2021: Which devices do I target to reach the most users with my OTT app?

Matthijs Langendijk
6 min readMay 30, 2021

A very well formulated question with a not so easily formulated answer. If you look at the majority of the big players out there (we’ll consider Apple TV+ and Disney+ as not big in this instance), the answer is pretty clear. They are everywhere. And when I mean everywhere, I mean literally everywhere. Every (or almost every) country, 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. This raises the question: which devices do I target to reach the most users?

Out of the way

Let us start with the devices that are obvious. Yes. You need your OTT app on both Android and iOS for mobile, as well as tablet. 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, when you’re working out or just enjoying the sun from the backyard — users want you close and available to be used when they want to.

Next to that is the other obvious platform: 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 (yes, that is a really quick way to watch content, something for a next blog about UX/UI and page-levels).

The big question

I must admit, I really abused the paragraph-title there. Because this is not a big question, but rather a question about something big: televisions. Big screen. Smart TV. OTT content is unmistakeably linked to bigscreen. ‘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 bigscreen too. But where do you need to be, when there are so many devices that all work slightly different, with different stores, different operating systems and different application code languages?

This is not an easy question to answer, and there is some data that we need to look at in order for us to be able to answer this properly. Let’s review the statistics as shared by Conviva in their ‘State of Streaming’ report from Q1 2021.

What we are looking at here, is the percentage of bigscreen devices on a continent level. 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? I’d follow the data, to be honest. If your OTT app is based in a certain continent or country, then simply start with the top of the list that applies to you.

Fragmented Europe

This honestly requires a specific paragraph. Would you look at that awesome split in Europe for the bigscreen. The highest of the bunch is Samsung, with a mere 19% of the total. Which is a reaaaaally small part, especially if you compare it 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 same technology behind it. In fact, I’d argue that about 99 to even a 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 managed to build and deploy an app for the majority of the platforms in Europe, with relatively ‘small’ effort.

Easy (North) America?

If we are comparing continents, it becomes clear that Europe stands out from the others. In this example we’ll compare with North America. Right off the get-go you can clearly see that it’s much easier at the start: data shows that Roku is big. So that’s obviously the most interesting starting point.

Largest platform covered. What’s next? The principle remains the same: be on as many devices as you can be. So we see Fire TV being the highest now. 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.

Caveats

Is it as black and white as I write it down? Honestly, I wish it was. It would make my life as a developer a whole lot easier. Sadly there is still a lot of difference between all of these platforms. I’m afraid to tell you that, even between Android TV devices from for example Sony and Philips (TP Vision), there is still a significant difference that you might come across during development and testing. Some stream might not perform as you expect, or some audio codec might not behave as you would want it to. Even though they are supposed to follow the ‘standard’, there will always be differences. And this applies in general to any development you do, whether it’s a HTML app for Samsung and LG, or the aformentioned Android TV app for Sony and Philips.

How to solve this you ask? That’s a difficult question to answer, and even more difficult to answer. Especially when you intend to do all the development yourself. Unless you are Netflix, or have a similar budget and development team, then it’s really hard to manage all this by yourself. What you need is every device out there to test on, and enough developers, QA people, and especially specific knowledge and experience in order to be able to tackle all of these issues. Sadly that kind of knowledge and experience is very hard to find, especially if you have the intention to build a big team.

My recommendation is then very simple. Either 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 one-by-one, or go for the other option: find a commercial party with plenty of experience and awesome tech, that has already solved these questions and problems thousands of times before. Because there are a lot of knowledgeable people, working for companies, like 24i, out there, besides the ones working at Netflix and Amazon Prime.

In short

There is something I didn’t follow up on yet, that was mentioned in the introduction. Apple TV+ and Disney+. Big names, massive budgets, and high expectations for both of the OTT platforms. So why mention them in this context, but not take them along in any of the discussions? Simply put: it feels like they are still facing the same problems like many of the smaller players face. Yes, they have a presence on a lot of the ‘known’ devices and platform types. But if we take a look at the Europe example, they are definitely not there yet, if we compare to the device list of Disney+, for example. They are slowly but steadily getting there, albeit not always being available on older models. But they do follow the same principle: focus on the largest user base first, and then expand to smaller platforms.

As you can see, even the bigger names out there sometimes struggle or need a lot of time to make their way onto the majority of devices. And they often take a similar approach and take devices on the list one by one. But the intention stays the same, and I think this intention is what’s most important. They want to reach as many users as they can, allowing them to get the most revenue from users as possible. And I think that’s the general message behind this blog. Yes, it’s can be difficult to be on all those devices. But it’ll also be worth it, and your users will thank you for it.

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