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Why social reach has become the top priority for OTT platforms

Mike Kelley, President of Americas, Grabyo
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Shifting video consumption habits are simultaneously creating opportunities and presenting new challenges to the OTT video market. As the industry matures, online streaming platforms are now in a hard-fought battle to win digital audiences.

On the one hand, digital video audiences are vast – eMarketer predicts that by the end of 2019 there will be around 235 million digital video viewers in the U.S. Nielsen also recently announced it will begin to incorporate digital video viewing into its ratings, which will enable advertising to be more accurately valued.

On the other hand, the market is fiercely competitive. Not too many eyebrows were raised when Hulu’s subscriber base overtook Comcast, the biggest cable company in the U.S., in early January. Disney and Apple will also enter the market later this year to compete with the likes of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime. A busy market is about to get even more competitive.

What’s the differentiator?

While companies like Disney and Apple may be able to leverage brand value, loyalty is not a given. If a better service is available elsewhere, consumers will switch and others will follow them.

Younger demographics are now far more likely to be influenced by social media and act on the recommendations of friends. In order for OTT platforms to grow, their content must be highly visible, accessible and sharable.

Social content reach will be the most important factor in winning the lion’s share. By offering snippets of premium content on social media for free, OTT platforms are able to raise their profile while driving interest in their paid services.

The tailored, multichannel approach

It isn’t just enough to post video content to social media. Media publishers must be innovative and utilise all social and digital platforms at their disposal.

Live content is quickly growing in popularity among social media users. Live video posts on Facebook create a shared viewing experience which drives high engagement and longer watch times. Audiences are able to interact and discuss through comments, creating a more immersive viewing experience.

Publishers are already beginning to take live social streaming to the next level with interactive features that encourage audience participation. Live polls, real-time comment displays and Q&As with influencers can help capture and retain viewers, creating memorable experiences with brands.

Live events and sports content streaming to social are currently the most effective form of live content. Throughout 2018 both Facebook and Twitter have been expanding their portfolios of rights agreements in sports, which signals a belief in big returns on advertising over this content.

Alongside live streaming, on-demand video and real-time clip sharing must form the backbone of any video distribution strategy. Instant access to content anywhere, anytime is a core expectation for modern consumers, reflected by the popularity of the ‘Stories’ medium on Snapchat and Instagram.

Complement, don’t compete

This growing appetite for fast, digestible content is a prime opportunity for publishers to create and deliver content to maintain frequent touchpoints with potential customers, while delivering more enriching experiences for existing subscribers.

Whether live events, supplementary ‘shoulder’ content or second-screen experiences, video consumption across social platforms has become an established, expected channel for consumers. Success on these platforms is critical to growth for OTT platforms.

But social video should be viewed as a complementary service, not one that competes with TV or rival OTT platforms. Supplementary content, such as highlights clips of great moments from a drama series or great goals from a football match, services the growing trend of watching additional content on a second screen.

The key challenge is positioning your social channels as the ‘go-to’ for your target audience, by being first to market with content, delivered in ‘real-time’, moments after it happens.

The long game

Long-form social video is still somewhat in its infancy. Facebook’s new Watch platform, as well as IGTV, are the two that currently are pushing to stake a claim in the long-form video space through rights and media partnerships.

OTT platforms should watch this development with interest. The ad-supported business model of social media platforms will be a valuable litmus test for the future of online streaming platforms.

One thing is for sure – cord-cutting is not going away, and cord-cutters are not going back to TV. As digital audiences continue to grow, new players emerge and competition gets tougher, online media platforms must be ahead of the curve with social video distribution.

Content creation, editing and distribution must be fast, agile and easy. Digital teams must be equipped with the right tools to allow video strategies to scale and evolve. Those who aren’t will fall away.

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