Media Zone: OTT Must Prove Reliability to Draw Advertisers

Media Zone
Peter Feinstein

Watching TV is easy! I’ve got a huge screen in my den and another in the master bedroom, plus a couple of ginormous LED monitors in my office, an iPad Pro, and my trusty iPhone 6S. I can watch nearly anything I want on virtually any screen I want — just not in my car while I’m driving, which I suppose is a good thing for the other drivers on the road!

Just about every station/channel/network I choose to watch is available on cable, Apple TV, or via its own app. Plus, because I have Apple TV, I can push anything I get on my iPhone or iPad to the giant-screen TV in my den. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve got a ridiculously fast internet connection? I think the word my son would use is “crazy,” as in “holy cow” fast! I’ve really got it made … kind of.

Amid all this truly wondrous technology lurks a beast that can defeat it all: poor over-the-top (OTT) performance. It can send me into a spin of mild expletives and fumbling for my Wi-Fi remote control to just go back to cable TV.

Our home has amazing Wi-Fi. I’m not kidding. We have three secure Wi-Fi streams that blanket our home in wireless connectivity — and for the life of me, I cannot understand how it is that when we turn on our Apple TV and run Netflix, Hulu, or nearly any channel (except for Apple’s iTunes Store content) through it, we consistently experience bottlenecks that cause our screen to freeze, or the content stream to just stop and our huge screen to go blank. I diligently click my remote’s “menu” button to get me back to square one; sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t. I dutifully unplug our Apple TV and restart it; sometimes that works, but many times I have no such luck. Then I check our Wi-Fi, and each of our networks is operating at full speed. So, there’s a ghost in the machine … somewhere. And I’m relatively certain that we’re not the only ones to experience this kind of hiccup.

Clearly this doesn’t happen with our cable, nor do I know anyone with either of the satellite TV services who has this kind of experience. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes: After exhausting all other possible sources for my experience with OTT, I’m left with the only remaining possibility — the problem with OTT originates with the content providers (Roku, Amazon, Netflix) and their inability meet viewership demand. It has nothing to do with our connection and almost everything to do with the content provider’s failure to provide adequate bandwidth to deliver their content. 

So, what’s the attraction to all the different OTT services and digital video streams that claim to be the answer to the failings of linear TV? First, I guess we’d have to admit what the failings of linear TV are thought to be. There are two that spring to mind right away: price and content/delivery.

From a pricing perspective, yeah, cable or satellite might be considered expensive, especially if you only watch a couple channels from their myriad package offerings — so, instead of spending $80, you’re really “forced” to spend more like $120 every month. That’s a lot of money, especially since — decades ago — TV programming was free when I was growing up. And when cable arrived, it cost about $20 a month. But I digress; $120 a month adds up, and if it doesn’t deliver all the content you want when you want it, then — so the storyline goes — why should you have to pay for it?

Thus, cord cutters were born. They dismissively wave their hands at linear TV — so last-century — and point to all the different options they have for connecting to video content that can deliver what they want, on demand, anytime — day or night. I get the attraction. I attempt to use it — often. But about half the time, I’m foiled by inconsistent content delivery. That makes me very grateful for my last-century HD cable TV, which doesn’t make me wait for anything to load and never causes me the suffering that seems to come with a lot of the OTT options available.

Don’t misunderstand: every fiber of my being believes that OTT delivery and alternatives to cable and satellite clearly are next for TV. But just like the internet really was just a fun gimmick while fax-modem speeds were the standard, it’s going to take absolutely rock-solid cable (or satellite) TV-like speed and reliability for all these digital alternatives to become accepted widely enough to be places I’d want to put our clients’ advertising. And our clients appreciate us for not pushing them into these cutting-edge alternatives just because they’re shiny and new. They’re as hesitant as we are to jump into fad-like media that don’t yet have the stability and scale to create ROI from our clients’ hard-earned revenue.

We counsel patience to our clients. Once the various content providers figure out how to supply sufficient bandwidth to meet demand, everyone will be rewarded with stellar results, compelling CPMs, and reliable media. ■