Premium Long-Form VOD Delivers New Opportunities for Expansion
Turn on the TV in the U.K. and you have a bewildering array of over 300 channels to choose from, many of which are available free-to-air. These include national, regional and local channels, and their +1 and HD variants. An interesting difference between the U.K. and the U.S. market is the large proportion of TV that is available without the need for any cable subscription, which has helped drive innovation in the pay TV market as providers such as Sky and BT have had to develop products that are worth the money.
UKTV, jointly owned by BBC Worldwide and Scripps Networks, has a unique approach to the TV market, with channels available from both free and pay TV providers. It runs 10 channels — including favorites Dave, Drama and Gold — half of which are free-to-air, while the rest require a subscription. It’s this mix of income from advertising and subscriptions that has proven such a success, fuelling both growth in viewership and a 20% increase in profit in the last two years.
In a clear evolution from its position as a traditional broadcaster, UKTV has been developing its suite of video on-demand products under the UKTV Play brand, and two years after its launch, both audience numbers and income are rising at an impressive rate.
In mid-2014, UKTV’s VOD apps and services were all brought together under the UKTV Play brand, with the channels presented as a brand “family.” This coincided with a new approach to the TV’s on-screen promotions for the channels, with greater use of cross-network on-screen ads, again, with a brand family feel. “We were aware that UKTV Play was a brand extension of a relatively unknown network brand, UKTV. The first step was to inform our TV viewers that they were watching a channel from the UKTV family,” explains Oliver Davies, Head of Digital Products at UKTV. “Everyone knows and loves our channel brands, but we had to build the association with the network, and by doing so UKTV Play started to make more sense to the consumer.” With UKTV Play established as the entry point to multi-channel content, users began to discover content from the other channels, which in turn increased engagement, advertising revenue, and awareness of the TV channels.
Diverse Content and Channels Drive Viewers to UKTV Play
The range of programs available is very diverse on UKTV Play. A portion is supplied by the BBC, including well-loved entertainment shows like “Top Gear,” “QI” and “Mock the Week,” and quality dramas such as “Spooks” and “Silent Witness.” A range of U.S. studio content is available on catch-up such as “Suits,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Last Man on Earth.” Perhaps the most exciting strand of content is the brand-defining UKTV Originals, available exclusively on UKTV Play. These include “Hoff the Record” starring David Hasselhoff, and a reboot of the sci-fi cult “Red Dwarf.”
“We currently have about 300 program brands in circulation,” says Davies. “At any one time, we have 1,000 to 1,500 episodes available to our viewers, whose demographic is broadly in line with our broadcast channel viewers.”
UKTV Play has achieved a 26% increase in views year-over-year, and is aiming for an increase of 50% by the end of 2016. “We measure our success on a range of metrics including the number of views, brand awareness, and application downloads,” says Davies. “This year we already are tracking above our targets.”
Driving Growth in Views and Ad Revenues: A Multi-Faceted Approach
Providing great programming and a quality user experience is the first step in creating a successful VOD channel. The second step, according to Davies, is providing an ad viewing experience on demand that is consistent with viewers’ experiences on broadcast. “We don’t offer subscription VOD, so ad revenue is critical. People expect fewer ads online compared to TV, so the opportunity for us to maximize revenue on VOD advertising is limited. We aim for the same experience on demand as on TV: a maximum of three ads per pre-break, and no more than four minutes per mid-break.”
UKTV has successfully developed viewer loyalty through consistent viewer experience and treatment of ad placements across all of its channels, whether VOD or broadcast. As the number of VOD viewers continues to increase, so does ad revenue.
A third element in driving viewership is adding platforms and devices. Retention varies by device type, and devices have different usage patterns based on time and day of week. However, adding new platforms expands the network’s reach. “Each new platform attracts a unique user base and doesn’t cannibalize the installed user base anywhere else,” says Davies. Faced with a lack of standardization for viewing on different devices, Davies narrowed UKTV’s focus to a specific list of devices, betting on platforms of the future, and specifically those tactically important for VOD consumption. PC, iOS, Android and YouView were first; longer term strategic platforms such as Freeview Play and Amazon Fire TV have followed closely behind. “Choosing whether to develop for a platform is complicated. What about games consoles, smart TVs or aggregation services for example? We follow consumer and industry trends very carefully and try to figure out what will grow in dominance before committing.”
Keeping Ahead of the Curve with a Long-Time Valued Partner
UKTV has been partnering with Brightcove for more than 10 years. What started with short-form videos on UKTV’s channel websites has grown into a key, strategic partnership for Davies’ small, 12-person team, enabling them to develop products and services across many platforms. “Without Brightcove, I’d need quite a few more developers to sort out all the technical problems, which is expensive.” Davies’ in-house team covers design, production and ongoing evolution of the apps and services, but relies on Brightcove for the mechanics of VOD delivery.
For example, UKTV uses a Freewheel plug-in to facilitate ad break display for each program. Without Brightcove, Davies notes that this functionality would have to be custom built and, crucially, maintained.
Davies relies on Brightcove so the team does not have to develop or manage all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle themselves. “Brightcove services have grown, bringing new functionality online such as Brightcove Once for server-side ad insertion, new DRM, stronger encryption, cloud encoding, dynamic ingest, and enhanced admin console capabilities. Brightcove makes VOD as easy and convenient as possible and takes care of lots of the complicated bits of the chain so we can concentrate on making beautiful products. Without Brightcove, the world would be a more difficult, technically challenging place for us. Video is a fast moving market, and Brightcove helps us to keep up with the changes.”