The Road to OTT: Finding that content sweet spot

How do news organizations find their footing when the ground starts shifting? We’re providing a hands-on view into the process that’s unfolding as newsrooms at the Missouri School of Journalism begin exploring and launching over-the-top (OTT) products and projects.

E.T. Meredith began publishing the magazine that would become Better Homes and Gardens almost a hundred years ago. Most recent industry attention has focused on the company’s acquisition of more magazines, including the 2018 acquisition of magazine titles from Time, Inc. But the group has a long history in local television. Its portfolio is comprised of 17 television stations, including seven stations in the nation’s top 25 markets.

That might seem like apples and oranges but when it comes to thinking about OTT, inspiration can come from mixing and matching and pondering new, unexpected combinations. At least that’s what Gary Brown, Senior Vice President of Content at Meredith, is wrestling with.

On the technology front, he says the group endorsed the “early-in” strategy for their local television stations despite the complexities involved with having a collection of CBS, FOX, ABC and NBC affiliates. With each major network adopting different OTT strategies, groups like Meredith had to devise their own strategies as cord-cutters and cord-nevers (viewers who have never paid for a cable or satellite subscription) became significant in the television universe. “It is a content play AND a technology play,” says Brown and he says Meredith has spent a lot of time looking at both.

On the content front, Brown says they recognized early on that audiences used OTT differently from traditional linear television. “Streaming newscasts was an expectation, but we had to change our thinking of putting linear TV on OTT and believing that alone would serve this audience,” says Brown. Like others in the industry, Brown says their stations quickly realized the importance of live events on the new platforms and says that part of their strategy is consistent with the company’s overall digital strategy.

The challenge today, according to Brown, is evolving the end-user technology. “Netflix has created a new expectation of personalization,” according to Brown and he insists that any successful OTT app must have the ability to personalize the content.  “How do people define local?” asks Brown who says that is an opportunity in the large and fast-growing Meredith markets like Atlanta, Phoenix and Nashville. Brown’s comments echo the findings in this year’s Pew Research study where almost half of the respondents say their local media do not cover their local community.

The big opportunity for Meredith is using the treasure trove of lifestyle content developed by the company’s National Media Group including the legacy Better Homes & Gardens and a collection of newer brands including AllRecipes, InStyle and Martha Stewart Living. Integrating that content with trusted local media brands across all digital platforms is a “home run” according to Brown.

Knowing (and understanding) audiences comes from Meredith’s magazine DNA. Television stations have had to work hard at this given the limitations of traditional rating services, but Meredith television stations have always invested in research. Brown says the company recently turned to focus groups comprised of the cord-cutters where they are hearing the same themes surfaced by other researchers and widely discussed at the summer’s OTT News Summit. OTT platform analytics are quickly catching up with other digital platforms and Brown believes successful OTT programmers are going to be the ones that “know their audiences.”


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