How to Stay on Brand While Going Off Platform in Entertainment

Strategies for an evolving broadcast model

Over the past decade, streaming giants like Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu have turned the entertainment broadcast model on its head—putting the focus on flexibility over efficiency, originality over popularity, choice over access.

Driven by the need to keep up and transition their businesses to the new, hyper-digital reality we now call home, nearly all the big players in entertainment have since pivoted to incorporate digital-first strategies into their post-2020 plans of action.

From Disney's highly anticipated launch into the streaming arena last fall to the emergence of new network-owned platforms like HBO Max, Peacock and Tubi in 2020, it's clear that entertainment's increasingly off-platform reality is here to stay.

Now, it's up to the teams responsible for carrying out these new strategies—from in-house design teams to ad sales executives—to step up and make sure they're continuing to lay the groundwork for long-term success.

Pivot your delivery

Those in charge of activating new, off-platform strategies first need to understand and embrace the fundamental differences between how people stream and how they used to watch on linear.

Most obviously, audiences watch on all sorts of devices—from laptops, to phones, to smart TVs and media players. As such, screen sizes and context vary widely, presenting new, complex design and messaging challenges that need to be addressed.

Off-platform audiences also tend to watch outside the usual peak TV hours: at work, while studying, or these days, just to fill the time or silence. They binge, they browse, they rewatch old episodes. As a result, in-house marketing and design teams cannot rely on classic tune-in techniques or calls to action. 

Instead, those tasked with the day-to-day work of pivoting must adapt their approaches across four key touchpoints.

• OTT: The obvious place where streamers can easily, legally, watch your brand's content online. These types of platforms can take many forms, from standalone services—think Disney+ and Peacock—to windowed exclusivity on other platforms, as FX has done with Hulu. And while pushing to OTT presents new challenges, like having to include product pricing, free trials, and adapting key art and promotional materials, it also presents new opportunities for re-promoting and remixing content. Internal marketing teams can take advantage of this new freedom with messaging and content that line up with this new way of watching (see ESPN's 2020 stunt events and esoteric mini-marathons), understanding that in many ways, the days of "Tonight at 8/7 Central" are over.

• Digital: In this new era of always-on entertainment, think of digital as your brand's online mainframe for information and content. Here, you can answer all the questions and needs of your audience, from when shows are airing to how to stream live events, to providing extra, online-only content for engaged, in-the-know audiences. There are lots of different ways to approach digital as a broadcaster, from transitioning network homepages to on-demand streaming platforms, to a blog-like homepage sharing adjacent news, thought leadership and fandom-related content. For successful examples of a creative, digital strategy, see NBCU's award-winning Oxygen and SYFY news hubs that create an entire digital ecosystem around their on-air content.

• Social: Long gone are the days when entertainment brands can simply afford to promote their content on social and call it a day. Here is where fans talk, live-tweet shows, share memes, and build loyal fandoms. Smart in-house teams will use these platforms to engage with their most devoted followers, drive to their digital platforms, and take fans behind-the-scenes of their favorite content. However, there are some caveats. For one thing, design teams need to keep up with the latest social post dimensions and algorithmic specs (RIP Facebook's dreaded 20 percent text rule) and create for max readability and accessibility. Social teams also need to be given the freedom to quickly pivot to the always-on nature of social media. As we saw earlier this year, staying silent as others speak out is no longer an option. 

• Audio: Finally, let's point out a dimension of the business that's still largely under-represented in many entertainment brands' off-platform strategies. While a number of broadcasters are already well into pivoting into podcasting to bolster their broadcasting (see ABC Audio, NBC's show-specific podcasts, and CBS This Morning), there's a growing need to consider how brands can fit in with popular connected devices like Alexa or Google Home. How can brands stand out while nested in with other services or enhance attribution in the tiny windows of screen time given to them by partnering platforms? For many entertainment brands, a bigger focus on sonic or audio branding could be the answer.

Invest in design

New behaviors ushered in by streaming platforms have also led to much larger visual focus on show brand over masterbrand and content over delivery in entertainment marketing across the industry. Today, most consumers are only vaguely aware of where their favorite shows come from, presenting a real challenge for in-house broadcast teams: Even with a stellar OTT or social strategy, if audiences don't know who made what they're watching or how to watch, you've already lost.

This is where the importance of branding comes in. In an era where content is king, having a consistent, instantly recognizable design system in network IDs, promos, key art, bugs and endpages can telepathically communicate to audiences who made what, even when overt advertising isn't on screen.

Good design, with a strategic backbone, also allows for flexibility and legibility across platforms. Multiple logo lock-ups, digital ad formats, social versioning, and more can be leveraged to best suit the visual design and functionality of any site of application. Done right, smart design ensures your brand looks its best wherever it travels.

Investing in brand design as part of your move off platform also increases brand engagement across touchpoints. By offering your audience an easy-to-use, streamlined experience, they're more likely to follow you wherever you go. In an on-demand world, good design is like breadcrumbs, leading your audience back to key touchpoints with meaning and purpose.

This streamlined design philosophy should also translate into off-platform messaging. As with all digital media, being direct, authentic, and providing the least amount of friction for the user is key. Instead of driving audiences to tune in on linear, why not just provide them a link to stream an episode? Instead of putting a branded promo on YouTube or Instagram stories (where it will likely get skipped as an ad), why not give your account to talent and let them take fans behind the scenes?

In-house teams would be wise to note that off-platform, driving affinity is just as important as driving traffic.

Rules of engagement

By not pivoting to the new rules of digital engagement, in-house teams also run the risk of not only alienating younger, digital audiences, but losing their legacy audiences altogether. As of this year, even boomers are more likely to watch TV off-platform than they are on. And this year, more than 2.42 million consumers finally cut the cord for good.

Let's also not forget that off-platform also has major benefits for in-house sales teams. According to recent studies, OTT ads are more effective per exposure at driving purchase intent than broadcast or cable. A potential reason, researchers theorize, is that OTT users have more choice over what they watch, and thus are less distracted by channel surfing.

The data is not lost on advertisers, who year-over-year are investing more and more in off-platform. By working together with in-house creative teams, B2B entertainment marketing professionals have a lot to gain with the transition to off-platform.

The bottom line is this: Whether it's securing key partnerships with other streamers/OTT platforms, or being efficient enough to quickly pivot to the "next big thing" in media, an off-platform focused system can make you modern, agile, adaptive and resilient for the years to come. It makes viewers more likely to watch, and advertisers more likely to invest. It also just might help keep the entertainment industry alive for years to come.

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Casey Halter
Casey Halter is a writer and strategist at Trollbäck+Company.

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