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What OTTs Can Learn From YouTube About the Importance of Mobile

The competition among OTTs has gotten heated in 2020, with new services like Peacock and HBO Max launching, as well as economic stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Providers are all searching for ways to gain an edge, and while great content is essential, producing new shows has become more difficult than ever with lockdowns across the world. That’s why many services are concentrating more on their products, designing highly strategic roadmaps to ensure a better offering than competitors— to acquire and retain as many viewers as possible. That’s led to a certain debate among OTT decisionmakers: should we prioritize our CTV or mobile platform?

Daniel Taitz, president, Penthera

Daniel Taitz, president, Penthera (Image credit: Penthera)

Many providers feel CTV takes precedence, because they believe that their consumers only want to watch long-form content on the big screen. What consumers actually want is to be able to watch at any moment, on the screen of most convenience. CTV is certainly critical, especially for ad-supported businesses trying to lure buyers away from cable TV. But mobile is also playing a critical role that cannot be neglected, with a growing audience, use cases that are key to viewer satisfaction, and a role as the platform more and more consumers are using to create accounts with new services. The OTT services that neglect mobile are missing a huge opportunity, and giving a gift to YouTube, which already enjoys incredible success with its mobile video app.

Measuring success on CTV vs. mobile

Research shows that in many markets CTV’s account for more viewing hours of streaming video then other platforms. Yet a recent NPAW report shows that there are more plays (or sessions) happening on smartphones and tablets. Those sessions are, on average, shorter than CTV sessions, and session length is important. But, it's only one of many metrics. Reach and frequency are also valid ways to measure OTT success, and mobile exceeds CTV on both counts.  

Even though a smaller fraction of time spent viewing OTT video is on mobile, a higher percentage of the times viewers hit play are on a mobile device. This is significant because some of the most frustrating viewing issues happen when you press the play button on a mobile device: startup delays, buffering, poor quality. So even when less time is spent in the app, there are a high number of mobile touchpoints with viewers—and a high number of opportunities to have their perception of your service undermined.

You might think that more time is spent with CTV than phones and tablets because mobile viewers are on the go and only want to watch short content, but that’s not the case. According to YouTube data, 3 in 4 adults watch YouTube on mobile while at home. Shorter mobile sessions are likely caused by poor experiences. Even at home, mobile video is more fraught with issues due to poor connectivity, which leads to higher rates of stream abandonment. In fact, poor video experiences can reduce view time by 30%. So it’s likely that improving the performance of mobile OTT videos would mean those mobile viewers at home and on the go would keep watching longer.

Why YouTube gets mobile video right

YouTube seems to understand this potential to engage mobile viewers. In fact, 59% of viewing time on the service happens on mobile (Conviva). While historically, the platform has been known for short-form user-generated content, these days the most popular content on YouTube comes from professional producers. As a result, the average video length is growing, and popular creators now regularly put out content between 20 and 60 minutes long. This is, of course, because of the site’s ad-based model. The longer you spend watching a creator’s new video, the more ads you’ll see, and the more money they’ll make.

But it adds a new perspective to YouTube’s mobile success. The days of 30-second cat videos are long gone, so length cannot solely account for it. It may be in part because YouTube’s audience trends younger, and younger viewers are watching more video on their phones. However, there’s another explanation: YouTube consistently updates and improves its iOS and Android apps, adding new features and improving the user interface, which has resulted in a fantastic mobile platform.

Other OTTs may not have this same level of success on mobile, but that’s not because their viewers don’t care about mobile. Some may even take Quibi’s epic failure as an indication that viewers overall don’t care. Yet there are plenty of explanations that could explain Quibi’s demise (it’s content was almost universally panned by critics, for example).

Instead, those OTTs that ignore mobile because they don’t get as much mobile viewership are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: if an OTT doesn’t invest in a great mobile experience, it’s users won’t be as likely to choose them when they’re watching on mobile. Even though they may not consider YouTube a direct competitor, OTTs that don’t prioritize mobile are essentially conceding their share of mobile screen time to YouTube.

Viewers are watching your content on many devices on any given day and at too many companies, mobile has taken a backseat to CTV. Mobile is not only a popular way to watch, it’s also the front door to your service: more people are signing up for services on their mobile device before ever logging in on their CTV. Plus, mobile has higher reach, with 85% of viewers watching on a smartphone in Q1 2020 (compared to 49% who watched on other internet connected devices, according to Nielsen). To both gain and retain an engaged audience, and keep your ground in the streaming wars, it’s important to have a strategy that takes a cross-platform approach and ensures a great experience on any screen your viewers watch.

Penthera is a global software company that develops and deploys products to help OTT providers improve the mobile video experience and drive business results.