Author Archives: Syed Mehdi Abbas

Syed Mehdi Abbas
As Senior Director- Strategic Accounts at Robosoft, Abbas loves obsessing over an idea to conceptualize & shape it into a product. He has extensive experience in digital strategy, design and implementation, business process re-engineering, and application portfolio management.
Media & Entertainment UX/UI

Building cross-platform OTT apps: best practices in design & development

cross platform OTT apps best practices in design and development

We live in a connected world. Users switch between three devices on average to view content. They prefer to watch content anywhere, anytime, without any interruption. For example, they could start watching a movie on their mobile phone while traveling home and then continue watching it on a bigger TV screen in their living room.

OTT brands that understand the value of the connected experience will agree that building cross-platform apps are essential. Brands that recognize the potential of cross-platform OTT apps early on will likely benefit in the long run.

There are two aspects to creating a cross-platform OTT platform – developing and designing: the former involves building a uniform, consistent, homogenous UI that promises optimum user experience to your viewers irrespective of the platform used to access it. Development, however, is not that straightforward and could involve more than one ‘best’ approach – depending on the time, scale, and budget of building your application.

Native implementation for platforms is the most optimal approach. However, with the advent of technologies such as Flutter and React-Native, cross-platform could be as effective. It is a more cost-effective approach as it uses a shared codebase and a hybrid framework that works well on all devices like Android, iOS, TV, Web, and set-top box (STB). It eliminates the need to maintain separate code bases built in a native approach. You can choose the native route (relatively more expensive) or choose a carefully designed development strategy that leverages the tools that enable you to build a native or almost-native app with just a single code base for most platforms.

In this article, we will focus on cross-platform design and development, why they are essential for an OTT app’s success, and what should be the key focus areas while building such an experience.

Advantages of building cross-platform OTT Apps

The following could be the key benefits of building cross-platform experiences:

Broader user reach: Cross-platform development allows one to build apps for different devices and operating systems. OTT brands can reach out to more users and give them access to view content on whichever device they prefer.

Inter-usability: Cross-platform app lets brands build apps with uniform UX and UI. So, even if the user switches the device with a different screen size or operating system, the interface and the experience will remain the same – the user would hardly be able to tell the difference.

Cost-effective: OTT players can save significant costs on hiring different teams for developing and maintaining apps. A single team can take care of everything in case of a hybrid approach.

Faster development: Cross-platform apps built on a hybrid approach are developed on the principle of ‘code once and deploy everywhere’. Enterprises can save time on developing, maintaining, and upgrading different apps. The updates are synced automatically for all platforms and devices.

Focus areas while building an OTT app irrespective of the development approach

#1 Playback experience

The playback experience is a critical factor in an OTT app. It may seem like an obvious thing, but unfortunately, it is ignored by many.

  • The focus should be on achieving good quality (resolution) of the video with minimal video size to cater even to mediocre network speed. Latest video encoding software & codecs (like AV1) can be used to achieve this. As users have devices that support 4K, HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, the team must ensure that the content supports these options and delivers a fantastic content-watching experience.
  • Users hate buffering while watching their favorite content. Choose a good capacity CDN/Server for better speed to prevent delays.
  • Use services like Video Analytics to monitor the errors and fix them as soon as possible
  • Don’t focus all your efforts on UI. A fancy UI will be useless if the video-watching experience is poor. For example, Amazon Prime offers a great video-watching experience, but some may find the UI ‘basic’ – just enough to browse the content. Yet it is one of the most popular OTT apps the world over.
  • Netflix, Prime, and Discovery are all great believers in the practice of great playback experience.

#2 Content discovery

A great content library is of no use if users cannot find relevant content easily without any friction. Enable users to find their favorite content with minimal effort. Build robust recommendation engines based on a viewer’s previous watch history using technologies such as AI/ML. Netflix, Prime, and Discovery do this well across devices and platforms.

#3 Framework

It’s always wise to choose a native development approach for OTT apps. Native apps have better performance with memory & CPU optimizations, which is essential for OTT apps. Even though the initial cost of native app development is high, it will be worth it in the end.

Recommended frameworks:

  • Android Mobile & TV: A native common app could be built for both TV & mobile. It can have the same business logic but a different UI layer to adapt to the TV experience with minimal effort—for example, Kotlin with MVVM architecture and ExoPlayer for playback.
  • iOS & Apple TV: Same as in Android, same business logic layer with different UI layer for TV. For example, Swift programming language with AVPlayer for playback.
  • Web, LG TV, Samsung TV, and other web OS-based TV & STBs: A web application for all these devices.

Key features to give viewers a delightful experience

Live streaming: Live streaming gives users the joy of watching major events in real-time. It can hold user’s attention 10x-20x longer than pre-recorded videos. Live streaming accounted for 24% of global OTT viewing in the first quarter of 2021. Crafting a live-streaming experience calls for a unique approach with several recommended best practices. The live streaming of the famous cricket event, Indian Premier League (IPL), helped Disney + Hotstar add 7 million subscribers to their subscription base. Consider adding a feature to broadcast live content on your OTT app. It will boost engagement on your app and get more subscribers.

Build a library of localized content: Multi-lingual subtitles and audio descriptions have made it easy for users to consume more localized content. 95% of the users who watched Squid Games on Netflix were from outside Korea. Users love to watch good content irrespective of the language. So, consider including more localized content on the platform. Experiment with different genres, themes, and creative styles. Add subtitles and audio descriptions in multiple languages to eliminate the language barriers and facilitate a joyful viewing experience.

Build for connected TV: With 44% of households expected to disconnect the traditional cable network by 2023 and 82% adopting connected TV, it’s time to consider building apps compatible with connected TV. Consider creating 4K videos that can be streamed on Roku devices and pay attention to the screen size and other functionalities while building the app. You must consider the leading devices like Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Android TV, and some web-based smart TV platforms such as Samsung’s Tizen and WebOS.

Cross-platform OTT apps

Read more about how we developed a seamless multi-platform experience for Magnolia Network, USA.

Provide multi-device access: Continuity is crucial in developing OTT apps. The content should automatically be synchronized across different platforms and devices to prevent friction in the viewing experience. Allow multi-channel access on different devices. This enables the user to switch devices and access content with a single sign-in.

Experiment with subscription models: OTT brands use different revenue models like Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD), Advertising Video On Demand (AVOD), and Transactional Video On Demand or pay-per-view (TVOD).

  • SVOD gives users access to the entire content library for a subscription fee.
  • AVOD allows users to access free content in exchange for viewing ads.
  • TVOD works well for live streaming of special events such as sports or worldwide premier of popular movies.
  • Experiment with different revenue strategies to find out what works. For example, use a combination of AVOD and SVOD to serve free content and upgrade the user to premium, gated content. You can also include exclusive live stream content and charge on a per-view-basis. The flexibility in revenue models will give users the choice to view the content as they desire.

Features like Chromecast (casting content from mobile to TV), offline download for mobile apps, mini-player, Picture in Picture (PIP), DRM, playback features like audio track selection, quality selection, playback speed control, and subtitle customization can also be a differentiator for your brand.

Retention is the new growth mantra

Typically, OTT players like Netflix lose less than 1% monthly subscribers. While this might be a minuscule number, the reality is that the streaming giant lost over 200,000 subscribers within the first quarter of 2022. Customer retention is as essential as acquisition. Losing subscribers could be detrimental to the app’s growth. It’s hard to get back the users again once you lose them.

Apart from the best practices discussed above, apply data-driven design thinking principles to retain users. This could include:

  • Adding features that offer convenience and ease of use to users
  • Creating a seamless experience across all devices and platforms
  • Instilling a sense of pride within users in using the platform
  • Testing new and innovative designs to meet the changing needs of the users
  • Providing a positive reinforcement or reward to the user for using the app
  • Building a friction-free onboarding process
  • Personalizing recommendations based on users’ behavior patterns and preferences
  • Listening to the user to make them feel valued

Remember to keep the user at the center of your app development and engagement strategies and focus on reducing the churn. That’s the only way to retain users and earn from recurring subscriptions.

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Mobile Opinion

What does it take to create products that customers love?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses in many ways, enabling brands to restructure systems and processes to explore new ways of increasing business and operational efficiency.  To manage the immediate impact of the crisis and lay a good foundation for the future, brands must relook at their most critical functions that can create positive customer experiences – product development being one such.

The relevance and value of great product managers cannot be undermined today, where the world is predominantly dependent on digital products and platforms to accomplish most of their needs. Such times call for a human-first approach while developing products that can touch millions of lives globally. In an earlier article, we explored the key characteristics and the core functions of great product managers that can have a profound impact on brand value, customer loyalty, and retention. In this article let’s examine the components required to craft such products and the role of product roadmaps in elevating positive customer experiences.

So, what does it take to create products that customers love?

To begin with, a project framework, the objectives it is meant to accomplish, the resources needed to execute the development, and a product manager who can translate the product vision aligned with that of the organization’s.

As per a Gartner survey, 82% of CEOs are aimed to transform their businesses to be more responsive and digital, and product managers have a huge role to play in accomplishing this vision. Innovation, agility, and speed, define the new turf for product managers. The end-results are sustainable business models and products that customers are in love with.

A product manager is integral in transforming the organizational vision into a user-friendly product right from scratch. From setting the product vision, defining a strategy, researching market conditions, identifying the right opportunity to developing a new product, profiling customer personas, defining the stages of product development, and communicating the vision to internal & external stakeholders. In addition to this, a product manager is also responsible for resource management, driving the execution, providing execution assistance, keeping a constant tab on the timelines, testing the product, refining the product features basis the testing, market positioning and charting a sales strategy, a product manager orchestrates all of these roles end-to-end. Neglecting any one of these attributes can incur heavy financial losses and put the brand reputation at stake. Proper planning and having a visionary product manager leading the product development phase can increase the probability of product success remarkably.

While a lot of the product management skill sets are learned and developed along the way, a product manager should be passionate and driven towards – Technology, Business & the User Experience. Broadly speaking a great product manager intersects at the conjunction of these three attributes.

Business — Product Management above all, is a business function that is focused on optimizing the business value of a product. Product Managers should thereby be obsessed with exploring ways in which product efficiency can help in accomplishing business & revenue goals while amplifying brand value and customer loyalty.

Technology — While product managers are not required to be Tech experts or to get involved in the development process, they must be aware of the Technology trends disrupting the industry globally. They should also be able to forecast trends and be aware of all the technologies that can add value to their product functioning and reception.

User Experience — The ultimate objective of any product is to ensure optimal user satisfaction. To think, feel, and empathize with the end-user and create products to address their requirements and create effortless experiences. To accomplish this, it is imperative to gather inputs from users through research, sampling, AB testing, one-on-one discussions, and get a first-hand feel of whether you’re on the right track, as great user experience is the ultimate goal of any product.

The key to integrating all these attributes into the product execution – a comprehensive product roadmap. It’s one of the most crucial functions of a product manager that brings all the key stakeholders together to commit to the product vision and chart an execution plan based on product priorities.

What are Product Roadmaps?

A great roadmap begins with a clear understanding of the product vision & strategy. Charting a product roadmap is the first crucial step in communicating how each phase of the product development cycle aligns with the long-term business vision. It is a framework that details the direction, execution, priorities, and progress to all key stakeholders. Product managers typically gather insights from cross-functional teams like sales, marketing, and engineering teams to ensure that it aligns with the product strategy and overall business goals. It ascertains the ‘why’ behind building the product and how it solves user challenges that can enhance the overall customer experience.

Here are a few techniques to create great product roadmaps

Tips to Create Great Product Roadmaps

Let’s examine each of these further:

Determine the Use case & Audience

What is the purpose & what are you trying to visualize with the roadmap?

Who is the audience it is intended for?

Beginning with the end objective & the audience it’s intended for, can have a lot of implications on the information & structure of the roadmap. For instance, while the marketing team would check if it aligns with their campaigns, the CFO would avoid getting into the product details & get a quick overview of the costs & how it aligns with the business vision.

Be Data-driven

Given that you as a product manager are a central hub connected with internal & external stakeholders, product engineers, analysts and various other members involved in the product development, it is important to gather user insights and business intelligence from each of these sources and use this as the foundation to create your product road map. Forrester reports that 70% of the projects fail due to a lack of user acceptance. This is why it’s crucial to gain user insights and identify what they truly prefer.

Align with Journey Maps

When product road maps are aligned with customer journey maps it can help in aligning the product features with user thoughts and emotions and guide the product’s design process. This can invariably maximize the product efficiency and customer experience to a whole new level. Here’s a reference for the customer journey map related to bill payments. By understanding the pain points of users, product roadmaps can be aligned to address the core user challenges and enhance the overall customer experience.

Customer journey map related to bill payments

Be Transparent about the Process

As a product manager, it is crucial to prioritize product features and be able to communicate this with the product team.  This is important as it helps in maintaining transparency and gaining team consensus on the priorities and decisions to ensure you’re driving the product vision collaboratively as a team and prevent knowledge silos that can hamper stakeholder relationships.

Prioritize

Every project must go through a prioritization process to include specific features, epics, and initiatives that will be included in the roadmap. Prioritize the roadmap based on – data, high-value initiatives, potential opportunities, stakeholder consensus and it’s alignment with business objectives.

Be Assertive

Product managers need to be assertive, more so in a creative process as it involves ideas and suggestions from other members involved in product development. For instance, a product engineer may endorse an idea or feature that is not documented as part of the product roadmap but how it can seamlessly accomplish the product vision or simply because it can save time on the next sprint. Such ideas have to be eliminated assertively while ensuring that it does not hurt any sentiments. Reason-out with evidence, to ensure that such suggestions do not undermine the product objectives.

Practice Evidence-based Decision-making

To be accepted as a great team player and gain team consensus it’s important to justify your stand with evidence-based communication and decision making. User insights based on research can aid the decision-making process, scale efficiency, and work as an excellent source of business intelligence that can guide the product roadmap process. To accelerate product efficiency, many enterprises have begun to revisit their product roadmaps – crafting the right product vision aligned with key user goals and evolving as per their needs. The ultimate goal of a product roadmap is to communicate the strategy & ensure successful product execution.

With customer experience and digital transformation at the forefront for most organizations today, the role and importance of great product managers cannot be undermined. While a few core characteristics and skill-sets are integral to the organization and product success, enterprises have to hire product visionaries with the right attitude. The role requires a lot more ownership beyond what is fixed as the KRA’s, and a passion above all to solve the most pressing customer concerns.

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Mobile Opinion

Core Functions & Attributes of a Great Product Manager

The role and significance of a product manager is expanding due to the growing importance of digital platforms & integrated experiences, the need for product innovation & differentiation, increased personalization, and design focus. Product managers influence every aspect of the product lifecycle and perform core functions including that of a mini-CEO, fire-fighter, and an orchestra conductor– bringing alive the product vision & executing the day to day operations of product development. It is believed that developing the right skills as a product manager can help one transition into a C-suite professional as it is a good training ground for CEOs.

A great product manager ensures that all team members work harmoniously towards achieving the product vision. The key responsibilities include setting the long term vision and strategy, ensuring user engagement, satisfaction, and monetization. However, these may vary depending on the nature of the industry & enterprise and their views about the project manager’s responsibilities. While a few might be involved in documenting product roadmaps, conceptualizing, analyzing data, supervising the development & production process, conducting market & user research, sampling, testing, and forecasting, others might be involved in the promotion, distribution, sales, and marketing functions especially when the product is already in place.

Here’s an overview of the key phases of the product development cycle.

Product Development Cycle

There are 5 key functions of a Product Manager: Setting the Product Vision, Strategy Development, Product Development, Execution & Testing, and Marketing & Sales. Let’s look at each of those:

Setting the Product Vision

Setting the product vision is the significant first step towards product development. It defines the vision and the broad journey towards accomplishing goals. This is based on the ideas and inputs from the team involved in developing the product. Setting specific goals, product specifications and envisioning the customer personas the product is meant for, ensuring if it solves the core challenges of the user, help in accomplishing their goals, and includes all the measures to assess the success of the product from time to time that is a part of the product development cycle.

Strategy Development

While setting the strategy two aspects have to be kept in mind:

  • Who is the product intended for (Target customer/segment/market)
  • What differentiates it from the competition

Once the vision is narrowed in, the steps to achieve it, i.e. the strategy must be defined. While the vision defines the product goals, the strategy defines the milestones and methods to achieve them.  The strategy should be clear and realistic to ensure that the execution plan can be well distributed among the development team. This ensures that each member understands their role, KPI’s, and the interdependencies that lead to goal accomplishment.

The strategy is derived with insights from market & user research, which includes various quantitative and qualitative methods. It involves understanding the customer personas, their challenges, requirements, attitudes, and behaviors. Incorporating user research as part of the product development process will ensure that the product is custom-built to meet user expectations while ensuring a greater competitive advantage.

Product Development

The development phase begins with crafting a product roadmap that outlines the framework, specific actions, responsibilities, timelines, priorities, and sequence of product implementation.

It starts with defining technical specifications, making prototypes, and mockup designs. While these activities are normally covered by the UX team, a product manager can be involved in writing technical specifications like the PRD (Product Requirement Document) and FSD (Functional Specifications Document), defining the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and to ensure it serves its purpose and alter product requirements based on the user inputs. The product manager’s main goal is to identify what the users want and communicate this information to the development team and project managers. They collaborate with the UX specialists to define the testing scenario, track results, and communicate revisions to the project manager.

Execution & Testing

During this stage, the team begins the product development as per the priorities set in the roadmap. They add new features to the existing product or work on building a new product, where the product manager guides and controls the execution process with the product roadmap.

To ensure successful usability testing, the product manager collaborates with potential customers to analyze user reactions & feedback and conveys these to the development team and project managers to make revisions basis their feedback.

Marketing & Sales

Once the product is completed, the product manager also plans the product positioning, launch, distribution, operating plans, and constantly tracks the growth and revenue graph of the product.

While these are functional attributes, let’s briefly look at the personal attributes that define great product managers.

Core Attributes of a Great Product Manager

Self Management

A product manager must be self-aware and avoid prioritizing product features based on any personal preferences. Lack of self-awareness might derail the execution process from the product roadmap and hamper key stakeholder relationships. It is thereby crucial to be aware and conscious and be able to demarcate between personal and user preferences and always prioritize the later. Being a product manager can be extremely stressful as you are dealing with key stakeholders within the organization and each of them has an opinion about the feature priorities. Managing deadlines, market demands, prioritization conflicts, resource constraints, and revenue targets all at once, and keeping emotions in check is not for the faint-hearted. Maintaining a good balance of product execution and managing stress levels is a must-have attribute for product managers.

Relationship Management

One of the key attributes of this role is efficient stakeholder management. A product manager is often the link between internal and external stakeholders. By developing trustworthy connections, product managers can facilitate harmony and help people in achieving their full potential by minimizing conflicts and maximizing collaboration which ultimately impacts product success.  This can be especially challenging when tasked with balancing the customer demands well within the timelines alongside a resource crunch. Imagine being able to request the engineer to include a bug fix in the next sprint. Such requests can often be executed on the basis of the trust and relationship you’ve developed as a product manager.

Effective Communication

Being a product manager requires communicating with various stakeholders. Breaking down technical information and communicating this with the customers and vice versa to ensure transparency and consensus on likely reiterations, timeline extensions, and additional requirements that have not been accounted for. Timely and open communication can help avoid interpersonal conflicts across the entire stakeholder ecosystem and foster a positive and productive atmosphere throughout the product development process.

Passion

The ability to own the product, regardless of its performance and revenue forecasts, reiterating the product as you go, looking at how the users will respond to the product, going over and above to conduct usability testing, sampling, AB testing to ensure its performance, and ensuring that it solves the right challenge. To live, breathe, and be so passionate about it that you ensure its successful execution regardless of all the hurdles and obstacles that come your way, and believe in its purpose, and role in simplifying the lives of millions of users globally. All of this and more defines the product manager’s passion for the product.

Empathy

One of the most appreciated traits of a product manager is empathy and it is essential at every stage of the product lifecycle. Right from when user research is conducted, to empathize with the pain points of the users, their likes, dislikes, and priorities and with internal stakeholders to empathize with the team and understand their challenges and communicate in a way to address each of their concerns and have a profound impact on all the stakeholders.

Design Sensitivity

Understanding how the design can contribute to the product performance and understanding the core attributes of the UI/UX Design can help product managers convert the product vision into reality. This also facilitates greater collaboration with the UI/UX experts to deliver precisely what the customer is looking for. Design-centric product managers are ultimately more user-centric. Additionally, a fair knowledge of the analytical tools to assess and analyze product and performance-related concepts and examine the features that can be optimized is crucial.

Agile

Adopting an agile methodology while crafting a product roadmap is the key to creating products that customers love. A rigid roadmap that fails to adapt to flexible timelines and reiterations as per the dynamic market conditions and evolving user demands cannot scale its performance. Imagine having real-time data that highlights a key user trend that your product feature doesn’t include. While it’s important to stick to the product roadmap, being able to adapt and include user needs is the key to enhance product efficiency.

Execution-Oriented

A big part of the product management success is being able to execute all the ideas and concepts into a working prototype. This requires communicating, negotiating, persuasion, and motivating the team all along to ensure the product launch. Product managers should be able to inspire and orchestrate the engineering, legal, design, and customer support teams to execute as per the product road maps.

Tactical

Thinking strategically and always working with the big picture in mind are important qualities to be a successful product manager. Being clear on the product’s value proposition, target market, key features, and business goals; being able to forecast how the product will evolve in the future, constantly measure its performance against market trends and developments and paying attention to all details and carrying out all tactical work will guide the product strategy.

Product Management: it’s all about teamwork

Not much can be achieved without team collaboration. Your role as a product manager is to collaborate with the team to help you build, market, and sell the product. Appreciate their ideas and knowledge and inspire collaboration. Call for review meetings often, actively participate, listen, and seek consensus on important decisions. Share constructive feedback and acknowledge accomplishments. Keep away from bias; be open to ideas based on its relevance and alignment towards accomplishing the product vision, show how each idea matters, irrespective of where it comes from.

While there are a lot of critical attributes that contribute to the scope & success of an enterprise, product managers are at the core, creating products that customers love. They build products that influence positive customer experiences which help in accomplishing critical business and customer goals. A great product manager is a visionary who is passionate about solving user challenges and builds products that are embedded in empathy, trust, and transparency. While technical training and upskilling are equally important,  product managers hone their skills on the job, that comes along with gathering valuable intelligence from various stakeholders and years of shipping great products. The more ownership they take up and the knowledge they gather of a particular industry and the customers within, the greater chances of leading the product towards success. Ultimately their passion and role as a product evangelist will be integral to their success and that of the product.

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