Is Niche Enough to Make An OTT Service Work?

So, you think you’ve found it: the niche that’s going to turn your new subscription streaming video service into the success story of the over-the-top revolution. You’ve acquired truckloads of content, created a killer platform with all the bells and whistles, set an attractive price point and lined up the distribution platforms to maximize your reach. You couldn’t have planned it better. There’s only one problem.

Gregor Angus, True Royalty

Gregor Angus, True Royalty

No one has heard of you. In fact, they don’t even know you exist.

There are now more than 200 streaming services. Mix in all the choices from the generalist OTT platforms like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Premium and Amazon Prime Video, as well as premium pay services and cable and broadcast services, and you have a dizzying amount of consumer choices. Standing out from the crowd as a new, relevant entry or innovation has always been the challenge for marketers, but now that challenge has been escalated to new and formidable heights.

Remember when 500-plus cable channels on your TV were just “too much” and all the consumer surveys turned out reports that viewers only tend to watch about 12 channels? Now, we’ve got thousands of channels of content on multiple platforms. But even then, a very effective tactic in reaching your audience was to find a programming niche and play to that audience. That tried and true strategy from cable’s early days has been employed in the direct-to-consumer streaming business, too, but to a lesser degree of success.

There have been some very public streaming video closures, such as WarnerMedia’s Filmstruck, NBCUniversal’s Seeso and Otter Media’s Fullscreen. Other players, like WWE Network and Crunchyroll, each with more than 1.5 million subscribers, seem to have found the secret sauce.

Why did first three three fail and the other two soar? In launching our own SVOD service, True Royalty TV, my partners and I looked at what we thought successful services were doing right and set out to identify four key factors that would help us win in the streaming media business:

1.) Identity and proposition: You don’t just need tons of content, you need a crystal-clear identity. It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to know what your service is about: anime, wrestling, Formula One, tennis or, in our case, the royal family.

2.) Active community and active consumption: Your niche already has a well-formed active fan community, so you’re not setting out to build one from scratch. If you know which sites, platforms and publications are hosting your fans, you know where your audience is and how to reach them.

3.) Brand involvement: We’re living in an influencer economy where consumers curate their own media experiences and choose who they want to be informed by. Once you’ve gained their trust, you can bring in brands that can associate themselves with that choice. But these savvy audiences know when they’re being “sold to.” You have to find a way to associate brands seamlessly.

4.) Trusted authority: Beyond having a clear-cut identity, it helps to be the trusted authority on the niche or subject area you are presenting. For instance, WWE has long been the wrestling authority so it’s not surprising that Red Bull would want to associate themselves with the WWE Network SVOD service to reach avid pro-wrestling fans.

All of these elements are key to helping a direct-to-consumer streaming service like ours find an enthusiastic fan base willing to subscribe to get the content they love.

Because the barriers to launching a streaming service have become more surmountable in the last couple of years, there has been a rush to market. Some have said only the strong (and well-funded) will survive, and niche service successes are purely the luck of the draw.

But I think those that have succeeded have had considerably more than luck on their side. They’ve had these key factors: a clear identity, an active community of consumers, brand involvement in the age of influencers and status as a trusted authority. Without these in place, you’re looking at an uphill battle, because just having a niche might not be nearly enough.

Gregor Angus is co-founder and CEO of True Royalty, an SVOD service focused on the U.K. Royal Family and monarchies around the world.