Next TV SF: OTT Experts Stress Efficiency, a Focus on Content

San Francisco—Of all the challenges over-the-top providers face, Michael Tribolet, chairman, cofounder and CEO of YipTV, may have pointed out the most stressful: “Analysis paralysis.”

Speaking June 15 at the Next TV Summit & Expo in San Francisco, Tribolet said OTT operators are still learning how to analyze all the data they’re receiving from viewers using their platforms. And it only gets worse when you’re talking about millennial OTT users. “A.D.D. on crack,” Tribolet quipped.

Finding out what millennials – and all OTT viewers – want is proving more important by the day. New research from Parks Associates found that nearly a quarter of millennial broadband homes have cut the cord in favor of OTT, topping the national average of 15% of all broadband homes that have done the same.

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“It comes down to the content and we see it all the time,” said Stefan Van Engen, senior VP of content programming and acquisitions for ad-supported OTT service Xumo. “If a user likes what they’re seeing, they’ll come back for more.” He shared stats showing that nearly 50% of Xumo users will come back within a week to find the next installment of a show they’ve already watched. But if it isn’t there when they first check, they won’t be back for another three weeks.

Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media, seconded that: because of how fragmented the OTT world is, operators have to work hard to keep people coming back. “If you don’t hook them the first time, you may never,” he said. “Attracting [viewers] is easy. Retaining them isn’t as simple.”

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Ted Malone, vice president of planning and strategy for Ericsson’s TV and media business, said content is the most important part of any OTT offering. But a bad user experience can turn OTT customers away, even if the content is there, he added. “Don’t think about it as a technology problem," Malone said. "Think about it as a user experience problem."

That’s the tact Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Criterion Collection are taking when they launch the art-house film OTT service FilmStruck later this year, according to TCM GM Jennifer Dorian.

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“Start with the consumer problem, and solve it with technology and content,” she said. And when FilmStruck does land this fall, it’ll try to differentiate itself among the hundreds of other OTT services by adding things few OTT services offer: bonus features. FilmStruck’s content will be supplemented with bonus videos, galleries and articles, Dorian said. “We at TCM want to learn about engagement,” she said.

Ed Lee, VP of content acquisition for Roku, said his company employs its own internal team that handles audience development, helping channel operators to better deliver their content. And what they’ve repeatedly discovered is that the harder you make it to find your content, the more assured you are of losing subscribers. “Navigation is not entertainment,” he said. “They want to get into their content as quickly as possible.”

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As for Van Engen, he thinks a lot of new OTT channel operators have a “set it and forget it” mentality, and fail to give their services the constant upgrades and design tweaks that are needed down the line.

“The technology is the easy part,” he added. “The key is … paying attention to the community. The first hundred thousand said what they want. The next several million will get it.”

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Meanwhile, Celiena Adcock, industry manager of entertainment for Facebook, said it’s rare for OTT subscribers — millennial or otherwise — to have any sort of brand affinity when it comes to their subscriptions. If they can’t find what they’re looking for in one spot, they simply move to another. “Very few channels get the affinity of ‘I love that channel,’” Adcock said. “Content is driving decision-making. And our job at Facebook is to help with discovery.”

Though there are exceptions: look no further than Crunchyroll, the anime-centric service that claims more than 750,000 subscribers. Dallas Middaugh, head of brand and community for Crunchyroll, said part of the reason the service garners loyalty is because it offers legally licensed content almost immediately after it airs in Japan, at least for premium subscribers.