OTT Audience Growth Is Explosive, But It’s Challenged By Silos (And More Silos)

OTT audiences are increasing in volume and engagement, but the channel must still overcome issues related to content discovery, measurement and fill rates.

At A&E Networks, OTT’s share of audience is up 150% compared with decreases in engagement across desktop and mobile. At Bloomberg, 30% of its OTT audiences watch for 30 minutes or more compared with less than five minutes spent watching digital video.

“It’s a powerful channel for people who want to engage with us for a longer period of time,” said Julia Beizer, Bloomberg’s chief product officer, speaking at Tune’s Postback conference in Seattle on Thursday.

But it’s still a chore and a half for viewers to find the shows they’re looking for. Each platform is essentially its own little fiefdoms of content, of “closed universes,” Beizer said.

“A lot of our audience today comes from organic brand loyalty, but is that us reaching new audiences? No. And we really want to do that,” she said. “To reach the kind of audience you want to reach from an audience perspective, you have to build on five platforms and that’s expensive. There’s not a lot you can leverage from one to the other.”

And measurement remains a big challenge. Even though some of the streaming players are rolling out ad measurement tools, they’re not usable across platforms.

A&E, for example, has a partnership with Roku, which recently launched its own ad tracker that allows networks and brands to see post-install advertising performance. It’s a step in the right direction, but visibility doesn’t extend beyond Roku’s offering, said Jen Taylor, senior director of digital marketing at A&E Networks.

“That is one solution for one partner, not a solution that solves all of our partner relationships,” she said, and while tracking engagement is easy enough, “where people are coming from and how they’re getting there? It’s all a bit of a black hole.”

To try and get a better handle on the attribution piece, Starz is starting to make a bigger effort at measuring awareness and user engagement long before someone downloads its OTT subscription app.

“We started off from a perspective of the usual cost per subscriber and balancing that against lifetime value or ROI,” said Robin Chacko, SVP of Starz. “What we’re doing now is trying to integrate a little more of what the upper funnel does for us in terms of softening prices and what the leading indicators are for impact, so we can raise or lower our bids.”

But as a subscriber-based service, Starz doesn’t have to worry about another challenge still facing the OTT space: getting advertisers to buy ads.

Buyers have an “insatiable desire” for video inventory across digital properties, Bloomberg’s Beizer said, but some still consider OTT an experimental buy or a value ad, despite the fact that audiences generally give their full attention when engaged in over-the-top viewing, most of which happens on a large screen.

“If we look in the mirror, we can’t say that about digital,” Beizer said. “But this audience is really sitting down to watch.”

Yet all the issues facing OTT marketers, particularly the relative difficulty in selling over-the-top inventory, is an opportunity more than anything else, said A&E’s Taylor.

“We’re definitely seeing that the viewing is there, but I don’t think advertisers have quite figured out yet whether it’s TV, it’s digital or what team buys it,” she said. “It almost feels like OTT is where mobile was just a few years ago.”

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