So, we finally “cut the cord”. We had the full MVPD package with HBO, Showtime, STARZ, you name it we had it. All because I am addicted to NFL Redzone during fantasy football season and the provider (FIOS) only includes it with the premium package. Then one late summer morning we got “the letter”, informing us that HBO and Showtime were being removed from our package, and if we wanted to continue using them we could do so at an additional fee. Coincidentally, this communication came just days after the AT&T/Time Warner deal was approved.
I was livid. This was the final straw.
So, I called the provider to discuss the situation, and after two conversations, resulting in two different price quotes that increased my costs by 25% and 40% respectively, I told them: “Terminate my service. Tell me where to dump your equipment.”
I had done some research on OTT/CTV (same thing) and decided that Direct TV Now looked like the best fit. They were giving away an Apple TV if you signed up for 3 months. I already had a Roku box and a first gen Apple TV so I was all set. Or so I thought.
I’d watched Netflix on my Roku devices and had a decent experience, so I was not prepared for the drama of using OTT only… whoa. One word: buffering…
My first reaction was “the #&@%$$ MVPD is throttling the connection! That sucks!” After I calmed down, I actually paid attention to the modal message on the screen: “your network connection is underperforming….” Oh, maybe it’s the WiFi. One quick Target run later (lucky for me there is one literally around the corner) and I had a Netgear WiFi extender setup. Better, but still occasional buffering.
Because I have both a Roku and Apple TV, I switched back and forth between them to see if there was any performance difference. Negligible. But the user experience on the Apple TV, as you might expect, is vastly superior. Love that box. Interestingly, Netflix performs noticeably better than Direct TV Now on either device. I guess the death of net neutrality is showing its effects…
What about the ads? (after all this is the Advertising Perspectives blog…). Well, it’s interesting. Direct TV Now has a “Cloud DVR” feature. You can browse content by network and choose from a selection of on demand content. From this interface you can also record series. The “recorded” content works just like a hardware DVR. You can rewind and fast forward (skipping commercials). However, after a while, I found there was no need for me to record my favorite shows because they were (mostly) available on demand anyway.
On the flip side, live programming cannot be fast forwarded. You. Have. To. Watch. Commercials. All of them. Interestingly, everytime you switch to a different channel a new ad pod starts before the content plays.
So after about two months of OTT only I’ve come to these conclusions:
- The OTT user experience needs improvement to be on par with traditional MVPD products.
- Ethernet connections to the OTT/CTV hardware may be required for the best performance.
- My iPhone or iPad on AirPlay to the Apple TV actually works more reliably than the Apple TV or Roku on WiFi.
- You will see more ads.
- The ad targeting is interesting, and sometimes uncannily accurate. I saw different ad loads, on the same content, depending on the device.
- Unbelievably, there are empty ad pods, even on premium networks (ESPN Sunday Night Football… seriously?).
- Access to my entire content catalog across all my devices is awesome.
- Apple TV rocks.
- 1990’s era MTV reality shows are a hoot.
- I miss channel numbers.
This experience has left us fascinated with OTT ad tech. Stay tuned for more articles about it here at Advertising Perspectives.