Pandemic Boosts Streaming, But Discovery Challenges Linger

Executives from Newsy, CBC and Fox Soul have seen record-high pandemic viewership, but they have to maintain a strong ground game in making sure their OTT channels are visible and top-of-mind for new potential viewers. “Operational minutiae” is key to maintaining that visibility in a crowded ecosystem of different platforms and apps, they say.

The growth of OTT content consumption this year has been nothing short of astonishing.

According to Comscore, during the first full month of pandemic-lockdown viewing in April, 69.8 million homes in the United States used OTT, an increase of 5.2 million homes over April 2019. The average home viewed 102 hours of OTT content across April 2020, which was up 17 hours from last April.

Eric Svenson

“It has led to record-high viewership for Newsy,” said Eric Svenson, VP of marketing for Newsy, referring to the pandemic. “Our cost to acquire new users is at record-low levels, aided by the pandemic, social protests, the whole political fray that’s out there, so there’s a lot of organic demand for news content, so now our ads perform better than they ever have before.”

Svenson’s remarks came during a TVNewsCheck OTT News Summit panel discussion Wednesday, “More Viewers, More Paths to Discovery.” Moderated by TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, the chat covered discoverability challenges that come with increased viewership and competition in the OTT space — and how news groups can overcome them.

The COVID-19 effect has been felt in OTT up north, too.


“We’ve noticed something like a 75% on-average growth in monthly reach from March to August — 75% more than this time last year — so that’s significant; that is huge,” said Roma Kojima, senior director of OTT video for CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster. “We also saw something like a 10% or 12% rise in engagement at the same time…. OTT has definitely come into its own in terms of just the utility of that service and these [viewing] behaviors this year.”

But with so many different OTT platforms delivering content from a dizzying number of not only news but also entertainment providers, standing out among the fray is difficult. Still, they must first be embedded into the fray before establishing themselves as something remarkable.

“We would love to be on every single device,” Kojima said. “From a practicality standpoint we have to focus because the approach we’ve taken is that we are looking at owned-and-operated experiences within each of these platforms, and therefore we have to focus on where the growth is coming from, and where our audience is consuming our content more and more.”

For the CBC, that’s been connected-TV platforms, which brings added cost concerns. But once such information is retrieved, however, Kojima said, “It’s just about strategic decision making at that point.”

James DuBose

“The key is wherever our consumer is is where we need to be,” said James DuBose, head of programming and executive producer at Fox Soul, among the newest OTT channels in the landscape, having launched in January. “Once they discover us and know that we’re here, we feel like they’ll keep coming back, and that is very important for us, to make it easy for them to find us by being in as many distribution platforms as possible, especially at this early stage.”

Even though Newsy is among the elder statesmen in the OTT space, and already on multiple platforms, Svenson, who has a marketing background, says he does “cartwheels every time the distribution team secures a new platform for us to be on, because that’s just more audience that we can reach.”

Svenson said Roku, FireTV, Vizio and Samsung are essential platforms for Newsy to be included in with freestanding app experiences. He also expects big things from Xumo after being acquired by Comcast.

But once available on an OTT provider device, having a conspicuous tile is crucial to discoverability. Depp asked the panel what it is their teams have done to separate themselves from the field when it comes to representation on the platforms.

Roma Kojima

Kojima said the CBC has tried “a little bit of everything” in this space, paying special attention to operating models.

“One of the things we do consider [is] these ecosystems not just as a distribution venue — and we’re fairly judicious about it — but also as partners in our operating model,” Kojima said. “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to build these working relationships with these platforms.”

This has allowed regular conversations to be held between parties about “programming priorities” and other things the platform companies are doing to best reach audiences.

Kojima also said that the CBC has generated an app store optimization function that supports all the group’s apps and how they appear in third-party platforms, like app stores and elsewhere.

“A lot of this is literally like operational minutiae that gets you moving forward,” Kojima said.

Svenson said “getting on the home screen is crucial,” and that Newsy has to earn its way onto it — or sometimes pay its way there. He said it has had the most success in terms of paid exposure with Roku, and to generate “earned or free promotion,” Newsy is pitching itself to platform partners once per week at a minimum, focusing particularly on upcoming content they might want to let their users know about ahead of time. (The presidential campaign is providing the Newsy team lots of opportunities here.)

Depp noted that discoverability is now an “existential issue,” as the news landscape — and all of TV — reaches an inflection point of a digital majority-stake takeover in viewership. He asked the panel if they feel more pressure to be innovative in getting consumers to find them.

“I feel like I have the pressure of a Game Seven on me every day,” DuBose said, “especially as a startup that’s seven or eight months old, to make it become a household name.”

“Obviously the stakes are high and they will continue to get higher,” Kojima said, noting that there is sure to be increased cord-cutting of cable subscriptions as the economy suffers.

“The question is, she said, ‘Where do those folks go?’ ”

Find more OTT News Summit coverage here.

Executives from Newsy, CBC and Fox Soul have seen record-high pandemic viewership, but they have to maintain a strong ground game in making sure their OTT channels are visible and top-of-mind for new potential viewers. Click To Tweet

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