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VOD Masterclass: Keep it simple and evolve over time

Posted on Mar 23, 2022 by FEED Staff

Every business needs to think about how it makes use of video – the opportunities for promotion and revenue are as wide-ranging as your imagination. FEED sits down with video platform experts to learn how companies can create their own branded VOD experience

The tech vendors

Steve Russell, chief product officer, Red Bee Media

Viktor Underwood, CEO, Quickchannel

The moderator

Neal Romanek, editor, FEED

Neal Romanek: If I’m a company new to the media space – maybe a sports organisation or even a corporate – what does a VOD or OTT platform have to offer?

Steve Russell: If you were a customer, I would flip it around. My interest is in what you as a business are trying to achieve. Launching an OTT platform is not an objective in itself – it’s there to support some business outcome you have in mind. You could pursue a new revenue stream, or may want to engage with the audience in a new way. You could be after insight from that audience, using data to understand how they perceive you.

Let’s not start with the outcome. Let’s start with the need and what it is you’re trying to achieve. We can then work out how to ensure you’re actually driving value into the organisation. Technology is not an objective. Your objective is what’s going to make a business successful.

Viktor Underwood: For most of the corporate clients we work with, the objective is to reach out to their audience with information. And there could be a variety of audiences. But we see customers getting a lot of value working with OTT, or a video on demand platform, for the communications.

You can make knowledge available on demand when the viewer or listener actually has time on their own. And that can be internal, for the purpose of knowledge sharing, corporate information – or if you’re a business providing product demonstrations, showcasing skills or positioning yourself as a thought leader. Our customers also do quite a lot of live streaming, but on demand has the power to actually reach the audience where they are.

Steve Russell: The majority of our customers are in the business of entertainment. They’re sports organisations, broadcasters or within the media space. And, of course, video has always been a key medium for entertaining people. If we’re talking about direct-to-consumer OTT propositions, there is an opportunity to build a direct relationship with your audience. Typically, existing media companies want a way of augmenting their business model. They’re used to doing rights deals and being aggregated by larger companies, but now they’ve got the ability to go direct-to-consumer – that has certain advantages. Usually, the aim is to monetise that proposition through advertising or subscription revenues.

We’ve worked with major brands doing one-off streaming events that have had a million viewers. And we deal with traditional broadcasters launching a global VOD service, monetising that through advertising. Other times, we’ve worked with wine companies or people putting on boxing matches, just enabling them to get content to users.

Neal Romanek: How can I get started?

Steve Russell: Apply some principles of product management to your offering. First, how do I make it unique and compelling? But be careful not to overcomplicate everything from day one. An advantage now is that, in order to get a service to market, the bar is far lower. It’s easier than ever to launch a service, and you can take advantage of that. Consider your minimum viable product, your MVP. What’s the MVP that you can get out? Rather than trying to think about everything, get that minimum out to the market early. Then, it’s all about listening, adapting and evolving. You might actually find it’s a dumb idea and nobody watches, so you cut your losses and move on to something else.

More interestingly, look at the data and start talking to the people who use your platform about what they like and what they think is missing. You may start adding features, or find the platform is perfectly fine, but you need to fill it with more content – or you could do a better job of driving people towards it. I’d encourage people not to worry about getting everything right first time, specifying an enormously complicated concept that never gets to market. Flip that totally, and try to get a service out there, remaining sensitive to the way it has been received.

Neal Romanek: What if I’m a niche sport? What would be some good strategies to consider in developing my platform?

Steve Russell: There are different tiers within sports, and direct-to-consumer means particular things for each of those. For top-tier sports, rights and relationships with broadcasters and major platforms are a huge part of the business model. Direct-to-consumer will often involve engaging with the superfan, and augmenting existing revenue deals with broadcasters and platforms. But lower-tier, niche sports require something different. The question is: how do we reach that small fan base? The answer used to be, they had to physically go and watch the game.

However, direct-to-consumer means you can reach a narrow segment of fans, geographically spread over a large area. In reaching them, you are helping those superfans engage with their sport – and can monetise that. People passionate about these niche sports – like curling or triathlon – are probably of reasonably high income, or may have families in some instances and are willing to pay to watch.

Audience attention span on social platforms is a matter of seconds

Neal Romanek: What about using social media platforms like YouTube instead?

Steve Russell: There is a place for both YouTube and social – they allow you to reach a large audience. But that audience won’t be on your own branded platform, and you can’t control whether advertising from competitors will be next to you. Also, there’s limited ability to get data back. The smart thing is to use those platforms for what they are good at: reach. But the sweet spot is to monetise your audience, mine data and expand brand experience all at the same time. You’re better off doing that in the closed environment of your platform, and using social as the funnel to take people to that place.

Viktor Underwood: Creating business comms is similar, apart from monetising your customers. We work a lot with business-to-business communications in areas like legal, finance, banking and insurance. There used to be a push to put everything on social. If you were going to livestream or upload video, it would be on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, etc. But now, there’s a shift back, as Steve is saying. You use those social media channels to position content and drive traffic to your own play channel, turning them into leads – or sharing other premium content and engaging them to start a business relationship.

Many reports conclude that audience attention span on social platforms is a matter of seconds. If someone says, ‘Viktor, look at this valuable training session, we want to promote our consulting services to you’, and I click a YouTube link, within ten seconds I’ll be watching the ice hockey highlights advertised to me. But if they direct me to their own play channel with their own content instead, they can lead me to the next step. I could send an email saying, ‘you look like a great consulting firm, can we talk about bringing you on to this new project?’

Steve Russell: The point about distraction is really important. That is the whole point of YouTube – to maintain your attention by feeding the newest thing.

Neal Romanek: What are some of the benefits for data collection?

Steve Russell: This comes down to the nature of the business – what are you trying to achieve? Operating your own platform, rather than distributing on a third party, means owning your data. Good technical providers offer rich analytic tools out of the box, so you can mine and understand it. Depending on what the business model is, start looking at data through a geographical lens. Or, cobble together data points about your consumers and build up a more complex view, to the extent it’s feasible within GDPR rules. The other side is looking at audience behaviour around the content. How does that differ across the portfolio you’re providing? And how does it alter according to the way you are packaging and formatting? Or, can you see patterns in the manner you produce things? Where do people start to switch off? And does that mean you need to change how you produce content?

Operating your own platform, rather than distributing on a third party, means you own your data

Viktor Underwood: With our customers in the corporate space, it’s more about seeing what kind of videos perform better than others, and what manner of engagement trends become apparent. Maybe you see people engaged all the way through for live content, but on demand needs shorter content. We’re talking more about marketing and product videos or webinars, which are sometimes designed to convert the viewer into a contact. It’s helpful when you can see if a person only saw part of it – or watched the whole thing and one particular section twice.

For government institutions, it’s very important that data adheres to compliance rules around accessibility and where the law says it should be stored. With some government communications, they might want to make sure that the data is contained within their own centres.

Neal Romanek: What opportunities for monetisation emerge when working with your own platform?

Steve Russell: Last year, for an annual music festival in the Netherlands called the Friends of Amstel, we were thrown an interesting project. Normally, you can’t get tickets, because it’s so popular. But with Covid-19, it couldn’t happen – so they decided at the last moment to do it as a streaming event. Usually, 150,000 people go to the live event over two days, so we geared up for that. They started to sell tickets, and in the first week had sold 600,000! We were calling CDNs and making sure we had the capacity to run it. The monetisation model there wasn’t paid-for tickets. It was actually Amstel themselves who were the sponsor. And because it was a streamed event, rather than on national TV, they had a lot of freedom in the production.

All the artists and musicians were in one venue – socially distanced from each other – and watching he performances. While they viewed, they were served beer by a waiter in Amstel gear, handing it to them in a tray at the end of a long pole. It was a great, natural way to bring the brand into the entertainment event. But it wasn’t pay-per-view, it was paid for through sponsorship. The sponsor got value out of it because they were able to integrate the product with the entertainment in such a smart way.

Because it was streamed rather than on national TV, they had a lot of freedom in the production

Viktor Underwood: With our customers, getting return on investment is more about the effectiveness of your communication efforts. For example, I went to Norway recently for a hybrid live event from a TV studio. We had a certain number of viewers watching it live and engaging, accompanied by chat and polling.

Once it finished, it was instantly available on demand. Over the next 24 hours, we had a larger online audience than had appeared live. In the business-to-business context, if you do an event, then make it available on demand, you extend its lifetime – and potential leads or revenue-per-viewer generated by it.

This round table first featured in the spring 2022 issue of FEED magazine.

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