Mumbai: Setting up and running an OTT platform involves a lot of strategising and brainstorming over macro issues like content strategy, monetisation models, CDNs, audience prioritisation and marketing. But, as far as the viewer is concerned, the real action happens when they click on a video player and sit back to watch your content.
While this may seem like a simple, intuitive action, the reality is that choosing a video player for your OTT platform is as involved a decision as any. It's the last mile in delivering a viewing experience that makes customers stay and keep coming back for more.
As OTT platforms have proliferated, they have created a complex ecosystem of tech stacks, streaming protocols and monetisation models. But, the final objective all players vie for is giving their audience the best viewing experience. To meet the needs of this diverse market, estimated to create revenues of $1.01 billion by 2026, a large number of video players are now available, creating a cluttered ecosystem. While TheOplayer, Brid.tv, BitMovin and JW Player are popular names; the market is an alphabet soup of brands ranging from Akamai to Wowza, including big names like Apple, Android, IBM and Comcast. Each has its own functionalities and caters to different market segments. Some players are open-source, others offer premium products with advanced functionalities. Some are standalone players; others are part of a broader OTT solution. Prices differ widely, ranging from free to exorbitant. All of which makes identifying an optimum video player a challenge in itself. Adding to this complexity is every OTT platform's ambition to be the next Netflix - that's as expensive an aspiration as they come!
Is there a way to deliver viewing experiences that create affinity for your OTT brand without burning a hole in your pocket? Sure, there is.
First and foremost, how well does the video player do its most fundamental job?
The very basic requirement of any video player is instant loading and trouble-free streaming. With the variety of content options at hand, people are increasingly intolerant of interruptions in their viewing experience. If your content doesn't get served up on demand or freezes midway after hitting play, your viewers will likely go elsewhere and may even be dissuaded from returning.
Loading speeds depend significantly on the end-user’s Internet connection. So your player needs to function efficiently even on low-bandwidth connections. Given that 38% of market growth is likely to come from the APAC region, where Internet connectivity is still unreliable in many places, having a quick-loading player is a hygiene factor that takes precedence over many other considerations.
Does the video player offer functionality on demand?
While everybody wants to be Netflix or YouTube, the reality is that these platforms have evolved as they have grown. While it may be tempting for you to opt for a player with all the bells and whistles, remember that these come at a cost, which in most cases can be hefty. Besides this, every functionality adds to the player's size and can end up making it too heavyweight to be able to load and function instantly.
A good choice of video player is one which is light to deploy but lets you add specific functionalities when needed. For example, if you have live streams in your content mix, your player should be capable of offering AI-based close captioning when it senses a live feed. Or, if you offer serial content, your player should allow users to transition to the next episode intuitively.
When choosing a video player, begin with the bare minimum, and add only what you need.
How well does the video player integrate with the rest of your tech stack, devices and apps?
The video player is the final frontier of your platform – the actual interface through which you engage with your audience. Having a customised player that integrates perfectly with your backend platform is essential to providing a great user experience.
The player should easily port on your app and support devices popular among your audience. It should support your chosen monetisation model, for example, disabling viewers from playing premium content if they are not paid subscribers. It should also come with easily embedding functionality on third-party platforms, devices and websites, giving your platform a wider reach.
Besides technology, as the public face of your platform, your video player is an important marketing tool. An ideal player should offer skins and style guides that allow you to customise it to visually match your brand values and guidelines.
Does the player tell you everything you need to know?
In a world of personalized everything, the most significant area of integration that a good video player must offer is analytics support. As your platform’s audience interface, your player can be the most critical source of the all-important customer insight that fuels your business.
Besides audience insights, video players should also be able to detect quality issues like lag, slow loading or buffering issues, enabling your teams to rectify them on the fly. While some players are part of bigger platforms offering analytics as an add-on, the very least a good video player should be capable of is integrating with an analytics solution to maximise the value of your data.
Price vs viewing experience: It doesn't have to be either-or
Keeping these three factors in mind should ease your task of choosing a video player.
While price is an undeniable factor, the sheer range of video players – standalone or solutions, open source or paid – makes it more than likely that there's one out there that meets your exact needs, balancing price point with viewing experience and analytics insights.
The author of this article is ViewLift co-founder & president Manik Bambha.