How Video Metering Could Revolutionize the OTT Business

Gauging what differentiates one OTT platform from another is getting harder

Ever wonder why a boxed set costs so much money, even in the digital days?

It’s because distributors don’t want to sell you boxed sets. They want to sell subscriptions. But as OTTs both proliferate and diversify, it’s getting harder to gauge what makes one different, or more suitable, than another. This is where metering can prove to be a powerful ally.

Metering is seen as a publishing tactic for encouraging people to buy news subscriptions: NYTimes.com and The Economist, for example, will let you read a certain number of articles every month for free, before asking you to subscribe. But metering has many facets, and it can also be used for video. Think of it as a powerful way to hook people to content they’ll love, give them a sense of what they can expect behind an OTT’s paywall, and express the “who” of your company all at once.

Related: YouTube TV Unveiled With ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC

What makes Netflix different from Amazon Prime? In the case of both, you get great shows in exchange for a monthly subscription. Each offers a one-month free trial that lets you sample, which is probably just code for binge-watching until your clock runs out. (Once you’ve started binge-watching on Amazon or Netflix, it’s hard to go back to life without either.)

But this isn’t the only way to meter content out. The great thing about videos is that they aren’t quite like articles, which tend to be metered by the amount read. Videos don’t have to follow those rules at all! You can meter by time (a week or a month), number of videos, types of videos, or even the amount of a video people watch before the metaphorical “meter” runs out.

CBS All Access is a monthly cross-platform OTT that offers users one week free. If you’re anticipating a great show that airs weekly, that translates to one free episode before you’ll have to cough up dollars for the weeks that follow.

Another problem we’re running into is that there’s just too much to subscribe to now. What’s the point of cutting off your cable if your subscription fees to HBO Go, CBS, Amazon and Netflix actually cost you even more per month? A natural solution to this is à la carte payments, or micropayments per video.

This isn’t going to work in every case. A user may have issues paying $0.25 for a short clip when she’s used to seeing content of equivalent length and quality for free on sites like Vimeo or YouTube. But that same user may have fewer qualms about seeing portions of an episode, then buying the rest of it on Apple or Amazon for $1.99 or $2.99 a pop. (Apple occasionally also tosses free content in for hardcore fans of shows like Scandal.)

There are as many ways to meter as there are OTTs, and what works for Netflix or CBS’s users may work differently in your case. But the great thing about metering is that it’s flexible: Test your options. Find out what your crowd likes, and check out where they tend to drop off or churn to best optimize your strategy.

You may come up with a whole new way to meter that no one’s even considered yet—free political films or shows during election season, or a free bundle of feel-good content when your prospects need a pick-me-up. Your metering style doesn’t just tell customers what you’ve got behind the paywall. It says something about you, too. And that’s what people buy into most often.