Key Focus Areas to Ensure a High Quality D2C Media Experience
Direct to consumer (D2C) subscriber and viewer growth continues to grow at a steady pace, now numbering into the hundreds of millions. Rather than competing for eyeballs among cable TV subscribers, media companies now compete for those subscription or advertising dollars directly.
There is ample opportunity for D2C providers to succeed as more customers switch to an on-demand model of content consumption, but moving to a D2C model also introduces the risk that a poor experience will cause abandonment or switching behavior. Problems can occur everywhere from initial account registration to ad placement, payment validation, and everything in between. It’s no simple task to deliver high-quality content to your audience, nor is it easy to ensure great experiences.
Succeeding in the uber-competitive D2C landscape means capturing customers’ attention and retaining it — but earning loyalty is challenging. Media companies must consistently deliver engaging, high-quality experiences across dozens, if not hundreds, of markets and platforms.
Extensive testing is one way to help achieve this goal, but it takes a multi-faceted and adaptive approach. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but serves as a good jumping off point to ensure high-quality subscriber or viewer experiences:
digital rights management
When D2C services lack fully accessible features, it’s obvious to users, whether they have disabilities or not. Take closed captioning as an example. Many users without hearing impairments use this feature when programming is muted or in public settings. Color contrast can also deliver a poor and inaccessible experience for all users.
WCAG compliance goes a long way towards ensuring an equivalent experience for people with disabilities, but it isn’t enough. It’s also important to get feedback directly from people with disabilities by building a user research program that includes usability studies focused exclusively on inclusive design. For example, in an accessibility study for one of our streaming media customers, we received feedback that the mute button in the UI was particularly difficult to find for someone with low vision — a subtle but revealing detail that helped the company provide a better user experience with a slight adjustment.
Additionally, it’s time for companies to think of accessibility and inclusive design as an ongoing effort. Annual or even quarterly accessibility audits typically result in dozens of issues being added to a backlog at once, where they are too easily deprioritized and slowly (if ever) addressed. Just as many organizations have already moved to an Agile approach for functional development, we recommend conducting in-sprint accessibility testing to catch defects sooner. Bring in an accessibility expert to provide guidance on each feature to help keep accessibility top of mind.
Despite the growth in subscription-based services, advertisements will continue to be one of the primary revenue drivers for the media & entertainment industry for years to come.. Streaming media companies, simply put, need to get this right. Yet some take a painfully archaic approach to ad validation.
For example, many services require their employees to watch live programming on nights or weekends (above and beyond working full-time during the day) and note if they encounter any issues with ad delivery. Good luck getting reliable feedback from someone who may or may not have testing experience and can only cover one market and device combination — and that’s assuming they can avoid distractions from family, friends, or competing interests when your most important content needs attention.
To verify in-market ads work as intended, with the quality standards and exact timing they require, you need a team of experienced testers. A person off the street cannot provide the level of detail an engineer needs, while an experienced tester can look at Charles logs to provide helpful details, including time and location within the program.
Many companies attempt to validate in-market experiences through VPNs and spoofing, but this approach is often unreliable due to a myriad of technical factors which are not possible to control. You need feedback from real users and testers in market for full validation, including how national/local ads display, proper ad placement, and confirmation that ads reach an intended audience — and, equally important, do not reach an unintended audience (i.e. accidentally showing an advertisement for alcohol during children’s programming). As media platforms evolve, these tasks become even more challenging, due to the proliferation of devices and markets, and the increasing desire for brands to target ads by demographic.
Subscription video on-demand (SVOD) providers must do everything they can to attract and retain customers. Churn is a problem for many businesses, but it’s especially challenging for SVOD platforms. Any friction in the registration or renewal process raises the odds that the customer will leave for a competitor. It’s imperative to exhaustively validate these subscriber flows with real testers to understand their challenges.
SVOD providers often provide promotional or introductory rates, as well as free trials, in order to attract new subscribers. Streaming companies must verify these offers work correctly with real accounts, not dummy accounts. Streaming media companies often run bundled promotions with other media companies — a great idea in practice, but yet another place where insufficient internal testing can negatively affect the company.
I have experienced this personally. When I originally signed up for an unlimited data cell phone plan, it included a complimentary subscription to a streaming music service. A few months later, I decided to downgrade my data plan, which in turn should have canceled the streaming music subscription. I’m now stuck in limbo: my cell phone provider doesn’t recognize that it’s still providing me with access to the streaming music provider, and despite multiple attempts to change my plan online, my streaming music provider won’t let me upgrade to a family plan because it thinks my account is being paid for by my cell phone provider. This means the music service misses out on extra revenue, and the cell phone company is unjustifiably picking up the tab. More comprehensive testing would have revealed the commerce-flow bug continuing to enable subscriber access as well as the poor user experience of being unable to upgrade.
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Digital rights management
This area gets litigious when lines are crossed. Streaming media providers need to be aware and protective of the rights of their (and their creators’) content. There are two primary concerns with digital rights management: consumer rights and corporate rights.
On the consumer side, it is important to test against limitations such as concurrent logins or device management limits. As devices proliferate, you must ensure that consumers can engage content on their devices, but without unintended access. Keep in mind also that when a customer purchases content, they are really buying contractual access to content under certain restrictions. Test against those restrictions in real customer environments.
On the distribution side, streaming media companies have partners all over the world. Licensees pay media companies for the rights to stream in different countries, but those licensees must uphold certain standards, such as a minimum 720p streaming quality or ensuring that users cannot access geography-restricted content. There are also bureaucratic standards to follow — some countries might censor content, while others might require a level of portability. To the latter example, in the EU, a French person might subscribe to a VOD service, and that access must also be granted in Germany, Spain or any other EU country when the French subscriber travels.
As streaming media becomes more ubiquitous and more consumer dollars get pumped into the industry, these nuances are even more important to ensure solid legal standing.
Streaming media companies need to ensure products work as intended, which means making sure individual features function correctly. But, what works for a developer in a test environment might not work for a customer on their home device.
Turn to testers in the markets where you will launch to make sure features like playback, search and profile management function as expected. By using real customers for testing, you can gain valuable data on the devices, conditions and circumstances of failures — details that emulators often fail to reveal.
The additional value of real in-market testers is that they can provide feedback on why an interface is difficult to use. An older person, for example, can struggle to interact with an interface that might be intuitive for a younger person. As my mother’s personal IT helpdesk, I know this all too well. As another example, sometimes a feature can be difficult to select or interact with. In-house functional testing can catch some of these issues, but with so many permutations of devices, apps and VOD providers, defects can arise that you never anticipated. Do not let your end customer be your beta tester.
Testing D2C experiences does not only include on-demand content. As many customers move away from traditional cable subscriptions, they increasingly access live programming through D2C services. However, defects in live programming are a quick and vivid source of frustration for customers. The ease of the original subscription or registration process for new subscribers becomes even more critical, as new customers are often attracted to D2C services based on tentpole events. Similarly, the login and authentication for existing subscribers is just as critical.
Deploy real in-market testers to catch functional defects well in advance of a live event. By gaining this in-market perspective, streaming media companies can better understand where issues occur on particular devices or under what conditions. In-market testers can validate the quality of the live-event stream and report issues during stress testing to shed some light on network concerns.
Discovering defects sooner also makes for cheaper bug remediation, and certainly reduces the risk of subscription cancellations. During a recent mixed martial arts fight, thousands of new and existing subscribers to a streaming media service were unable to successfully access the fight, even after completing the subscription and authentication process.. The company eventually had to refund millions of dollars in paid subscriptions, all without assurances that the problem would be fixed for the next event.
Spend the money up-front on in-market testing, rapid response teams and real-time triage to reduce huge potential losses later.
Language translation is one large, nuanced component of localization. Take the example of a hit Korean television program. When that program is translated to English, that means synchronizing the content with what’s on the screen, including lip dubs and subtitles. But it’s more than that. Slang phrases or idioms can make for poor translations from one language to another — even within the same language, there can be different words, phrases or expressions for something. Any translation hiccups can derail the viewer’s experience, which is not good in an industry prone to churn.
Translation is an even larger challenge at scale. If a streaming media provider wants to launch in a new country, that task might involve accurately translating hundreds to thousands of hours of programming — an enormous amount of work in a small amount of time.
Yet language translation is only one component of localization. Other areas of localization streaming media companies must focus on include:
issues of cultural sensitivity
units of measurement (imperial vs. metric)
Post-launch, D2C providers must continue to add localized content to retain subscribers, such as news and regional programming. This is yet another key way in which streaming media companies must connect with viewers to reduce churn and improve customer satisfaction.
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One geographic market might heavily consume content on smart TVs, while another might lean heavily toward content consumption on mobile devices. If you launch a streaming service in both markets, it must work in both markets — that means comprehensive testing on as many of these devices as possible.
It is difficult enough to attain sufficient coverage for the hundreds of mobile device/OS combinations in use. The proliferation of OTT devices mimics that of mobile — there are many devices to test, some more popular in some regions than others. A device lab won’t cut it; these devices are just too expensive, and device labs fail to fully recreate the user’s experience. In Japan, for example, some devices only work when physically in that country and on a Japanese mobile provider’s network — you cannot sufficiently validate a user’s experience in that country with a device lab or VPN.
With new set-top boxes and connected TVs released every year, you need a strategy that can evolve over time. Use real in-market testers with real devices to achieve high test coverage.
Just because the app or product works the way it was designed does not mean the experience cannot still be improved. Frustration with a D2C service leads to churn, and churn leads to lost revenue.
Conduct focused usability studies to understand how customers feel about your product. Usability research shines a light on a product’s problem areas — ideally before it reaches the hands of a broad customer base.
A wide variety of UX issues can pop up within D2C services including everything from illogical content categorization to inaccurate suggestions to a cumbersome UI. Functional testing won’t reveal these issues, and in-house participants introduce biased results.
Conduct usability testing at any point in the SDLC with real prospective customers to understand where they struggle and address points of friction long before they result in subscription cancellations.
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Enlist a D2C testing partner
In-house automated and manual functional testing go a long way toward test coverage, especially for back-end elements that are not customer-facing, like API testing. But when a product launches into the world, the variables multiply many times over. The only way to shift the numbers back into your favor is to depend on a testing partner to augment in-house efforts and bring you closer to the customer.
As a true digital quality partner, Applause shares in our customers’ wins. We work with our customers to learn what success means for them and strive to mutually reach those goals. Applause caters a testing plan that takes advantage of a million-strong global community of digital experts to deliver comprehensive results that fits with your workflow and bug-tracking systems. Contact us to learn how Applause makes it possible to test in your blind spots and deliver excellent customer experiences for your subscribers around the world.
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