The term OTT has been in the video vernacular for a few years now, but is still not widely used or understood by the masses. OTT stands for “Over The Top” and refers to the delivery of media content, including but not limited to video programing over the Internet; usurping the need for cable or broadcast television infrastructure. In practice, the majority of Americans are constant consumers of OTT content in the form of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo and numerous other web-based media content channels. While we have become accustomed to this type of video delivery, most of us do not pause to contemplate the paradigm-shifting implications of this increasingly popular means of consuming content.
For most of its history, video-based media content has only been accessible through some sort of tethered, dedicated hardware. Receiving a broadcast television signal over the airwaves required an antenna, tuner and a screen–all of which were large, connected to one another and used for only one singular purpose. The replacement of the antenna-based broadcast system with cable-delivered content delivery still required a hard-wired, stationary, single-use viewing system. The introduction of web-based media delivery essentially cut the cord that had until that time always limited media consumption to the living room.
In that era, viewers were also held captive by the programming schedules set by broadcasters. Shows could only be seen in real time as they ‘aired’ and broadcasters had a limited number of programming hours available to fill. This limited programming content options and forced viewers to plan their lives around the program times of their favorite shows. When NBC built its “must-see TV” lineup with the powerhouse programs “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” people everywhere were in front of their televisions from 8-10pm on Thursday nights.
OTT liberated media from the tyranny of both tether and time.
OTT liberated media from the tyranny of both tether and time. Now, content can be consumed on any screen, anywhere at any time. Wireless, cloud-based content can be displayed on a traditional television screen using a USB module like the Roku or Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV, but the content is also easily accessed anywhere you can find Wi-Fi or a cell signal using a tablet or smartphone.
It isn’t just the delivery of TV that has changed. The sales model for television content has been up-ended as well. Traditional over-the-air broadcast television was free — if you invested in the hardware needed to receive the signal. Television content was fully funded by advertising. As a result, advertisers often influenced the program content itself. Cable TV introduced a subscription model for generating revenue. Advertising still had its place, but cable companies made their millions by selling more channels of content to an audience that was hungry for more options than the few major networks could deliver. OTT in its various flavors takes pages from each of these models. Some content is offered free to viewers and gathers revenue from advertising based on the popularity of the media, as with YouTube. Others offer VOD (video on demand) on a pay-per-view basis, like Amazon, where you can click to ‘rent’ a movie to watch on any device associated with your account. Subscription services like Netflix offer commercial-free content to those who pay a monthly fee.
For media makers, OTT represents an exponentially increasing opportunity to distribute program content in a way that leads to a paycheck. Everyone is aware of the earning potential that YouTube presents to content creators who garner large audiences. Vimeo was one of Videomaker’s top picks at NAB, where we recognized the outlet for its new OTT content creator options that allow users to easily launch a subscription video service through which they can distribute and monetize content on the web and in custom apps across a number of mobile and smart TV platforms.
Making and monetizing media for and through OTT distribution channels requires strategic thinking. Savvy, enterprising producers will find more and more opportunities to do so as viewers continue to choose OTT content over traditional television and cable options. It not only allows you to reach a niche audience with a high level of interest in the programs you produce, it also allows you to reach more people on multiple screens without the barriers of tethers and timetables. Reaching that niche audience also sets you up to sell embedded ads to resource providers who want to get their products on front of your viewers. For many who wish to monetize their media, OTT may be the land of opportunity.
Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.