Has streaming overcome its CX issues?

‘The evolution of the streamers has been fast’

Looking back at 10 years of streaming history as part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, we ask whether the video-on-demand industry has managed to overcome its CX teething problems.

Since Netflix first hit the market a decade ago, the video-on-demand (VOD) industry has undergone a user experience arms race, each new player battling to become the most seamless of streamers.

Gone, thankfully, are the days of buffering and complicated login experiences, with the streamers instead competing on new ground.

“From a CX point of view, five or six years ago we would have talked about buffering, but that’s absolutely out of the window,” says Jade Raad, director of brand strategy at Little Dot Studios. “Now we are talking about engagement, personalization and commercialization.“

According to Raad, the major streamers have overcome many of their CX problems and have started on the next iteration, shoppable TV. “What has happened over the last two years is the transition from pure entertainment platforms into shoppable video, with the likes of Amazon and TikTok now talking about the path of purchase.”

The improvements made by the platforms are now enabling brands to build a full-funnel approach that is interactive and not passive for consumers, she says.

“The evolution of the streamers has been fast. The consumers have driven this pace by their changing motivations and behaviors, and by becoming comfortable with the platforms.”

VMLY&R chief experience officer Ben Richards says a combination of machine learning, CGI and massive data sets means the streaming industry “isn’t a million miles away from personalized product placement becoming a reality”.

Richards sees Amazon Prime’s IMDb integration, which lets you find out more about the actors in a scene while you watch it, as a hint to where the future is headed.

“Just imagine a world where this is taken to the next level and is linked to Amazon’s commerce platform. ’Want to drink the same gin or whisky as your favorite character in a bar scene? Buy it now, have it in the next hour.’”

He points to Boots’ Love Island sponsorship, which allowed audiences to ‘shop the villa’, as a first step in this direction.

While brands are waiting for tech to catch up, Richards says: “They should be looking at their full customer experience to see how they can apply the brand and product to multiple situations and scenarios in an authentic way.”

And taking tips from gaming, he says Wendy’s virtual frozen beef in Fortnite and the Gucci Garden in Roblox show how brands can “avoid interrupting the platform but embrace the experience and become a part of it”.

What CX improvements still need to be made?

Dan Finch, co-founder and chief commercial officer at VOD provider Simplestream, says work still needs to be done to improve discoverability. “There is too much choice, meaning people end up spending 20 minutes just deciding what to watch and eventually give up, deciding not to watch anything.” He advises VOD services to kick off customer sign-up by asking genre preferences to solve this issue and “render a completely unique homepage for every user”.

On the signup process, Finch says ad-free services could learn some lessons from ad-supported. “From a CX perspective, an ad-supported model is easier for customers as it’s the path of least resistance.” He suggests the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) signup process needs to be made as painless as possible (“you should tantalize the viewer before they hit a paywall”). Offering content for free is one option open to subscription services.

Netflix is still setting the bar with its CX, says Finch. “It has hundreds of people working on its CX and UX, and it has the ability to be more agile than the big broadcasters.” He warns, however, that Netflix “needs to be careful it doesn’t go over the top with its newer functions, like with the autoplay service”.

Pre-roll and mid-roll ads are still often seen as “intrusive” on streaming services, according to Toby Evans, the director of publisher and platform partnerships at product sampling platform SoPost. “Performance-based advertising on video platforms is tougher as user behavior isn’t really ‘there’ yet, but this will improve as personalization becomes ever more sophisticated,” he says.

For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.