Interoperability and Simplicity: The Bane of Streaming

Jan 11, 2021

Over recent years, streaming has already been booming to meet the desires and habits of consumers. Various OTT models were already well positioned for the global lock-down, or shelter in place orders, in early 2020. Quite abruptly, the world was stuck at home and inundated with too much bad news as COVID cases and related issues grew. Needing an escape from a terrifying and depressing reality, OTT content has become the main, or in some cases, the only source of certain types of content.

Of course, some consumers are still holding onto cable TV, but the OTT market is creating so much original content, that it’s hard for cable to compete. Even for those hanging onto cable, VOD also satisfies the itch of instant gratification and is much more popular than traditional live viewing of content, with the exception of live sports, when restrictions allow.

By already responding to a market hungry for bingeable and on-demand shows, streaming was poised to entertain a market stuck at home and far too many unemployed or underemployed. The predictable result was that the market saw significant growth in second and third quarter of 2020 and the rising tide really has raised all ships. Adding to the streaming success, with movie theaters closed down, there has been even more growth in streaming as a platform for new release content, unsurprisingly.

All good news for OTT platforms. Here’s the catch. As everyone is painfully aware, it’s hard to decide which platforms to subscribe to, how many to subscribe to, and on what devices to view all of the great content. Anecdotally, my personal approach is to subscribe to a service for a couple months or so, binge all of the best content, and then cancel and move to another service. But my brilliant plan is breaking down for a couple reasons; namely there is so much great content that I don’t ever really catch up, and it’s also a bit of a pain to keep track of all of this cancelling and subscribing.

Another hitch is that when I cancel a service and later fire it up again, it doesn’t always remember what I’ve watched and such, specifically in the cases when I’ve switched who I pay for that subscription.

As a result, I have too many subscriptions and am paying more for content than I ever did for traditional cable. I also have trouble remembering where some of my favorite shows are. I can’t imagine I’m the only one.

To help solve this problem, there are services that allow you to search across OTT apps to find a specific show or movie. But not all OTT apps allow access, especially if they are a competitor of the search engine being used. The real solution to this is indeed a one stop shop where you can pay all of your subscriptions and access all apps in one place that can also deploy a powerful search engine to crawl through the depths of all VOD apps to find your content. The big players like Amazon, Hulu and Apple are doing this to some extent, which is great.

But there’s another catch.

There are some major interoperability problems with some of these OTT apps. There is one specific app, for a recently launched service, that is really hard to access. It is available on my phone, but not on my Roku TV. And when I access it through a subscription on AppleTV+ or Hulu, I can’t get some of the shows that I can get on my phone. And there’s no search function! This isn’t a one-off issue. I’ve noticed similar issues on other apps.

Interoperability is no longer just about ensuring your app works across devices, but also across various subscription platforms. This is especially critical if you limit where the app can be found. It is incredibly frustrating, again anecdotally, to watch a great original show while riding my stationary bike in the morning and then not be able to watch the next episode on my living room TV that evening.

There has to be consistency of availability, access, and usability, across all platforms; phones, smart TVs, living room devices, and subscription ecosystems like Hulu, Amazon, AppleTV+, etc. And I don’t think these frustrations are limited to just folks like me who are in the QC business. These are very obvious and egregious faults with the basic app interoperability.

It may still be true, and probably will be for a long time, that content is king. Great content will indeed drive subscriptions. Clearly my subscription hopscotch is the result of chasing incredible content. However, if it is difficult to access the best content on certain devices or within certain subscription ecosystems, then it’s just not worth it. If I can only watch this one great show on my mobile and can’t even access it on my living room TV, then why am I paying so much or it?

Although this issue of interoperability has come in many forms over the years, it has become even more pronounced in our current environment because consumer expectations are high, everyone has multiple devices, and platforms need to be very simple to use.

There are plenty of problems in the world right now; far too many in fact. This one thing; this escape from reality; really needs to be easy.

By Jason Gish, President, Film, Television, Testronic