SVG Australia Summit: Experts in OTT discuss future opportunities and challenges

OTT services in Australia continue to expand, and a panel discussion at the recent SVG Australia Summit laid out some of the unique challenges and opportunities for OTT on the continent.

Challenges include a demanding audience on the hunt for broadcast-quality content; opportunities include top-quality sports content available only via OTT. But the key to success is exceeding customer expectations.

“Customers are dictating the experience all over the world,” says Steve Davis, chief revenue officer, Ooyala. “If you don’t have a service that is broadcast-quality, they won’t watch it, and you’ll lose subscribers. And, if you are advertising-based, you’ll lose the next round of advertisers. If customers don’t get what they want, they’ll leave.”

The consensus across the panel was that the days of OTT viewers accepting second-rate experiences like service interruptions are gone.

“OTT viewers are expecting a high-quality experience these days. They will note if a stream is down for 30 seconds, whereas, a few years ago, that might have been 15 minutes,” said Kane Washington, GM, sport, product and customer experience, Telstra Media.

Rebekah Horne, chief digital and information officer, National Rugby League (NRL), discussed how the league is looking to connect with fans, as well as the changing dynamics of the league’s relationship with Telstra.

“Prior to this year, Telstra built and operated the entire NRL Network, and, in December, we changed the dynamics a bit,” she said. “Telstra still manages the NRL app; we manage, created, and built the rest of the network.”

When it comes to finding what content captures the attention of fans, the NRL, like nearly every other OTT-service provider on the globe or online, has found that, sometimes, it’s the little things that catch on.

“Video content does really well, and it can be as innocuous as spelling a player’s name, like Jake Trobojevic, that can get an unbelievable number of streams,” noted Horne. “And then you can spend a ton of money in a studio on something that is magnificent, but it gets less streams. We’re really in a test-and-learn phase. We haven’t had the need to do this before [because] Telstra had done it on our behalf.”

It hasn’t taken long for the team to realise that fans want content that brings them closer to the players and clubs.

“It’s less about the technology and more about the storytelling,” added Horne. “We have really big broadcast partners that do high-end productions really well, so our sweet spot is the storytelling and getting it out as close to real time as possible.”

Nathan Taylor, director, technology, Optus, addressed two big bits of company news that broke the day of the event: the telco renewed exclusive English Premier League rights through 2022 and also will make its OTT service available to all consumers, not just Optus customers, for $15 a month. Optus, besides being the only place for EPL fans in Australia to watch EPL matches, will be the exclusive outlet for 39 of the 64 games to be played at the World Cup in June and July.

“Two years ago, we set down this path, with content being a key focus to differentiate ourselves,” he explained. “We thought of content as something that would drive people to switch who they partner with, but we realized it is much more than that. It’s a way to create relationships with customers, and, at the end of the day, customers don’t respond to threats but rather to great services and content. And, with the EPL and World Cup coming up, we have some of the best content in the world. It’s a disservice to not let it be available to everyone.”

Given that Optus is the only way to access content like the World Cup and the EPL in Australia, Taylor sees more pressure to deliver a better experience.

“For the first time, major sports leagues are available only via OTT,” he said. “And, because we are the only way to access the content, there is no acceptable way other than being broadcast quality or above.”

The trick is, as for others in the broadcast industry, finding a balance between maximising the look and minimizing the costs and also maintaining control over the product.

“People tend to outsource solution development to a third party, but then it loses momentum after it’s launched,” said Taylor. “As a service provider, you want to own the integration, sustain the product, and keep it moving forward.”

Horne said that the NRL is looking at automation and AI as ways to deliver a really great experience without increasing costs.

Data is also playing a role. “Right now,” said Taylor, “we are looking at how to effectively use data and harness it to find trends, so we can add value to our core business.”

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