What Is OTT? Everything You Need to Know About Over the Top for 2023

Nov 11, 2022


Over-the-top (OTT) streaming has become the go-to method for consuming video content. For the first time in history, the majority of viewers are more likely to watch video through an OTT streaming service than traditional cable TV—and that presents your business with a unique opportunity.

If you create video content, it needs a new home. Cable might not be dead, but it’s dying—yet, OTT streaming is alive and thriving. Fortunately, getting started with OTT streaming services is easier than ever. It just takes a solid OTT platform and a bit of know-how.

Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about OTT, including what it is, how it works, platforms to consider, best practices, and getting started.

What Is OTT (Over the Top)?

OTT stands for over-the-top, and it’s a technology that delivers video content over the internet.

Before the evolution of TV content, you had to purchase a cable or satellite subscription, and those service providers would deliver your favorite TV shows and movies to your TV. Now, you can use your mobile device, computer, or smart TV to sign up for a streaming service and start consuming any content you’d like.

OTT started with simple online videos on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Then, it expanded to include full-length movies and television series across popular OTT apps like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max. OTT streaming now delivers sports, news, politics, music, reality TV, and more.

6 Core Differences Between OTT and Traditional Cable TV

A lot has changed with video content production, hosting, and consumption over the last couple of decades. Here are the main ways OTT and traditional cable differ:

  1. Hardware: Traditional TV required cable box and satellite dishes (and that involved hands-on installation). Now, your audience just needs a mobile phone or smart TV—which they probably already have.
  2. Pricing: OTT streaming services let customers pick price plans that work for them—and consumers can sign up for the content that truly engages them, rather than broad, inflexible cable subscriptions with maybe only a handful of channels that interest them.
  3. Hosting: Before, you had to land a big-time contract to get your video content on the big screen or television. Now, you can start a video business in minutes and seamlessly deliver content to your audience—no middle-person required.
  4. Availability: Users can watch OTT anywhere—all they need is an internet connection and a mobile phone.
  5. Advertising: Publishers can monetize their OTT content through subscription, transaction, or advertising models. Plus, they can use personalization to better target their ads, increasing the conversion rate and the bottom line for advertisers and publishers.
  6. VOD: While digital video recorders (DVR) improved VOD options for cable viewers, it’s hard to compete with OTT’s massive library of VOD and live-streamable content.

Examples of Businesses Using OTT Streaming Services

While you might be unfamiliar with the term OTT, you’re likely very familiar with applications using it to deliver content to your connected device. Here are a few examples of everyday applications and services using OTT video streaming to provide you with the latest-and-greatest content.

  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • HBO Max
  • Disney+
  • YouTube TV
  • ESPN+
  • Apple TV+
  • fuboTV
  • Sling TV

How Your Audience Consumes OTT Video Content

Traditionally, your audience could only watch video content on their cable-connected TV. Now, they can watch live and video-on-demand (VOD) content practically anywhere they’d like—all they need is an internet connection.

Here are a few common ways your audience consumes OTT video content:

  • Smart TVs
  • Apple TV
  • Roku
  • Fire TV
  • iOS mobile phones and tablets
  • Android smartphone devices
  • Gaming consoles (like Playstation and Xbox)
  • Laptops and computers

What Is an OTT Platform?

An OTT platform provides all the technology and functionality you need to upload, host, and deliver content over the internet. It includes easy-to-use interfaces, infrastructure for hosting millions of gigabytes of video content, and up-to-date players for streaming real-time and on-demand video content in top-notch quality without lag or latency.

Here are a few of the features an OTT platform can provide for your OTT content:

  • Security: Protect your content with digital rights management (DRM) software to ensure nobody illegally copies, modifies, reproduces, or redistributes your content.
  • Asset Management: Upload, store, and organize your video files for a better backend and user experience.
  • Transcoding: Upload your content in a variety of formats for smooth playback across devices, resolutions, and internet bandwidths.
  • Quality: Users don’t want to just stream content—they want to stream high-quality content. They’re looking for high-definition (HD) and 4K resolution without buffering or latency.  
  • Players: OTT platforms provide a customizable player with all the features your end users need to add captions, adjust the speed, change the quality, and interact with the content.
  • APIs and SDKs: OTT platforms give you APIs, SDKs, and robust documentation to integrate your video content into websites, landing pages, and mobile applications.
  • Live Streaming: Stream real-time content to your audience and save it for VOD use later.

Popular OTT Monetization Models

OTT expands your monetization opportunities. Here are a few popular ways to monetize your content:

  • AVODAVOD stands for advertising video on demand, and it allows publishers to provide free content for viewers in exchange for their time watching ads.
  • SVODSVOD stands for subscription video on demand, and it lets users access a library of streamable real-time and VOD content in exchange for a flat monthly subscription fee.
  • TVODTVOD stands for transactional video on demand, and it lets users rent or purchase OTT content on a pay-per-view basis.

Thanks to pricing tiers, you could use one, two, or all three of these models for your content. Popular streaming services like Netflix, YouTube TV, and Hulu use AVOD and SVOD models to monetize their content. Other platforms like Amazon Prime Video use SVOD and TVOD models.

No monetization model is necessarily better than another. Each serves a unique role for different audiences and types of content. You’ll have to study your target market, figure out their wants and needs, and experiment to see what works best for you.

Fortunately, you’re not locked in forever when you choose a monetization model. You can always change later or make additions to your pricing tiers.

For example, Netflix used to only provide subscription pricing to access their content. However, they released a discounted subscription tier that allows users to get a 55% discount in exchange for viewing ads.

How Does OTT Streaming Work?

Here’s how OTT streaming works:

  • Publishers Upload Content: Your business uploads content to an OTT platform for storage and hosting.
  • Platforms Begin Encoding: OTT platforms encode the uploaded content to balance performance and quality. They then transcode the file into various formats for playback across devices and bandwidths.
  • Platforms Cache Content Across CDNs: OTT platforms deliver your content across their CDNs and points of presence (POPs) to ensure quick video delivery to consumers.
  • Users Consume Your Content: Users click on your content to consume the video. The request triggers the local CDN to send the file, and it also requests your DRM server for the correct key to decrypt the content.
  • Advertisers Target Your Audience: If you’ve enabled AVOD, advertisers will bid on your content to place an advertisement in front of your audience. The bidding and negotiations happen under the hood.

OTT Streaming Best Practices

OTT services make OTT streaming relatively straightforward, but you’ll still need to follow a few best practices to maximize your revenue and ensure a top-notch experience for your audience. Not all platforms are created equally, and that’s why you have dozens of OTT streaming platforms to choose from.

When you make your decision, keep the following best practices in mind:

Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A CDN delivers cached internet content quickly to your visitors by using local server locations to accelerate sending. Closing the gap between the content and your visitors leads to the following:

  • Better website performance
  • Quicker content transfers
  • Reduced hosting bandwidth
  • Enhanced security
  • Fewer service disruptions
  • Global scale

OTT streaming platforms offer CDN and multi-CDN solutions. Choose one that meets your current and future streaming demands.

Transcode Your Content Uploads

Improve your users’ experiences across devices and bandwidths by transcoding your content uploads. Let them choose to watch a video at 720p on their lower internet bandwidth, and let your premium internet connections max out their playback quality at 4K.

Provide a User-Friendly User Interface

Make it easy for your viewers to start, stop, rewind, fast forward, and skip with intuitive playback controls. While more features aren’t always better, there are a few must-have settings your visitors should be able to control:

  • Subtitles
  • Speed
  • Quality
  • Volume
  • Fullscreen

Simplify the process for your users. It should be simple for them to find the videos they’re looking for, save content for later, or pick up where they left off.

Prioritize Video Performance

You’ll always face a tug of war between performance quality, but always let performance take priority. Your customers want high-resolution streaming but are willing to sacrifice a bit of quality in exchange for buffer-free streaming.

Ideally, you want to balance both needs, and a premium OTT provider will let you do just that.

Engage Your Viewers

Your users’ experience doesn’t stop when the video content ends. There are other opportunities to engage your audience and satisfy their need for entertainment, news, or practical content:

  • Article Matching: Share your video content within relevant articles to engage your readers.
  • Recommendations: Recommend the right content (at the right time) to help your viewers find more of what they love.
  • In-Video Search: Help your users find what they’re looking for with advanced search options that go beyond titles and meta descriptions and dive into the actual content of your videos.
  • Playlists: Organize your videos into relevant playlists to help viewers find more of what they like.

Protect Your Content

DRM technology protects your video content from piracy and redistribution. If you put your content on the internet without robust DRM, bad actors can steal it—and it’s hard to get back. Stolen content can hurt your brand reputation and bottom line.

Choose the Right Monetization Model

Not every monetization model will be right for your content and audience. The wrong model might deter your audience, while the right one could hook them for years to come.

Do your research to ensure you choose the right option. While you might not get it right from the get-go, don’t be afraid to pivot your model moving forward.

Monitor Your Analytics

Monitor your OTT streaming program by analyzing engagement and advertising insights. You might find that certain content performs better (or worse) than others, or you may identify an engagement trend with certain types of thumbnails and playlists.

Regularly check your analytics for trends. These insights could influence your entire video content strategy—from the demand sources you partner with to the types of content you produce.

Launch Your Video Content With a Complete OTT Platform

Ready to launch your OTT content? Get started with JW Player’s complete OTT platform. We provide an end-to-end video solution to help you connect and engage with your audience reliably at scale:

  • Play: Use our high-quality player on your mobile app, websites, or connected TVs for excellent viewer experiences.
  • Stream: Deliver live TV and video-on-demand content to your audience at scale.
  • Monetize: Maximize your revenue, fill rates, and CPMs with industry-leading ad support.
  • Engage: Keep your audience consuming your content longer with engagement solutions like Recommendations and Article Matching.

See for yourself. Sign up for a 30-day free trial to experiment with our OTT platform. You’ll get full API and SDK access, plus 25GB of hosting and 75GB of streaming. And if you need to talk to an expert, hop on a call with one of our video professionals.