flows across the OTT delivery chain at breakneck speed. One missed beat and the whole UX can grind to a halt.
Fixing the problem isn’t easy. When everyone’s playing at full speed and volume, it can be difficult to pinpoint precisely where a performance is falling apart. If you don’t have a 360 view of the full product orchestra – and a deep understanding of how it all fits together – you’ll only end up guessing. You can spend hours fine-tuning the woodwind only to discover it was the trumpets that were flat! CTOs won’t
crack OTT by making orchestral manoeuvres in the dark. Misplaced focus can cost you time, money and – ultimately – customers.
Connecting the dots
The problem with many OTT platforms is that their delivery ecosystems are fragmented, comprising multiple segregated point products and ‘black box’ solutions. If they’re not wired together effectively, the outcome can resemble an orchestra of virtuosos all playing in separate rooms. Everything sounds good in isolation, but when you put it all together the music is off-key.
Vendors naturally take responsibility for their own performance, but they can sometimes be less concerned with how they connect with the wider ensemble. It’s understandable; optimizing the ecosystem isn’t their job: their goal is simply to ensure their own component functions effectively. However, how that component interacts with the ecosystem is also critical. There’s real added value for everyone when vendors collaborate to enhance the delivery chain.
Conducting the orchestra
Evidence shows that agnostic media technology consultants can help CTOs optimize their OTT architecture, mobilizing vendors for creative collaboration. A good independent partner is a hybrid of conductor and orchestrator: guiding the product orchestra so that everything plays together in time and in tune; and working collaboratively with vendors to rearrange the music when performances aren’t hitting the right notes. Through trusted partnerships, experienced enterprise platform architects can reverse engineer existing technology stacks, bridge functionality gaps and solve complex integration challenges.
Many of the biggest challenges of OTT delivery only emerge when platforms are starting to scale. In the start-up phase, when subscriber volumes are relatively low, most issues are easy to detect and resolve or have limited impact. However, once a service touches a million subscribers – which many do quite quickly – platforms can start to encounter clusters of problems that are more difficult to identify and diagnose. If you don’t fix the underlying issues quickly, they can become limiting factors in future growth. We call this ‘technical debt’ – because just like financial debt, it can build up on you without you noticing, but by the time you spot it, it can knock you for six.
Businesses have learned to counter financial debt by restructuring it – freeing them up to realign for growth. The same approach applies to technical debt. If you address it head-on, you can put in place measures that eliminate it over time and lay the foundations for the next growth phase. Technical debt can occur at any time and is sometimes a consequence of success – i.e reaching a scale or geographical spread faster than you’d anticipated. However, it must be tackled promptly and proactively.
The accumulation of technical debt is symptomatic of rapid growth in a fragmented ecosystem. And it shows its teeth in the user experience. The most effective means of addressing it – and laying the foundations for transformation at scale – is creative collaboration.
The collaborative approach is best led by an independent partner that understands the full orchestra of enterprise architecture and has demonstrable experience of bringing everything together to deliver seamless OTT experiences.
A good partner will be tech agnostic but will create an environment for collaboration that enables specialist vendors to maximize their value – and helps CTOs deliver optimized OTT services that scale for future growth. A ‘One Team’ approach where everyone is united around a single goal: great user experience.
In today’s complex multi-vendor environment, the future of OTT networks hinges on our ability to work collaboratively across the ecosystem. There is no other way.
It’s time to work together in electric streams.