Thriving in the smart TV ecosystem what content owners need

 Article is attributed to Manik Bambha, Co-founder & President - ViewLift

Imagine you were invited into an exclusive marketplace with a massive captive audience and limited competition. The downside is that, to enter, you need to master a new language, pass the marketplace's stringent scrutiny, face an uncertain waiting period and then be subject to constant changes in its policies and technology. Multiply this process several times, with little or no repeatability, and one begins to understand the complex and cumbersome process of developing smart TV apps in the current crowded ecosystem.

Smart TVs have rapidly overtaken traditional linear TV as the primary source of content viewership. In 2022 76% of TV households in the US said they own a smart TV, up from 70% a year ago. In addition, 57% of all TVs sold are now smart, a quarter higher than 45%in 2020. Besides, viewers are increasingly using their smart TVs' full capabilities instead of using them as 'dumb' TVs plugged into streaming devices and set-top boxes. And, while mobiles account for a significant amount of streaming traffic, large-screen smart TVs are still the go-to devices for long-format content like movies, entertainment, and sports.                                                                                                                 

Disparity: The bewildering maze that is smart TV

Smart TV has long passed the definition of a TV that streams content off the Internet. To grab a share of the US$ 187.81 billion global device market, Smart TV ecosystems and OEMs like Apple TV, Roku, Vizio, Fire TV, Samsung and LG, among many others, now offer a hugely varied range of devices with differing capabilities and price points, to capture different market segments. Even within individual companies' portfolios, different memory ranges and functionalities change from model to model. Additionally, manufacturers use diverse operating systems, which are constantly upgraded and tweaked for better performance.                                                                 

For a content owner, this diversity presents significant challenges. But, to make your platform reach a global audience, there's little choice but to embrace this maze and its challenges. Roku is huge in the US and Canada, but Android and Fire TV dominate in India, and Samsung is popular in Europe. You, therefore, need to tailor your OTT app to meet each platform's requirements. Your viewing experience, app UX, viewer data privacy and functionality must be consistent across platforms while also being mindful of business imperatives like monetization options, recommendation engines and viewer analytics. Testing for functionality across such diverse ecosystems is also strenuous, even before considering that apps must be constantly upgraded and re-tested with every operating system iteration.

Entering walled gardens: Getting an app live takes time, skill, effort

The benefits of being accepted by a significant platform are enormous. Every new device has your app pre-loaded, driving usage and monetization far higher than an off-TV OTT. The flip side is that, to maximize viewer experience, platforms are highly selective about their app partners. While each manufacturer has its process and standards, two things remain constant. 

First, platforms aren't shy of rejecting apps that are a user-base mismatch or could harm their reputation. For many of them, quality trumps quantity where their app offerings are concerned. In 2020, for example, Apple rejected or removed 1 million apps from its platform and did likewise with another 1 million app upgrades. The reasons, according to Apple, sprang from hidden, unsupported or undocumented features, privacy violations, spam and copycats.

Secondly, getting apps approved takes time and involves significant coding, paperwork, contract signing and inspections. The process can take anywhere from 3 months onwards, and that's if you get the process right the first time. If not, it can take much longer – a leading Indian OTT platform, for example, has been trying to get its app on a platform for two years and is still waiting.

Build or buy: Your OTT app’s make-or-break moment

Developing and getting a smart TV app live on platforms is a challenge on multiple fronts. The question is, how does one best go about it?

A custom-built app may seem the obvious choice, but it throws up several pitfalls. Integrating the app in varied environments requires a hybrid skill set that few developers possess. The low availability of app developers who understand the nuances of different smart TV platforms makes them extremely expensive to employ in-house. Besides, smart TV app development is a costly field in which to make recruitment mistakes. These errors have a cascading effect on when the app is ready, and bugs can lead to rejection by a platform. Once accepted, maintaining and upgrading the app requires constant supervision and investments.

The alternative is the no-code route. Here, content owners could partner with specialized OTT technology providers with extensive expertise in developing and successfully deploying smart TV apps. These partners typically already have a skilled developer base ready to begin your app development, reducing your time to market. They also have existing relationships with major smart TV platforms. In addition, they bring both intuitive and experience-based understanding of what works for which device and what it takes to maintain and upgrade apps as ecosystems, devices, and operating systems evolve.

But, best of all, no-code platforms enable content owners to build apps from scratch without a single line of code. But not all no-code platforms are made equal. Content owners must find partners who offer features that their business model needs - content personalization, password protection, video-on-demand, immersive viewing experience, and much more.  

The end goal is to maximize profitability by not only being available on every smart TV device but offering a consistent viewing experience across all of them.

Summing up

Building smart TV apps is no cakewalk. But no-code platforms can accelerate your move to smart TV, letting you expand your viewer base with the least effort and the highest returns.  

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