How Digital Video Publishers Are Racing to Take Advantage of Connected TV’s Growth in Popularity

Digital brands are learning that while mobile is still a great place to reach a lot of eyeballs, consumers are spending more time and longer periods of that time streaming video content on their connected TVs (CTV).

Conviva estimates that CTVs had a 148 percent growth in plays last year, outpacing mobile, which saw a more modest 94 percent growth. While mobile is still a strong choice for watching content on the go, connected TVs accounted for a 56 percent share in viewing hours for 2018 — an increase of 9 percent from 2017.

The stats aren’t surprising when looking at the number of U.S. households that own a connected TV. At the end of 2017, 210 million devices were installed in consumer homes actively delivering internet connectivity to the TV screen, and by the end of 2021 there are forecast to be 275 million, according to The NPD Group.

For digital brands like Conde Nast-owned Bon Appetit, which launched its own streaming app on Thursday, this growth in CTV use offers an opportunity to create its own viewing destination where it has greater control of content and advertising.

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“In some respects, launching OTT apps is a defensive strategy. Print readership is falling and digital readership isn’t keeping up. At the same time, how-to and niche interest video is booming on sites like YouTube,” co-founder of nScreenMedia Colin Dixon told TheWrap. “Offering video service is an attempt to stop ad revenue leaking away to social and to maintain a subscription relationship with customers.”

Part of the goal for Bon Appetit is to move its social media viewers — and the 1.3 billion views they’ve accumulated across Bon Appetit’s social platforms — to the owned-and-operated TV app where it has a direct relationship with the consumer. CNE has the same plans for its GQ and Wired brands, it announced at last year’s NewFronts.

“Video opens up the opportunity for the company to be able to offer advertisers a better way of engaging with prospective customers,” Dixon added.

Late last year, Refinery29 also launched its own dedicated OTT app, known as Channel 29, with an expanded lineup of original news, entertainment and lifestyle programming perfectly geared for CTVs.

However, not all companies are going the standalone OTT route to have a presence on connected TVs. Building and running a standalone OTT app is a difficult and expensive path to reach an audience, as George Rausch, head of product marketing at Frequency, pointed out in a recent interview.

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“The common thing that people come back saying [after launching a OTT app] is, ‘You know, I launched these apps on very popular app stores — why is my traffic so low and why did I only make 300 bucks?'” he said.

OTT apps that launch on streaming devices like Apple TV or Amazon’s Fire Stick are competing with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other apps. Roku alone offers more than 5,000 apps. While the company is constantly trying to make content on its platform easier to find, discoverability is a major challenge given the current glut of competitors.

While CNE can leverage its Bon Appetit magazine to promote the service to help retain existing customers, Dixon noted that “finding new, younger customers will be a challenge. CNE will need to heavily promote through social media and look for distribution partners that can help the potential audience find the service.”

Finding an audience can be just as difficult as keeping one. CleverTap, a mobile app marketing platform with app analytics, estimated last year that OTT apps on average experience a 35 percent uninstall rate three months after being downloaded.

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To increase discoverability, many digital publishers are partnering with emerging and established vMVPD services like Pluto TV and Dish’s OTT service Sling TV. By grouping up with a more popular service, the companies’ content has greater chances of being watched and found.

Jukin, which launched linear channels for its FailArmy and Pet Collective brands across multiple streaming TV platforms, found that being bundled in a lean-back offering boosted its average watch time from 24 minutes to more than 64 minutes per session and overall viewership to 90 million minutes watched per month across both channels.

Launching the channel still required resources and extra personnel, but the venture has so far proved successful, according to Jukin Media founder and CEO Jonathan Skogmo.

“Our overnight success in linear has actually been a couple years in the making. It takes specific skills and experience to do it well, which is why we’ve brought in people like Jill Goldfarb to really take our channels to the next level,” Skogmo said. “We saw strong signals early on — things like 50-plus minute average watch times — and we took that as a proof point to continue investing in the programming and the talent.”

With more eyeballs landing on the biggest screen in the house, the emergence of OTT apps and channels from publishers will be a regular occurence throughout the coming years. Whether the results will mimic Jukin Media’s success will largely depend on if and when the new platforms or channels are discovered. Meanwhile, publishers will continue to expand their offering so that their content is available everywhere a viewer can consume it.

“Simply put, their core audience is changing. Video is becoming a more important part of people’s lives and it carries over into their niche interests,” said Dixon.

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