June 14, 2021

Which devices and Smart TVs apps do I target to reach the most users with my OTT service?

24i developer Matthijs Langendijk examines the optimal device and app strategy for achieving maximum reach with your OTT service. What’s the bare minimum of devices you must target? Where should you go next to get the best return on your investment? Which Smart TV apps should you build? Should your strategy differ based on your geographic location?

It’s probably the question our team gets asked most often when they’re talking to any customer, from the largest Pay TV operator to the smallest niche OTT player: Which devices should I prioritize if I want to reach the most users with my OTT app? Which streaming devices? If I’m building Smart TV apps, which brands are most popular? It’s an excellent question, but there’s no single right answer. 

If you look at the majority of the big players out there (and perhaps surprisingly for these purposes I’m not considering Apple TV+ and Disney+ as big players - more on that later), the answer is pretty clear. They are literally everywhere. They operate in (almost) every country and on every device, whether it’s handheld or shared in the living room. They are everywhere. While this may be feasible for the biggest players like Netflix, it might not be for you. So where do you put your money to optimize your reach?

The “must have” OTT applications

Let us start with the devices that are obvious. Yes, you need your OTT app to be available on both Android and iOS for mobiles and tablets. I can guarantee you that there will be many, many users wanting to watch content on-the-go. Whether it’s on the way to work, at the gym, or just soaking up some sun in the backyard — users want your content close at hand, available to watch whenever they feel like it. 

Next to that is the other obvious platform: the web. Do I still really need to explain that users want to be able to reach you from their laptop or desktop computer, without having to install an app? Type in the web-address in their browser of choice, click ‘continue watching’, and that’s all users want. 

The next BIG question

So after iOS, Android and web, what’s the next priority? It’s a BIG question, because the answer is the big screen - specific Smart TV apps, but also those for streaming devices designed to connect to a big screen (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, hybrid STBs and more). OTT content is unmistakably linked to the big screen. “Netflix and chill” didn’t become a thing for no reason — people enjoy watching content together from the comfort of their couch. So you need to be present on the big screen too. But where do you need to be, when there are so many devices with different functions, app stores, operating systems and application code languages?

To answer that question, let’s review some statistics shared by Conviva in their ‘State of Streaming’ report from Q1 2021.

What we are looking at here is the percentage of big screen devices used on a per-continent basis. Would you look at that list?! There are so many devices out there for you to consider, making it very difficult to decide or understand where you should be. The sensible thing to do here, if I’m honest, is to follow the data. If your OTT service is based in a certain continent or country, then simply start with the top of the list that applies to you and work down, creating big screen or native Smart TV apps for each different device type.

Fragmented Europe

When it comes to Europe, we really need a specific paragraph. The big screen split in Europe is enormous. The most popular of the bunch with viewers is Samsung, but it’s still only picking up 19% of the total which is a really small part when compared to some of the other continents. So how do you break this down into something more manageable? Which devices do you target first, when there are so many devices covering a small, yet significant portion of your market?

I’ll share a secret with you about Amazon Fire TV and Android TV: they share a large portion of the underlying technology. In fact, I’d estimate that about 99% to 100% of your Android TV app code can be used for the Amazon Fire TV app. Do you see where I’m going with this? When you look at the devices out there, a very sensible thing to do is to look at the shared app-code that you can have for these devices. 

This means you’re largely looking for three technologies: HTML-based apps for platforms like Samsung, LG, Playstation, Xbox, Chromecast, Humax and a few not even mentioned in the overview from Conviva. Add an Android-based TV app, and an app for Apple TV (for which you could potentially leverage your iOS app code), and bang! You’ve just built and deployed an app for the majority of the platforms in Europe, with relatively ‘small’ effort.

Easy (North) America?

Thankfully when compared to Europe, North America has a much clearer picture. The data shows that Roku is big. So that’s obviously the most interesting starting point. But what’s next? The principle remains the same: be on as many devices as you can be. So with Fire TV being the next most popular device, combine the effort and add both Android TV and Fire TV together, and you’re looking at a significant increase again. Then just follow the list, adding devices in chunks, by leveraging the shared technology they have.

The Smart TV app reality check

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as I’ve suggested. Honestly, I wish it was. It would make my life as a Smart TV app developer a whole lot easier. Sadly there is still a lot of difference between all of these platforms and the situation keeps getting more complicated. For example, even Android TV devices from Sony and Philips (TP Vision) present some significant differences that you might come across during development and testing. Some streams may not perform as you would expect, or you’ll find an audio codec behaves in a way you did not predict. Even with ‘standards’, there will always be differences and the same applies whether you’re developing an HTML app for Samsung and LG Smart TVs just as much as an Android TV app for Sony and Philips.

Unless you are Netflix, or have a similar budget and Smart TV apps development team, then it’s really hard to manage all this by yourself. What you need is every device out there to test on, enough developers and QA testers plus all the device-specific knowledge and experience needed to tackle these differences and their related issues. Realistically, that kind of knowledge and experience is very hard to find, especially if you have the intention to build a big team.

So my recommendation is simple. If you choose to do it in-house, take it slow and focus on a single device or device-type (e.g. certain HTML or Android TV devices), and then simply go down the list of devices one-by-one, only starting on a new app when you’ve perfected the one for the previous device. Alternatively, find a commercial party with plenty of experience and ready-to-deploy tech, that has already solved these questions and problems thousands of times before. Because the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime haven’t scooped-up all of the knowledgeable people in Smart TV app development, you can find plenty of them working for companies like 24i. Their advice - like this blog post from my colleague Petr Mazanec is invaluable. 

The big screen and Smart TV app strategy summary

To summarize, let’s return to two major brands I mentioned in my introduction: Apple and Disney. I said then that Apple TV+ and Disney+ were big names with massive budgets and high expectations of their OTT platforms, but I also said I didn’t consider them “big players” for the purposes of this blog. Why? Because quite simply they still seem to be facing the exact same problem as many smaller OTT players. They’re present on many of the best known and most used devices and platforms, but if we compare Disney+ device reach to the data for popular devices in Europe, they’ve still got a long way to go too. 

They are slowly but steadily getting there, albeit not always being available on older models, but they’re following the principle I outlined above. Focus on the largest user base in your biggest target market first, and then expand to smaller platforms.

This shows that even the bigger names have to take a pragmatic approach to device reach - checking off the list one by one. Personally, I am very proud of the work 24i’s been doing with Dutch telco KPN over recent months, releasing updated Pay TV apps for Samsung and LG and then the company’s first Android TV app, with more big screen connected device developments still to come.  

So, whether you are a small player or large, the intention remains the same, and I think it’s the intention that’s most important - follow the data and invest first in the apps that give you the most reach because they will translate to the most revenue. Yes, it can be difficult to be on all those devices and it will take time. But it’ll also be worth it, and your users will thank you for it.

If you’d like to know more about 24i’s approach to developing for the Big Screen, including Smart TV apps, you can download our brochure

By Matthijs Langendijk Developer at 24i

Want more?