What is an OTT platform?
An over-the-top (OTT) media service is a media service offered directly to viewers via the Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms, the types of companies that traditionally act as controllers or distributors of such content. It has also been used to describe no-carrier cellphones, where all communications are charged as data, avoiding monopolistic competition, or apps for phones that transmit data in this manner, including both those that replace other call methods and those that update software.
The term is most synonymous with subscription-based video-on-demand (SVoD) services that offer access to film and television content (including existing series acquired from other producers, as well as original content produced specifically for the service).
OTT also encompasses a wave of “skinny” television services that offer access to live streams of linear specialty channels, similar to a traditional satellite or cable TV provider, but streamed over the public Internet, rather than a closed, private network with proprietary equipment such as set-top boxes.
Over-the-top services are typically accessed via websites on personal computers, as well as via apps on mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets), digital media players (including video game consoles), or televisions with integrated Smart TV platforms.
How does OTT Work
One of the inherent problems with serving TV content over the internet is being able to contend with the wide range of network performance. Performance depends on what speed the connection will support (e.g. Fiber, Wi-Fi, LTE, DSL), the display device (e.g. phone, a streaming device like Roku, Apple TV, or Firestick, or laptop), and then how many network hops there are between the provider and the end-user.
At a high level, OTT systems and technologies are designed to minimize the impact these parameters have, by providing a “best-effort” approach to serving up the content. That is, OTT technology will adjust to the network performance of the entire chain in real-time so that the video and audio are delivered without pauses caused by buffering. These pauses are extremely frustrating for the viewer and may cause them to abandon the content.
For slower networks, it will scale down to lower bit rates. For faster networks, it will scale up to provide the best quality. Ideally, when on a very fast network, the player will buffer additional content to “get ahead” and smooth out periods of network slow-down. It does this with a technique called ABR which stands for Adaptive Bit Rate streaming.
Why use OTT?
With over 50% of North Americans maintaining Netflix subscriptions, it’s clear consumers love OTT content. Here are just a few reasons why the format is more appealing than traditional alternatives:
- High-value content at low cost: Streaming services are widely considered a cost-effective alternative to traditional cable packages. A premium Netflix subscription is currently $17.99, while the basic plan costs just $8.99. That’s a reasonable fee even if you only intend to watch a fraction of its offered content.
- Original content: In recent years, OTT providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime have begun producing original content that is exclusively available through their service. Platforms like HBO Max and Disney+ also have exclusive streaming licenses for previously televised content.
- Compatibility with multiple devices: For years, watching cable television required a television set. Today, we can watch OTT content from a broad range of devices. Any account holder can enjoy the same OTT experience from a gaming console, smartphone, tablet, or smart TV.
How is OTT content delivered?
Thanks to its internet-based delivery system, OTT platforms bypass third-party networks that traditionally managed online content. The only things customers need are an internet connection and a compatible hardware device.
- Mobile devices: Smartphones and tablets can download OTT apps from a supported digital storefront.
- Personal computers: Most computers support OTT content viewing through desktop-based apps or web browsers.
- Smart TVs: The latest TV models often include pre-installed OTT apps, or provide users with an option to download them.
- Digital media players: Third-party devices like the Apple TV support a range of OTT solutions. Many modern video game consoles also include the ability to download and run OTT apps.
What type of content is suitable for an OTT solutions?
While the OTT conversation largely revolves around video-on-demand, the technology covers a broad range of web-based content:
- Video: Video streaming is the most widely recognized version of OTT media services. Popular platforms include subscription platforms like Netflix, paid storefronts like iTunes, and ad-based services like YouTube.
- Audio: Audio streaming is also possible through OTT solutions. Popular examples include internet radio stations and podcasts.
- Messaging: OTT-based instant messaging services connect users directly through internet connections, bypassing mobile SMS networks. Facebook, Google, Skype, WeChat, and many other brands have versions of these services. Most are capable of replacing or integrating with smartphone text messaging features.
- VOIP: Voice calling platforms such as Skype and WeChat that operate using internet protocols are considered OTT services. In some instances, these services can integrate with mobile phone networks to enhance certain features.
Why is OTT better than YouTube?
OTT means control over your content, brand, user experience, audience, monetization, and, most of all, your data. YouTube just doesn’t give you that.
OTT has opened up the possibility for ad-free content, by enabling subscription services (SVOD), one-time purchases (TVOD), and more monetization strategies. Even if advertising (AVOD) is your preferred model, OTT provides the power of targeted advertising and control over your campaigns and inventory, including direct sponsorships.
Direct to Consumer.
OTT is the ultimate platform for reaching your targeted audience directly with your content and delivering a premium video experience that you control. With OTT, providers can get immediate user feedback through direct engagement and interaction. What’s more powerful than that?
Consumers are now in the driver’s seat, due to OTT. More than ever, consumers can find exactly what they want to watch and only pay for the content and services that they want. OTT provides the flexibility to adjust your models to the market for maximum uptake.
The OTT Advantage
With OTT video delivery technology, people now have a multitude of options at their fingertips. They can view content on a variety of platforms such as Smart TVs, Roku, computers, tablets, mobile phones, or gaming consoles. They also have the option to access multiple distributors for specialized programs and view channels by “app switching”, giving them more control over the content they choose to purchase and watch.
While they both use IP technology, IPTV is delivered over a private cable network compared to OTT delivered over internet services. OTT systems overcome the limitations of the single operator set-top box (STB) technology required by IPTV. With OTT, content is only delivered upon request. Each connected device has a unique connection to the source of the content via the internet, making it “unicast”- delivering one stream to one device.
Challenges & points of concern
Visibility of distribution quality is challenging but can be addressed with premium OTT testing and monitoring solutions
OTT services often involve multiple service providers, CDNs, and local Internet which complicates diagnostics
Quality user experience will be a key differentiator for OTT providers
LIVE OTT delivery is more complicated, must work across bursty non-guaranteed internet networks, and must deliver to an endless range of devices
How do OTT operators guarantee quality delivery, operational intelligence, and diagnostics?
Is OTT replacing traditional media distributors?
Most OTT services are associated with “cord-cutting” — the practice of canceling TV or phone subscriptions to focus on web-based alternatives. While cord-cutting has certainly increased OTT consumer adoption, that doesn’t mean traditional networks will disappear entirely. Our 2021 consumer research indicates that 73% of users default to streaming over cable or similar options. 80% of these consumers told us they spend two hours per day streaming. Their appetite for streaming options remains strong: 55% of respondents say they signed up for a new streaming service in the last year, and 60% are considering taking on another subscription now.