The Road to OTT: Stop calling it OTT!

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.

Looking for cutting edge television technology? We had to visit Capitol Broadcasting in Raleigh, North Carolina. No surprise in today’s stop on The Road to OTT that WRAL-TV got into OTT more than seven years ago and is already on its second generation of Roku, Amazon, Apple apps and even a slowly disappearing Samsung platform.

Much like our previous stop visiting Oklahoma’s Griffin Communication, WRAL and its associated companies are family-owned with a limited corporate infrastructure. That never limited technology at Capitol — they were the first to launch high definition broadcasting and one of the first to use satellite newsgathering technology. John Conway, General Manager of WRAL Digital, points out launched a full-fledged 24-hour news site when most websites were little more than tech-geek novelties. Today, and its related apps deliver more than 100 million page and screen views to more than 5 million unique devices EACH MONTH — amazing metrics for any local website.

“We never use the term OTT in our marketing,” says Anita Normanly, Production Manager in the Audience Development Department. “We always talk about WRAL Streaming Channels,” adds Normanly who says they deliberately chose the word “channel” because that is how viewers think about TV. Jake Seaton is the Digital Product Manager and says the goal has always been making it easy for viewers. “If it’s on digital, then it’s on our Streaming Channels,” says Seaton.

Like others we’ve visited, WRAL pays close attention to digital analytics.Live viewing drives almost 60% of OTT video and that is on top of website and app streaming, according to Conway.That keeps attention focused on making it easy to watch a live newscast. “When the news begins on broadcast, we need to make sure the newscast begins on our streaming channels,” says Conway. That explains why WRAL built an in-house digital encoding system to send content to the Amazon Web Services cloud.The station uses commercial products for Roku, Amazon, Apple and Samsung users because of the constant evolution of those platforms. Despite those moving technology parts, Conway says the average viewing time approaches a healthy 30 minutes.

Two opportunities ahead for WRAL’s OTT streaming channels: “Few companies are effectively doing dynamic ad insertion (DAI) into their streams,” according to Conway. Conway says that limits revenue, but he says better DAI is coming.Right behind DAI, Conway says WRAL realizes the Streaming Channels need content beyond traditional newscasts.“Creating content is labor intensive,” says Seaton and he adds that “we still see live content as a sweet spot.”Seaton says the station keeps looking for opportunities to exploit the on-demand features of streaming platforms

Around the next turn in the Streaming Wars? (Remember, WRAL avoids the term OTT. ) “We need to figure out on-demand content,” says Conway. The station has a deep archive of local content. They realize it will take effort to make that content attractive to streaming audiences. And, the big break will come when the app developers begin making content recommendations. Netflix, Hulu and other streaming users expect content recommendations. Because those are subscription services, the end-user app tracks individuals and uses that to make content recommendations.“We need to know more about our users,” say Conway. That doesn’t necessarily mean a paid subscription, but could be part of broader engagement experiments like WRAL’s participation in pilot projects from the Local Media Association and the Local Media Consortium, some of which are underwritten by Facebook and Google. And, knowing more about viewers will also make these audiences much more valuable to advertisers.Keep an eye on Raleigh—the twists and turns ahead will be a combination of technology, content and (maybe most important) audience engagement.


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