Attracting, Keeping OTT Viewers Still Daunting

Crafting the right strategy for each service is crucial, broadcast executives say at TVNewsCheck’s OTT News Summit.

NEW YORK — Finding the best ways to find and hang onto audiences remains a challenge for players in the OTT space, according to TV network and station group executives.

When it comes to OTT audience building, Tribune is “doing what everybody else is doing,” Kerry Oslund, VP of strategy and business development at Tribune Broadcasting, said during the panel session “Discovery, Audience Building, Measurement and UX,” at TVNewsCheck’s OTT News Summit at the Microsoft Conference Center in New York June 11.

In other words, Tribune is using all the assets as it gets them to promote its OTT offerings, but it’s trying to do that “smartly because you have to have a return on your marketing dollars and your marketing time,” he told attendees.

At the same time, “we want to be everywhere because this is not only perhaps a growth play, but this is a defrag play — this is about defragmentation,” he said, adding that while moving towards having a million channels,  it’s possible to “slow down that fragmentation” that’s being seen across the sector, he said.

“Discovery, Audience Building, Measurement and UX” panelists (l-r): Graham’s Jonathan Beard, ABC News’ Kaizar Campwala, Tribune’s Kerry Oslund and CBC’s Roma Kojima. (Photo collage by William Knight)

And the company doesn’t let its guard down. “We get up and we milk the news cows every morning,” he joked, adding: “There’s not a lot of trickery. Of course, we look, and we try to understand the content categories that people are most interested in. But, boy oh boy, if you’re not updating that site constantly early in the morning and late at night, then you really don’t have a chance to compete in the world that we compete in.”


Tribune, like most of the Summit panelists, has several OTT initiatives across the U.S. For example, content from its WGN-TV Chicago has been made available via services including Apple TV and Hulu.

Once an OTT service has attracted users to its platform, to keep them happy isn’t so simple. “We’re trying to understand those users as groups” and think about the content that appeals to them and then program appropriately from a time and platform perspective, according to Jonathan Beard, director of digital product development at Graham Media Group, whose news channels include KSAT San Antonio, which live streams newscasts on its own app available on multiple services, including Apple TV and Roku.

His company currently is eyeing opportunities in local weather, so it’s placing an emphasis on that now, Beard said.

“A big piece of this is when you come up with an initiative and you are making a promise to your audience, that you have to fulfill that promise – you have to be delivering it consistently because you’re not going to succeed right away,” he said, adding: “It’s going to take time before the people come back and have that trust that the promise that you’ve made is being delivered on.”

It’s important to be very disciplined about content creation and content acquisition — about what programs you create, whether that content works, and “whether you can turn it off, throw it away and do something new” if need be, according to Kaizar Campwala, VP of business operations and insights at ABC News.

“We’re in the early days with a lot of this stuff and, from a content strategy perspective that means trying things, being very disciplined about understanding what works [and] what doesn’t, and then being quick to iterate and decisive — and that’s hard at a place where most of the people are making things and really proud of what they’re making,” Campwala conceded.

“We’re all kind of figuring it out as we go,” Roma Kojima, senior director of OTT video at the CBC Gem streaming service, conceded. Like ABC News, her company tries to be careful when it’s marketing programs, for one thing, she said. As an example, she explained that if you market an OTT show — especially if it’s an hour scripted program — to potential viewers at 9 in the morning, when most people are on their way to work, it wouldn’t make much sense.

“Running a service like this is probably a lot closer to running a hotel than it is a website or a TV channel because your experience with the hotel doesn’t begin and end with the time you spend in your hotel room,” she also told attendees. The whole experience that a user has with a hotel, after all, starts with booking the room and continues on with everything involved when you arrive and after you get there, she explained. And how successful all those components are will determine if you return and for how long if you do come back, she noted.

When it comes to user experience with an OTT service, what’s going on with the volume of ads, discoverability, marketing, merchandising, the content — all of it — has to work together to create a good experience for your customers, she said.

You can find TVNewsCheck’s exclusive coverage of the summit here and listen to audio files of all the sessions here.

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