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Make it meaningful: Maximising the value of content

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“How can we reach our audience and keep them coming back for more?”

This is a question facing many content providers in an increasingly competitive online video market.

The answer lies in building an understanding of who the audience is, how they behave and what they value and translating that information into award winning VoD products.

As well as conducting our own audience research, we keep an eye on learnings from elsewhere in the industry, such as ITV’s recent ethnographic study into TV audience behaviours which was presented at a recent event hosted by Ampere Analysis.

This post builds on previous articles* we have written around the topic of audiences and content discovery, and considers how ITV’s research sits with our own research.

"It’s in your hands"

ITV’s research highlights a power shift in the way audiences are consuming content. The freedom and convenience to watch what you want, when you want, is a key driver towards on demand video services. Audiences now engage with TV across a range of devices and platforms which enable them to watch how and when they want to watch.

For content providers to thrive in this environment, ITV’s Director of Audiences Neil Mortensen argues that it is important to be across multiple platforms.

At Ostmodern, we believe that to have a successful cross-platform offering it is essential to have a good understanding of the different roles these different platforms fulfil in the lives of the audience.

As we have seen from working on multi-platform products, each platform has its own specific strengths and role within a broader ecosystem. Audiences expect each of their devices to serve a different role, which informs how they use that device at different points in the day. To maximise each platform’s value, each should be designed with these habits and expectations in mind.

“Control feels good when you know what you want to watch”

The freedom afforded by ‘on demand’ services is great for audiences who have an idea about what they want to watch. They respond well to the idea of choice and variety.

This, however, also leads to a paradox of choice. ITV’s research showed that awareness of a huge number of titles can actually cause frustration among audiences who can’t possibly watch everything there is on offer, and need guidance in making decisions. We know from our experiences that this is a problem that a lot of content providers face. As we have discussed previously, catalogue depth alone is not enough for VoD providers to stand out.

The continued success of linear television, for example, is a testament to the simplicity with which it allows for decision making. Three of the most frequently used buttons on a typical remote control are the on/off switch and the channel flicker. That the content is already playing as soon as you land on it simplifies the decision you make about watching it.

Most VoD services struggle to replicate this simplicity, and ask the user to browse a library of packshots and evaluate the options in front of them, making them have to think at the point when they want to relax.

As a result we find that audiences very rarely watch a show or a film to which they have come totally cold. They usually opt for something to which they have prior exposure, such as recommendations from friends, family and experts, or through trailers and other marketing. These are important influencers which help audiences to simplify their decision making.

A good online video product facilitates decision making which is as simple as possible. This means the product has to tap into what the audience values to trigger their engagement. Different audiences have different triggers which will be meaningful to them. At Ostmodern we believe that audience research is an essential part of creating a successful product. We always seek develop an understanding of what matters to audiences and apply that learning to product requirements. Designing products to engage with what the audience finds meaningful reduces frustration in the decision making process.

“From water-cooler to book club”

As meaningful triggers go, conversation with friends and family is among the most meaningful out there. Immediate social connections can be highly influential ‘taste shapers’. Sharing thoughts and theories on favourite TV series can reinforce social bonds, while those are unable to take part in the conversation will feel excluded. The desire to be part of the conversation can be a significant motivating factor when choosing what to watch.

ITV’s research offers an interesting example of how such conversations around content change and manifest themselves. With the emergence of big-budget, high quality series as the norm, they argue, there has been a shift in the discussion from a casual water-cooler to a more intellectual book-club, in which it is now possible to be considered “well-watched”.

This observation provides an example of how audiences find meaning in content. The perceived quality of the content is a criteria by which some audiences judge whether a piece of content will be a worthwhile investment.

We have seen similar trends in our own research. For example, during a piece of recent fieldwork we found that some people would give certain types of content a chance if it was marked out in a way which fit their expectations of how high quality shows would be presented to them.

For some VoD products, this highlights the importance of considering how to package content in a way which emphasises its ‘high quality’ in order to sell it to the audience.

Conclusion

Freedom to choose what to watch from a large content library has become the expectation. With so much content to choose from, however, this freedom can also be a constraint, as a saturated content market forces audiences to make a choice about how best to spend their time. A successful digital video product helps audiences to make sense of the content in front of them and guide them to make a decision they are happy with.

Understanding what the audience values in content is essential to achieving this. Insight into how the audience attaches meaning and value to content helps to inform the design and development of a product that allows for editorial teams to package content in a way that makes it attractive to that audience.

Delivering content that is meaningful to the audience helps to build trust in the product and encourages audiences to come back time and again.

*Further Reading: Our Work: Contending for content discovery Ostmodern & Channel 4 define a new future for 4oD, “All 4”

Analysis: Catalogue depth is no longer a USP for VoD providers On-demand content makes compelling viewing Global products, local meanings

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