OTT customer-acquisition advice: If at first you don’t succeed, trial again

Hamilton
Disney+ ditched its freebie before debuting Hamilton in June.

There is no one weird trick to collecting and keeping customers, executives at a handful of streaming-video firms agreed. Between free trials of varying durations, bundling possibilities, ancillary experiences and partnership discounts, OTT services can sample from an extensive menu of growth tools.

In the first of two panels on the theme of “Maximizing OTT Growth” at FierceVideo’s Stream TV Show, Jon Goodstadt, Roku’s director for ad sales, media and entertainment; Jerry Fan, director of product growth and retention, Crunchyroll; Lexie Knauer, product marketing manager, Brightcove; and Ian Zeifman, product marketing lead, Amdocs Media; shared perspectives on the subject with moderator Kirby Grines, founder at the consultancy firm 43Twenty.

Grines opened the discussion by noting the recent demise of free trials at Netflix and Disney+; the latter ditched its freebie before debuting Hamilton in June, while Netflix began phasing out no-cost trials in October.

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RELATED: Disney+ ditches seven-day free trial

Calling herself “one of the suckers” to have signed up for an annual subscription to Disney+ with that Broadway musical in mind, Knaeur observed that Disney’s OTT service had the singular advantage premium and exclusive content.

Offering a discount on a year’s subscription didn’t hurt either. Plus, there was this: “I had trust in their brand.”

Fan, in turn, said Netflix had reached entertainment-utility status in the U.S. “There’s no point to continuing that promotion,” he said. That’s not necessarily the case elsewhere; for example, Fan said, Netflix dangles free upgrades to higher tiers in Latin America to try to increase its revenue per user.

“Disney+ and Netflix have the content and the IP to do this,” Roku’s Goodstadt agreed. “SVOD services will continue to test and learn.”

He cited Roku’s experience offering occasional 30-day free trials—mostly recently. It put one such offer on the table this spring in a “Home Together” Roku Channel promotion aimed at users confined to their houses by the coronavirus pandemic.

Seven-day trials are more customary at Roku and other services, which Goodstadt said helped to stop people from canceling a free trial they started only to watch a sport’s championship season play out. He said Roku tries to limit them to once a year, plus certain influencer-marketing campaigns.

“The idea is that it’s special,” Goodstadt said. “You don’t want to train the users into thinking that if they just wait three more months, they’ll get a free 30-day trial.”

Saying “our most successful customers lean on seasonality,” Brightcove’s Knauer cited such examples as Shudder, the AMC Networks horror OTT service, staging a free event for Halloween.

Amdocs' Ziefman noted the potential and problem of letting such partners as cable operators aggregate OTT services.

“They have that incumbent base of millions of subscribers,” he said of cable. But those incumbents also need to avoid a common customer-experience problem: “If you have the existing service, you can’t port your subscription over.”

He also advised looking to form retail partnerships with merchants like Costco that already have strong customer ties.

Fan, in turn, pointed out that Crunchyroll doesn’t just rely on the episodic nature of its anime content to keep viewers around—it also produces news, shopping, games and events. “All of these things we consider very effective retention tools,” he said.

But for any service, Knauer’s advice at the start of the panel should resonate most: “It’s important you monitor your trial conversion rate and your churn.”

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