It’s a good time to be an over-the-top viewer, with more content and options than ever before, and significant upgrades in user experience and curation.

The over-the-top (OTT) streaming service space is at an exciting point in its evolution. User experience (UX) and interactions with TV app platforms keep getting better as the design and technology improve. Cord-cutters have compelling new options like YouTube TV, which provides access to live TV from more than 40 providers, including the big broadcast networks and dozens of popular cable networks. New streaming services keep popping up with fresh content for niche audiences to watch, while heavy hitters like Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, and Apple keep creating their own original content. With all this change and competition in the OTT space, it’s exciting to envision new ways that streaming services can take advantage of the current landscape to find their audiences and rethink the user experience.

Key Players Continue to Up Their Game

There’s no question that big players like Apple, Netflix, and Hulu are adapting and redefining the user experience, creating a ripple effect throughout the streaming market.

Apple recently released the TV app for their Apple TV platform, emphasizing personalization and speed. The platform serves up recommendations for new shows and movies to watch. It also allows the user to find specific content from all the various apps available on the platform, and then deep-links the user directly to that content. This strengthens the experience by creating a shortcut to skip the typical drill-down content selection model; a bonus for users, though not all streaming services are equally excited. Netflix, for example, has opted out of being featured in the TV app for now – presumably because they prefer to curate and design their own user experience from start to finish, rather than have that experience truncated by Apple’s curation system.

“There’s no question that big players like Apple, Netflix, and Hulu are adapting and redefining the user experience, creating a ripple effect throughout the streaming market.”

Netflix has always been innovative and forward-thinking when it comes to the user experience, and continues to push for custom solutions and integrate algorithms for user recommendations. Case in point: they recently released a new version of the Netflix app that auto-plays preview snippets of any content the viewer is resting on. This preview gives the viewer additional information to help select what to watch without requiring any complex interactions. Inventive UX paradigms like this, as well as personalized recommendations for the viewer, have helped differentiate Netflix’s content navigation system.

Likewise, Hulu recently announced a new curation-minded user experience update, with dynamic recommendations and a Beats Music-style on-boarding experience that creates a custom profile for each viewer. Again, the common theme is to get the user to content they will enjoy, get them there quickly, and leave them delighted.

New Players Are Gaining Traction (and Viewers)

While Netflix, Hulu, Apple, and others battle to create the most intuitive and personalized content recommendation and navigation solutions, most streaming content services are focused primarily on just ensuring their content is seen. There are new subscription streaming services licensing content and creating their own intellectual property every day, and along with known providers like Fox, TNT, TBS, and FX, they want it to be seen by as many viewers as possible.

Though most upstart streaming services feature less content than the market leaders, new niche players like Seeso, FilmStruck, and Shudder are taking advantage of current opportunities in the streaming landscape to find viewers and build their brands. Streaming services like these usually curate niche content for a specific and dedicated audience. Search and curation services provided by OTT platforms offer better-than-ever opportunities for these smaller services to be discovered, even if it means sacrificing a bit of control. Seeso, for example, takes advantage of the Amazon Channels platform on Amazon Instant, which allows the user to purchase and then access all content from the Amazon streaming service. Though this platform takes away Seeso’s ability to customize or design the user experience, it helps them gain awareness and subscriptions.

“Though most upstart streaming services feature less content than the market leaders, new niche players like Seeso, FilmStruck, and Shudder are taking advantage of current opportunities in the streaming landscape to find viewers and build their brand.”

For content providers, viewers skipping their app because of these new curation and search tools might seem like a losing proposition, but it’s a trade-off many services are willing to accept. Generally, TV apps made for specific platforms such as Apple TV, Roku, and Fire TV follow very specific UX guidelines. While companies like Netflix and Hulu have always tried to push those platforms to match their universal, platform-agnostic style, other apps typically fall in line with the pre-set templates for reasons that are quite practical. First, it can be complex and time-consuming to customize these experiences. Second, it’s often best to adopt the UX paradigms created by these platforms so users can leverage their familiarity with the system. And third, unlike with tablet or phone apps that might be more complex and filled with interesting interactions to explore, TV apps usually try to get the viewer to their desired content as quickly and simply as possible – meaning custom UX paradigms can be more of a burden than a value-add to the user.

Thinking Beyond the Stream Creates New Opportunities

Fortunately, there are numerous other avenues for subscription streaming services to use design and UX to hone their brand and product. New, highly curated and genre-specific services can craft an especially compelling brand story around their experience that their target audience can easily grasp. Ideally, when the viewer finds one of their shows, it should be easy for them to access additional content they might like from the service. Viewers can even discover new brands as they explore content, via pre-rolls, mid-rolls, and post-rolls.

“New technologies also promise to elevate subscription streaming services.”

New services can weave their story and brand into the design and UX of their websites as well, offering more rich and compelling opportunities to draw in potential subscribers. Additional content, crisp design, and new features are all opportunities to win over viewers. One great example of a novel feature is Shudder’s website, which is always live-streaming a movie or show from their collection. This feature mirrors Netflix’s new preview feature, in that it gives the viewer a sense of the content they can watch without requiring any real effort. Examples like these prove that while the user journey through a service’s OTT app might be simplified, skipped, or non-existent, users can still have an original and delightful experience through other mediums. Furthermore, a little bit of custom design and modification of an OTT app template can go a long way toward tying an app to its other experiences, and making it stand out to users familiar with the platform.

New technologies also promise to elevate subscription streaming services. Virtual reality, in particular, offers new immersive possibilities for newly created content. For example, FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia recently released a VR-exclusive mini-episode available on almost all VR platforms. But interactive and immersive content doesn’t have to be exclusive to VR in the future.  Apple TV’s new Siri remote can be used as a motion-sensitive game controller, and third-party Bluetooth headphones, keyboards, and gaming devices can further augment the Apple TV experience. As OTT technology improves, new inputs and additional processing power will allow for even more interactive content and second screen experiences for users.

The Future is Bright for Viewers and Providers Alike

It’s a good time to be an OTT viewer, with more content and options than ever before, and significant upgrades in user experience and curation. The new landscape should enable upstart streaming services to provide their target viewers with more of the content they want. While content is still king, new platforms and technology promise to make the user experience of finding and enjoying content better than ever.

Of course, creating improved user experiences doesn’t come easy. While it’s never been more exciting to be an OTT service, it’s also never been more competitive. Finding ways to cut through the noise and make your service stand out in a crowded market requires a passion for invention and constant re-invention. The brands who find new and meaningful ways to connect with their audiences will emerge ahead of the pack.

At Vectorform, we close that gap between innovation and execution every day. We’re ready to put our award-winning expertise in cross-platform interactive experiences to work for companies ready to stake their claim in the exciting future of OTT. Contact us to continue the conversation.

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