Marketing with Over-the-Top Streaming Services

The way people consume content is changing. We are no longer tied to a television or radio on a set schedule. Not only are there more platforms available to us, but the way we enjoy the content has changed.
Not too long ago, if you wanted to watch the latest episode of your favorite television show, say Seinfeld, you only had two options. To watch it live, you had to make sure you plopped down on your couch at the right time and were ready to go for that glorious Thursday night “Must See TV” line up (those were the days). The other option? Program your VCR to tape the show and hope you didn’t return home to a blank tape and the dreaded flashing clock.
Thankfully, we now have quite a few more options available to us.
Viewing on the go

Now, we can watch our programs whenever we want and wherever we want.

We do TV shows and movies on our time, when it’s convenient for us.
The mobile devices we take for granted such as smartphones and tablets have freed us from our couches and given us that independence.
But beyond the devices themselves, there has been a recent shift in content consumption that has already made a massive impact and looks like it could change the media landscape even more in the future. What change? Over-the-top distribution.
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What is over-the-top distribution?

I could go into all kinds of technical jargon, but I’ll try to get to the point and make this as painless as possible. Simply put over-the-top distribution, or OTT, is simply a way to deliver content straight to the consumer.
OTT streams content over the internet from the providers straight to you without going through any distributors such as a cable provider. Sound familiar?
Streaming Media Content
The most prevalent form of this is of course Netflix. Netflix has gone from attempting to sell itself to Blockbuster, to being a dominant force in the emerging over-the-top market and breaking the $100 billion mark for market capitalization in 2017.
It may have been one of the first to the party, but the streaming giant is not alone. Competition has emerged in the form of Amazon Prime Video and Hulu among others. And the public loves it. As of 2017, 59% of all U.S. homes with broadband capabilities are streaming some form of OTT service.

United States Subscribers and Viewing Habits


*Amazon Prime Video is a bit more complicated. Amazon includes its video services with their Prime membership. However, at this time, Amazon does not release Prime membership numbers. But, according to estimates from 2017, there could be as many as 85 million Prime members (not all Prime members use the video services).*

  • Netflix % of OTT Viewing -40%

  • Hulu % of OTT Viewing -14%

  • Amazon Prime Video % of OTT Viewing – 7%

So, people like to stream content. So what?
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The lack of traditional advertising could change the way businesses approach streaming content such as Netflix.

What do Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have in common? No commercials. Hulu, which offers a tiered service charging a higher price for content without commercials, has around 21 million users who opt for the higher priced commercial-free service to dodge those pesky ads. No commercials means no time for advertisers to get their product in front of customers.

As more and more models and providers embrace OTT services, traditional television advertising opportunities could be dwindling for marketers.

So what are marketers to do? Embrace an updated take on an old friend, product placement. Savvy marketers figured out a long time ago that getting their products on-screen, whether in the background or featured prominently, was a great marketing tactic.

Film and television shows became a great way to advertise without the audience realizing marketers were pitching a product
But somewhere along the way, we all caught on and product placement became so overblown, it was essentially a parody of itself.

In the current climate and with the growing popularity of OTT services with commercial-free options, product placement could be primed for a comeback of sorts.
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The new twist on product placement.

Product placement can still be a practical way to market your product, but the way you go about it needs to change. As illustrated above by the comedy classic, Wayne’s World, going too far over the edge can become a joke.
It’s not enough to just slip your product in front of viewers’ eyes. You also need to stay away from beating them over the head with it. It can’t be all about the product. In fact, it needs to be about the viewer (or in this case, the character or characters that the viewers identify with).
It all goes back to the basic approach of content marketing itself. We’ve talked about content marketing multiple times on this blog (The Hero’s Journey Can Take Your Content Marketing to New Heights and Why Your Content Marketing Is Failing, being two prime examples). Applying the hero’s journey story structure to content marketing can help take your content to the next level.
One thing we’ve pointed out is that effective content marketing doesn’t make their company or their product the hero. The hero is the viewer or reader.

The product is the tool that the conquering hero uses to reach their goal.

What does this have to do with the OTT? Services like Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu are all offering commercial-free entertainment options to customers. If marketers want to capitalize on the growing viewership, they have to find a way to use the services and get eyes on their products.
It’s possible to do this by mixing the core principles of the hero’s journey and content marketing with the strategy of product placement. Traditional commercials will more than likely never truly die. There will always be some form of overt advertising going on somewhere.
But as the advertising landscape continues to change, as does the way we consume content and live our lives, marketers must change with it to stay relevant. Integrating products into content and programming on the OTT services is a great way to do this (and, if done properly, an unobtrusive way to do this as well).
For instance, having certain characters on Netflix shows use a phone brand or drive a specific luxury car without blurting the name brand over and over has been quite effective. Even if they don’t realize it, the audience instinctively identifies these products with that character’s status.
It’s a fine line to walk and it’s hard for some companies to resist making their product the focus of attention. But to truly get the most out of OTT and change the way advertisers work in today’s world, we have to get used to the idea of not just placing a product somewhere, but integrating it into the fabric of the story itself.
As Netflix and other OTT services continue to change how we consume our content on a daily basis, it’s time to take a step back and see what else they are changing . . . how we approach marketing.
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