If you haven’t met your daily requirement of learning exactly what a new acronym means, here’s one for you: OTT, which stands for Over-the-top media services. Wikipedia provides a clear definition: “An over-the-top (OTT) media service is a streaming media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the companies that traditionally act as a controller or distributor of such content.”
All which is a complicated way of saying, an OTT is Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and other Internet-based content providers.
OTTs have brought yet another challenge to the traditional entertainment industry. Physical movie theaters, and major broadcasters, were never going away for good, but consumers have for many years been pulled more toward Internet-based sources of entertainment. And with the current pandemic, people are getting even more entrenched with at-home streaming services.
As such, competition in the streaming industry has become a game of who can outspend the other. Since 2015, various streaming companies (or OTTs), combined, have shelled out over $650 billion for acquisitions and content, all in the pursuit of new customers. But consumers flock to a particular streaming service not just for the actual content. They also consider how easy or difficult it is to access that content. That’s where the technology comes in.
Consider that, with the stay-at-home pandemic mindset, consumers have less loyalty than ever. Many are trying out streaming services based on free trials. If they don’t like it, they’ll move on to another service within a day or two. Why is that so prevalent? Because streaming companies need better technology. Specifically, they need enhanced search technology – a search experience that’s super-fast and super-personalized. And to do so, they need to implement AI and machine learning to adjust content choices to every consumer’s specific preferences. If not, retention is basically impossible – consumers simply have too many other entertainment options.
Streaming providers must also contend with an increasing amount of censorship. Netflix removed an entire episode of the Patriot Act because the government of Saudi Arabia wasn’t happy that the show criticized the Crown Prince. There is also a growing trend of attempts at censorship. Netflix, Amazon, and other leading platforms have been receiving content removal notices from government agencies – both nationally and internationally – due to perceived defamation, hate speech, cultural insensitivity, and other issues depicted in their content. Indeed, there is fierce debate about regulation and censorship. Many advocate for at least some regulation of OTT content, while others believe the Internet should remain free of any control by outside forces.
Censorship not only became an issue due to innovations in technology (streaming), but also because of the creative freedom of not being part of the monolithic entertainment and broadcasting industry. There is now more content to watch than ever, available anytime, anywhere, on any device. Some believe that streaming content, rather than being regulated or censored, should instead include full disclosure of the nature of the content. Consumers can then decide for themselves if they want to buy that content. That said, many experts believe the industry will soon require a regulatory agency to standardize these disclosures. This is another opportunity for artificial intelligence and machine learning to create personalized descriptions of content.
Over the next decade, the so-called “streaming wars” will take many twists and turns. It’s as impossible to accurately predict what will be in 2030 as it was to predict the 2020 landscape in 2010. Yet no matter how things play out, it’s safe to say that streaming services will continue to face internal and external pressures.
Those who come out on top – the OTTs who do the best job with retention – will not only offer the best content, they will also be equipped with the most consumer-friendly technology. It will be highly intelligent, extremely intuitive technology that delivers personalized experiences. In this way, the winners of the streaming battles won’t only be specific streaming platforms. Consumers will win as well.