If there’s one thing that American culture is synonymous with, it’s the culture of cool. In post-war America it was bubblegum, Coca-Cola, denim jeans, and TV dinners in front of the Andy Griffith show. Families would pull out the dinner trays and prep at the microwave before sitting down and spending quality time in front of The Tube. We’re going to go ahead and call it: Watching the latest must-see TV show is the real American pastime. It was the weekly ritual, and it was a cultural cornerstone by every means of the word.
But cool isn’t about pastimes — cool is about what’s next. And the world no longer consumes TV as a family, once-a-week, primarily on the television. Now we’re all streaming our content across our favorite handheld devices as much as we’re watching it on our computers and televisions. And the best part is that we’ve got the added bonus of watching our content whenever we want. It’s cool, and it’s shaping (if not leading) our need-it-now mindset and culture from the inside out.
What is “it” exactly? Over-the-top, or OTT. And here’s how it’s changing everything.
What is OTT?
The thing that makes streaming across different devices whenever we want is possible because of “over-the-top,” a convenient little term that explains the new delivery method of film and TV content over the internet without the need for traditional cable or satellite pay-TV services. In simple terms, we’re talking about people paying for internet from Xfinity to watch Netflix, but not bothering to get 400+ channels from Comcast so they can scroll through ESPN4 on their big screen.
What are the perks of OTT? They’re pretty basic, but they’re also pretty spectacular:
- OTT means streaming anytime, anywhere there’s a wifi (or internet) signal. That means on the subway if you’re lucky enough to have it.
- OTT opened up the possibility for ad-free content (or really targeted campaigns), ad hoc subscription services, and more monetization strategies.
- With the freedom of going “on the air” whenever, viewers aren’t regimented to what’s broadcasting at the moment. They can literally customize their viewing experience to whatever they want to watch from the titles available.
- Consumers are getting to be in the driver’s seat. More than ever, content is going straight toward what the consumers want to watch — and the turnaround time is getting faster and faster.
That’s not to say everything is going smoothly — obviously, the cable companies are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to the new opportunities, as are the big broad networks like ABC, CBS, and the like. However, instead of becoming extinct, the demand for content is merely pushing these companies to consider different ways to market and deliver. Cable providers are still in the mix since many are providing the internet services, and the main channel networks aren’t giving up their broadcast streams, they’re just ALSO going after the OTT audience with digital streaming through apps, platforms, and more. Why does that work? Because SO many people need content and it’s not changing anytime soon. According to Cisco, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic — 15 times higher than it was in 2017 — by 2022.
Those are big numbers and it’s a big transition, with many more implications than just cutting ties with the cable service that holds HBO goodies in its clutches. Not only has it changed the way we get television, but it’s changed the way we watch it too. And if there’s any story that is good at telling the OTT phenom, it’s Netflix.
The Netflix Effect
There are a lot of success stories that contribute to the OTT movement — YouTube, we’re looking at you — but one of the greatest stories of the OTT saga is Netflix, the little streaming platform that could.
Last week, there was one story that caught the eye of many a Millennial, Generation Y, and Boomer alike on their daily scroll: There’s only one Blockbuster left in the world. For anyone who was born on or before 1990, Blockbuster was an integral part of the weekend plan. You’d pop by the video store, spend hours perusing titles row by row, and then you’d rent. It was how the world saw movies at home — one tape, then DVD, at a time.
Up until the early nineties, Blockbuster was solid. But something interesting happened toward the end of the nineties — both Blockbuster and Netflix (known then as a “niche” platform) weren’t doing so hot. It was a sign of market transition. And it was then, in 2000, that the CEO of Netflix offered up Netflix to Blockbuster for $50 million to Blockbuster. No deal. It was a HUGE mistake.
In 2007, everything changed when Netflix went OTT, catching onto the wave of customer demand for untethered, streamed content (it was only some two years earlier that YouTube launched as well — what a time to be alive!). From then on, Blockbuster (despite trying to go OTT a few different ways) was constantly wiping its face clear of Netflix’s dust as it sped past.
What did Netflix do right? They recognized the monumental shift in how people consume content. Blockbuster waited until the trend caught on, at a time when not only Netflix was changing the world as we know it, but YouTube and Facebook were making their marks on our ever-changing culture too. It was the dawn of the age of everything: faster, stronger, more. And it was moving SO fast, that a few years of stagnation was a complete death sentence.
In hindsight, it’s a lot easier to say Netflix made a good decision where Blockbuster made a bad one, but now that OTT has fully arrived and the world is consuming it in numbers beyond imagination, it’s not about just recognizing the trend, it’s about figuring out how to feed the beast. And there’s a lot of people out there stoking the flames and going after what’s next.
OTT + The World of Tomorrow
We all know that Netflix isn’t the only big guy out there right now — YouTube has launched its own video creation service, Amazon has gone “prime,” Hulu has moved to take over TV, and even the indie-darling Sundance is making a splash out of its festival favorites and more. The world is recognizing the potential of OTT, not just for the big players like Disney (who’s set to come out with their own streaming service later this year).
What’s more, is cities like Atlanta are recognizing the power of OTT. As the first of its kind, THEA is taking the idea of OTT and pushing it to cultivate a community of creators — ones that are bolstering the metro economy with each piece of video that they create. Launched at SXSW in 2018 and powered to go OTT by Endavo, the platform is already boasting some incredible numbers. Currently, the platform is free, but with incredible monetization strategies in the line-up, it won’t be that way for long. Like all OTT platforms, once the audience comes, so do the opportunities to capitalize.
So what’s next? It’s still time for those “niche” communities to shine. Maybe it’s the local sports team looking to go global with its all-star numbers, or perhaps its a city with a lot of incredible stories to share with the world. It could even be a couple of brothers with a love for Stephen King just looking for an audience who shares their love for 80s nostalgia. Whatever it is, it’s getting shared OTT, and it’s transforming the world.
Today, cool may look a lot different than it did in the 1950s when TV went big. It may look like an iPad getting played at dinner, or an Android getting watched while standing at a bus stop, or even a killer big screen OTT streaming the latest princess-meets-zombies flick at a middle school slumber party. But it’s power over American culture — and really, that of the world — has remained ever the same. OTT is the opportunity to bring people to stories, and more importantly, bring people together. It may be in references and “guess what I watched” play-by-plays, but the moments are still shared. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s really all about?