Differentiating OTT products means big focus on branding, audience, VICE's Proffer says

NEW YORK--As over-the-top services proliferate, standing out from the crowd is getting increasingly difficult. So capturing the online video audience takes both smart marketing moves and an understanding of what that audience wants. That was the consensus of a panel here at Streaming Media East that, while ostensibly discussing the disruption OTT has wrought upon pay TV, turned inevitably toward making money with online content.

"It's hard to get mindshare in today's world: there's so much content," said BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, who moderated the panel titled "How OTT Is Disrupting the Pay-TV Business." Panel members agreed that there is plenty of OTT content, but felt that differentiation is possible.

VICE Media's Sterling Proffer, head of digital, pointed out that content itself is powerful. "The more content we put into the VICE brand, the more powerful (the brand) becomes," he said. VICE's current partnership with HBO, for which it produces a daily newscast, is another way that the media company makes its brand stand out. "[HBO CEO Richard] Plepler said it himself--he's not in the news business, he's in the VICE business," Proffer said.

Other providers take a more traditional view, at least when it comes to SVOD service.

Chris Orr-Van Abbema, associate director of video at Canada's Bell Media, said that the division's recently launched SVOD service, CraveTV, will eventually offer original programming to complement the content it's licensed from distributors and networks. "We'll see a blend of original content that speaks to your voice, and also have the big studios that make loads of fantastic content that's on demand," he said.

Vevo's Alexander Kisch saw such a blend of original and licensed content as a good jumping-off point for online video services, particularly SVOD, trying to meet consumer demands. Vevo itself builds "shoulder" programming used as a teaser or follow-on to the premiere of a show or concert, he noted--original programming that "stands on its own two feet" alongside the provider's licensed content.

But VICE's Proffer said that standing out as a service goes beyond branding. Providers need to also understand their audience and what it wants, and then build the best experience for them. The ability of OTT video to analyze audiences in-depth should be leveraged.

VICE gets its brand out not just through content deals with networks like HBO, but through branded apps and third-party apps. However, Proffer said: "We want to build the best experience and ultimately the easiest experience for users. The days of bizdev deals not having to be held accountable to the audience is kind of over."

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