How to run content strategy, design and curation on a video streaming service

How to run content strategy, design and curation on a video streaming service

12 minute read

How to run content strategy, design and curation on a video streaming service

12 minute read

How to run content strategy, design and curation on a video streaming service

Jordan Joseph

Content Editor, BT TV

The content world is changing, and in the media landscape the change is prolific. But what does this have to do with content strategy and design? Absolutely everything. 

The way we are consuming media content has gone from the gatekeepers of the linear TV schedule to giving ‘power to the people’ by allowing them to stream content on-demand, when they want and on whatever platform. 

Here are five main takeaways that are relevant from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and the other competitive players in the market, as well as my learnings from working on the Editorial team at BT TV, managing the BT Player. 

Serve the right type of content to your users 

Sound familiar? As content professionals, this is what we instinctively do and it’s no different in the media industry. But when there are thousands of TV shows and films for viewers to consume, the importance of front-loading the right type of content to the right type of user cannot be understated. 

No user would be expected to spend time trawling through an endless catalogue to choose exactly what satisfies them. Netflix’s research tells us that if viewers fail to choose something to watch within 90 seconds, then their interest is lost and they will launch either another streaming service or switch off the TV completely. This is why it’s imperative that we get their attention immediately, a similar concept to the 80/20 rule works here in that we need to structure content based on the majority user need. 

But how do we know what content works? 

At BT TV, we constantly research and look at data to see what people are watching. We also look at the different user segments and profiles from our insights team to ensure every decision we make caters to our viewers. We know our viewers skew towards family viewing and tend to be older. This helps us define the ‘typical’ BT TV user, along with other metrics we utilise on our platform. If we decide to promote a particular piece of sport content such as a boxing fight, then we may look at what other content over-indexes with boxing fans on our service. We could do a ‘Films after the Fight’ carousel to promote action or fighting films. Anything that helps our users ‘stick’ to the service, while showcasing the breadth of our catalogue, is a goal for us. 

A screenshot from the BT TV interface. This shows the content when a particular film is chosen. Image shows a thumbnail of the movie, Frozen along with options and prices for buying and renting the movie, a synopsis. release date, rating, duration, category and the cast and director.

We also look at seasonal and topical trends in the wider world to editorialise the content on the service. It’s no surprise that Christmas films jump up in popularity in December, so we make sure those titles are on the front page of the UI for those times when families are at home and desperate to watch some familiar content - be it Home Alone or Gavin and Stacey for the thousandth time. This not only helps with view count, but with customer experience by front-loading what the data is telling us customers are watching - otherwise it will hit our performance numbers. 

This level of insight may not be as advanced as Netflix or Amazon’s approach - throwing limitless amounts of money into an algorithm-first service, but we find that it works with our customers who tend not to be technophiles and prefer a more personal and curated approach. I’ll explore this topic more in-depth later on, since we do depend on recommendation and personalisation engines. 

Marketing priorities are important, but not as important as the user’s priorities 

I’m sure you’re noticing a theme of creating a user-centred product with the user needs at the heart of it. This core idea within content strategy and design applies even to video content. The main difference is that we work very closely with our content partners, who we rely on for their content to showcase on our service. Whether it’s Disney, HBO or MTV, it’s imperative that we work collaboratively on the right content strategy to highlight their new content in the best possible way. 

For example, consider this fictional scenario. The Happy TV Company has released the latest season of their best selling knitting series for customers to purchase and digitally own, and we have a great partnership with them because they provide a lot of content which our customers enjoy. 

  • Would it be worth doing a huge UI campaign when it’s available to watch for free to stream on their website? 
  • Would it be worth featuring that series prominently on our menus when there’s not much demand for knitting content? 
  • Would it be a bad customer experience if we went ahead with marketing the knitting series? 

These are questions we continually ask ourselves to ensure a good balance of content we know works the best, through data and insights, to ensure that our users come first. In that scenario, we might push back against their marketing approach but ask that we promote their motoring series instead since we have the evidence to show that it tends to over-index when it comes to transactional content which results in a higher revenue for The Happy TV Company. That way, both sides are happy and the viewer wins. 

A screenshot of the BT TV interface. This shows an image and description of a programme called Dispatches from Elsewhere. Includes a call to action to subscribe to the program and shows thumbnails for additional content such as bonus material and extras.

We don’t have the benefit of having user researchers, this is largely integrated within our Editorial remit. Desk research is helpful, and looking at competitor services is just as helpful. We also don’t have the resources and scale of the likes of Apple TV (that’s a story for another article). This is a value-added product rather than a product people specifically pay for, so we have to make the best of the resource we have. 

Creativity and having a personal touch is still key in the digital world 

I previously spoke about the algorithm-first approach of Netflix and Amazon’s streaming services. This works well when you want to roll out similar products all over the world without focusing on your local user needs. 

Being someone with an editorial background, this doesn’t sit with me too well. There’s an immediate loss on personal touch, and the user feels like they are thrust into a soulless world of content that is generated and spawned from binary code. 

What works best is a good balance between both human editorial and algorithm-driven content. Spotify does a fantastic job in this, breaking out playlists based on the time of day, users moods, previous listens, perceived personalisation, location-based and throwing in some podcasts too since it’s a growing part of their content strategy as the new way of consuming audio content. 

HBO is using human curation as part of its content strategy as a marketable feature. ‘Recommended By Humans’ is their latest venture which features short reviews, tweets and quotes from people all over the world about their favourite TV shows. This is their attempt to claw back some human connection when it comes to showcasing their content, and put power back to the people as they’ve figured out that ‘word of mouth’ is a powerful tool to get people into consuming their content - so why not digitise this? 

In BT TV, we also take human curation seriously in the Editorial team. Being personal is at the core of BT values, so our aim is to make sure our copy, straplines and any other ways we communicate to our viewers has significant value for them. Here are some examples:

  • “Bank Holiday weekend? Grab a cuppa, get your blanket and tuck into our binge-able box sets we have lined up for you!” 
  • “Need something for the kids to watch while you’re driving to the grandparents? Buy ‘The Knitting Move’ and you’ll be able to download and watch on the go on their tablets.” 
  • “Ready to watch the fifth season of ‘The Best Knitting Show’ next week? If you can’t remember what happened, we have seasons 1-4 available for you to watch now.” 

These are all different ways in which we highlight to the customer how they can consume our content. This adds value to their BT TV subscription and increases overall customer experience. If we don’t put in effort to talk to our users, then why would they place value in consuming our content? 

A screenshot from the BT TV interface. This shows three thumbnails for programmes trending under the category, sport.

During my time on the team, I Implemented a content style guide to establish a consistent and high standard of copywriting, content layout and imagery. This is something I’ve adapted as I’ve learnt more about content design. 

Algorithms are our friends, not replacements 

In a world that is becoming highly automated, we shouldn’t fear our algorithmic overlords. Instead, work with them on a collaborative approach. They are highly efficient in sorting data, take into account user taste and is an expectation from users of streaming services. Get the balance right, and the user wins. 

Don’t just take my word for it, our data shows we see a tremendous amount of engagement with some of our algorithm-driven carousels: Recommended, Continue Watching and Most Popular. They are always on carousels in comparison to our editorial carousels, so are familiar to our users. 

The search function is also highly used, but that shouldn’t be surprising as it’s a familiar convention across the web and other apps. 

A screenshot from the BT TV interface. Image is of the film store section and shows a recommended film called Fantasy Island. Includes an image and description of the film. Underneath shows five thumbnails for other movies that are the most popular on the day the screenshot was taken.

When there’s so much choice, some viewers may want to be guided into what to watch. Our insights tell us that our main audience segment on BT TV do not have much free or leisure time, so we are conscious that we need to appeal to their needs as soon as they turn on their TV box. 

There are times when the 80/20 rule may not work with everyone. David Krug popularised the term ‘Reservoir of Good Will’ to explain that users’ trust will deplete every time they encounter a problem or annoyance. If someone is trying to watch a niche crocheting show, rather than our ever popular knitting show, then the fact that they have to navigate our UI for several minutes to watch the show, might be a frustrating experience. It definitely helps to have a recommendation engine to kick in and feature this somewhere on the front of the page based on their previous habits and tastes. 

Review, review and review 

We look at data every single day. Content plays, carousel engagement, hero engagement, transactional purchases and other metrics. We also look at ways we can improve content that is not engaging well with customers. Here are some core questions we ask:

  • Is it because the image is poor? Streaming services are generally led by visuals, and more Netflix research shows that they vigorously and continuously A/B test images to see which artwork enabled viewers to “find a story they wanted to watch faster”. 
  • Is it because we’ve not featured it on the UI? Maybe it’s buried so deep that viewers haven’t noticed it at all or it’s not being picked up by the algorithms 
  • Maybe it’s been on the service for months (or even years) and it could be stale and therefore an immediate turn off to regular users 
  • Perhaps the content itself isn’t that strong? If so then we’ve learned that it doesn’t work with our particular type of customer and we can use this as valuable feedback to our content partners 

When a customer launches our streaming service, at first glance they would generally see 6 titles. That’s not much to get their attention if they do not know what they want to watch. If we go by Netflix’s 90 second or less guideline then that places even more restrictions on us. This establishes the real estate value of our UI, and makes us evaluate every single editorial decision we make for our users, since we are working on their behalf. 

To make our job even harder - every single piece of content has an expiry date. The video on demand world is built on windowing and licensing dates so not everything will be available to watch for free, forever. Luckily in the past few years, the availability to watch shows on catch up has been extended from 7 days to 30 days. This gives a bit of breathing room as a hit show will have more of a chance to be watched by customers who may only enter the BT Player a few times a month. We also have box sets which tend to be windowed for a longer period of time. As with the rules of content design, the content lifecycle does not end when something is published. We regularly review and iterate UI curation based on performance, viewer engagement and other metrics available to us. 

To conclude, TV = content? 

After reading these five points, I hope you have some insight into how the principles of content design help shape running a video streaming service. And that TV content can be seen as ‘normal’ content too, in some ways. 

There has been a massive shift in how viewers expect to watch their favourite TV shows and films, and we have to adjust to cater to their changing user needs. We have to serve the best content straight to the viewers by looking at data, enhancing the service with our algorithm engines, working with our content partners to get the best content from them and continuously reviewing performance and aiming for strong metrics to prove our success. 

It’s been a really valuable experience for me to get involved in the content design community. It’s something that I want to get more involved in in the next steps of my career and become a fully fledged content designer after the past several years working in the TV industry. And please, do feel free to get in touch to share your thoughts and opinions.

The content world is changing, and in the media landscape the change is prolific. But what does this have to do with content strategy and design? Absolutely everything. 

The way we are consuming media content has gone from the gatekeepers of the linear TV schedule to giving ‘power to the people’ by allowing them to stream content on-demand, when they want and on whatever platform. 

Here are five main takeaways that are relevant from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and the other competitive players in the market, as well as my learnings from working on the Editorial team at BT TV, managing the BT Player. 

Serve the right type of content to your users 

Sound familiar? As content professionals, this is what we instinctively do and it’s no different in the media industry. But when there are thousands of TV shows and films for viewers to consume, the importance of front-loading the right type of content to the right type of user cannot be understated. 

No user would be expected to spend time trawling through an endless catalogue to choose exactly what satisfies them. Netflix’s research tells us that if viewers fail to choose something to watch within 90 seconds, then their interest is lost and they will launch either another streaming service or switch off the TV completely. This is why it’s imperative that we get their attention immediately, a similar concept to the 80/20 rule works here in that we need to structure content based on the majority user need. 

But how do we know what content works? 

At BT TV, we constantly research and look at data to see what people are watching. We also look at the different user segments and profiles from our insights team to ensure every decision we make caters to our viewers. We know our viewers skew towards family viewing and tend to be older. This helps us define the ‘typical’ BT TV user, along with other metrics we utilise on our platform. If we decide to promote a particular piece of sport content such as a boxing fight, then we may look at what other content over-indexes with boxing fans on our service. We could do a ‘Films after the Fight’ carousel to promote action or fighting films. Anything that helps our users ‘stick’ to the service, while showcasing the breadth of our catalogue, is a goal for us. 

A screenshot from the BT TV interface. This shows the content when a particular film is chosen. Image shows a thumbnail of the movie, Frozen along with options and prices for buying and renting the movie, a synopsis. release date, rating, duration, category and the cast and director.

We also look at seasonal and topical trends in the wider world to editorialise the content on the service. It’s no surprise that Christmas films jump up in popularity in December, so we make sure those titles are on the front page of the UI for those times when families are at home and desperate to watch some familiar content - be it Home Alone or Gavin and Stacey for the thousandth time. This not only helps with view count, but with customer experience by front-loading what the data is telling us customers are watching - otherwise it will hit our performance numbers. 

This level of insight may not be as advanced as Netflix or Amazon’s approach - throwing limitless amounts of money into an algorithm-first service, but we find that it works with our customers who tend not to be technophiles and prefer a more personal and curated approach. I’ll explore this topic more in-depth later on, since we do depend on recommendation and personalisation engines. 

Marketing priorities are important, but not as important as the user’s priorities 

I’m sure you’re noticing a theme of creating a user-centred product with the user needs at the heart of it. This core idea within content strategy and design applies even to video content. The main difference is that we work very closely with our content partners, who we rely on for their content to showcase on our service. Whether it’s Disney, HBO or MTV, it’s imperative that we work collaboratively on the right content strategy to highlight their new content in the best possible way. 

For example, consider this fictional scenario. The Happy TV Company has released the latest season of their best selling knitting series for customers to purchase and digitally own, and we have a great partnership with them because they provide a lot of content which our customers enjoy. 

  • Would it be worth doing a huge UI campaign when it’s available to watch for free to stream on their website? 
  • Would it be worth featuring that series prominently on our menus when there’s not much demand for knitting content? 
  • Would it be a bad customer experience if we went ahead with marketing the knitting series? 

These are questions we continually ask ourselves to ensure a good balance of content we know works the best, through data and insights, to ensure that our users come first. In that scenario, we might push back against their marketing approach but ask that we promote their motoring series instead since we have the evidence to show that it tends to over-index when it comes to transactional content which results in a higher revenue for The Happy TV Company. That way, both sides are happy and the viewer wins. 

A screenshot of the BT TV interface. This shows an image and description of a programme called Dispatches from Elsewhere. Includes a call to action to subscribe to the program and shows thumbnails for additional content such as bonus material and extras.

We don’t have the benefit of having user researchers, this is largely integrated within our Editorial remit. Desk research is helpful, and looking at competitor services is just as helpful. We also don’t have the resources and scale of the likes of Apple TV (that’s a story for another article). This is a value-added product rather than a product people specifically pay for, so we have to make the best of the resource we have. 

Creativity and having a personal touch is still key in the digital world 

I previously spoke about the algorithm-first approach of Netflix and Amazon’s streaming services. This works well when you want to roll out similar products all over the world without focusing on your local user needs. 

Being someone with an editorial background, this doesn’t sit with me too well. There’s an immediate loss on personal touch, and the user feels like they are thrust into a soulless world of content that is generated and spawned from binary code. 

What works best is a good balance between both human editorial and algorithm-driven content. Spotify does a fantastic job in this, breaking out playlists based on the time of day, users moods, previous listens, perceived personalisation, location-based and throwing in some podcasts too since it’s a growing part of their content strategy as the new way of consuming audio content. 

HBO is using human curation as part of its content strategy as a marketable feature. ‘Recommended By Humans’ is their latest venture which features short reviews, tweets and quotes from people all over the world about their favourite TV shows. This is their attempt to claw back some human connection when it comes to showcasing their content, and put power back to the people as they’ve figured out that ‘word of mouth’ is a powerful tool to get people into consuming their content - so why not digitise this? 

In BT TV, we also take human curation seriously in the Editorial team. Being personal is at the core of BT values, so our aim is to make sure our copy, straplines and any other ways we communicate to our viewers has significant value for them. Here are some examples:

  • “Bank Holiday weekend? Grab a cuppa, get your blanket and tuck into our binge-able box sets we have lined up for you!” 
  • “Need something for the kids to watch while you’re driving to the grandparents? Buy ‘The Knitting Move’ and you’ll be able to download and watch on the go on their tablets.” 
  • “Ready to watch the fifth season of ‘The Best Knitting Show’ next week? If you can’t remember what happened, we have seasons 1-4 available for you to watch now.” 

These are all different ways in which we highlight to the customer how they can consume our content. This adds value to their BT TV subscription and increases overall customer experience. If we don’t put in effort to talk to our users, then why would they place value in consuming our content? 

A screenshot from the BT TV interface. This shows three thumbnails for programmes trending under the category, sport.

During my time on the team, I Implemented a content style guide to establish a consistent and high standard of copywriting, content layout and imagery. This is something I’ve adapted as I’ve learnt more about content design. 

Algorithms are our friends, not replacements 

In a world that is becoming highly automated, we shouldn’t fear our algorithmic overlords. Instead, work with them on a collaborative approach. They are highly efficient in sorting data, take into account user taste and is an expectation from users of streaming services. Get the balance right, and the user wins. 

Don’t just take my word for it, our data shows we see a tremendous amount of engagement with some of our algorithm-driven carousels: Recommended, Continue Watching and Most Popular. They are always on carousels in comparison to our editorial carousels, so are familiar to our users. 

The search function is also highly used, but that shouldn’t be surprising as it’s a familiar convention across the web and other apps. 

A screenshot from the BT TV interface. Image is of the film store section and shows a recommended film called Fantasy Island. Includes an image and description of the film. Underneath shows five thumbnails for other movies that are the most popular on the day the screenshot was taken.

When there’s so much choice, some viewers may want to be guided into what to watch. Our insights tell us that our main audience segment on BT TV do not have much free or leisure time, so we are conscious that we need to appeal to their needs as soon as they turn on their TV box. 

There are times when the 80/20 rule may not work with everyone. David Krug popularised the term ‘Reservoir of Good Will’ to explain that users’ trust will deplete every time they encounter a problem or annoyance. If someone is trying to watch a niche crocheting show, rather than our ever popular knitting show, then the fact that they have to navigate our UI for several minutes to watch the show, might be a frustrating experience. It definitely helps to have a recommendation engine to kick in and feature this somewhere on the front of the page based on their previous habits and tastes. 

Review, review and review 

We look at data every single day. Content plays, carousel engagement, hero engagement, transactional purchases and other metrics. We also look at ways we can improve content that is not engaging well with customers. Here are some core questions we ask:

  • Is it because the image is poor? Streaming services are generally led by visuals, and more Netflix research shows that they vigorously and continuously A/B test images to see which artwork enabled viewers to “find a story they wanted to watch faster”. 
  • Is it because we’ve not featured it on the UI? Maybe it’s buried so deep that viewers haven’t noticed it at all or it’s not being picked up by the algorithms 
  • Maybe it’s been on the service for months (or even years) and it could be stale and therefore an immediate turn off to regular users 
  • Perhaps the content itself isn’t that strong? If so then we’ve learned that it doesn’t work with our particular type of customer and we can use this as valuable feedback to our content partners 

When a customer launches our streaming service, at first glance they would generally see 6 titles. That’s not much to get their attention if they do not know what they want to watch. If we go by Netflix’s 90 second or less guideline then that places even more restrictions on us. This establishes the real estate value of our UI, and makes us evaluate every single editorial decision we make for our users, since we are working on their behalf. 

To make our job even harder - every single piece of content has an expiry date. The video on demand world is built on windowing and licensing dates so not everything will be available to watch for free, forever. Luckily in the past few years, the availability to watch shows on catch up has been extended from 7 days to 30 days. This gives a bit of breathing room as a hit show will have more of a chance to be watched by customers who may only enter the BT Player a few times a month. We also have box sets which tend to be windowed for a longer period of time. As with the rules of content design, the content lifecycle does not end when something is published. We regularly review and iterate UI curation based on performance, viewer engagement and other metrics available to us. 

To conclude, TV = content? 

After reading these five points, I hope you have some insight into how the principles of content design help shape running a video streaming service. And that TV content can be seen as ‘normal’ content too, in some ways. 

There has been a massive shift in how viewers expect to watch their favourite TV shows and films, and we have to adjust to cater to their changing user needs. We have to serve the best content straight to the viewers by looking at data, enhancing the service with our algorithm engines, working with our content partners to get the best content from them and continuously reviewing performance and aiming for strong metrics to prove our success. 

It’s been a really valuable experience for me to get involved in the content design community. It’s something that I want to get more involved in in the next steps of my career and become a fully fledged content designer after the past several years working in the TV industry. And please, do feel free to get in touch to share your thoughts and opinions.

Webinar Recording

Co-design: How to build products and services that work

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July 16, 2020

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Webinar Recording

Co-design: How to build products and services that work

Learn how to co-design with users, writers, designers, developers and subject experts to make sure the services you create work for the people who use them.

July 16, 2020

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Jordan Joseph

Jordan is a Content Editor for BT TV based in the UK. He has built up a career working on the editorial and content strategy with Sky, BBC and VICE on their streaming platforms navigating the changing complexity of the TV landscape. With extensive experience in managing user-focused content, Jordan’s next step is to get into the world of content design.

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