Distribution in OTT. Why Getting Your Content Everywhere is so Difficult.

Jason Fournier
Jason Fournier

How You.i Engine One tackles streaming’s biggest problems; distribution and scale.

When running a streaming business, there’s a consistent paradigm for success that all OTT services, consumer and operator alike, should follow: Distribution + Experience + Content.

The notion is simple enough:

  • Distribution – Increase your potential total addressable market
  • Experience – Provide a stellar user experience
  • Content – Deliver compelling content

This direct-to-consumer (D2C) concept isn’t exclusive to the TV & Media space, but there is an inherent challenge in the world we play: massive fragmentation.

In this industry, more than any other, the sheer number of consumer electronic devices and operator hardware options coupled with a dizzying array of software options creates a problem of exponential complexity.


Complexity and Compromise – Gaining Reach through Distribution

Why is Distribution so complex? The rapid proliferation of connected devices coupled with increasingly better access to fast, reliable internet has been a cornerstone to the rapid adoption of OTT services. Video-specific applications have a number of viewing mediums which include mobile, tablet, and (especially) TV. Distribution is key and it’s not a new paradigm. Traditional Pay-TV operators held the keys to the castle as they controlled content distribution through their cable networks and ultimately their leased set-top boxes (STBs).

In the D2C world, the requirement is no different. The need to be everywhere your subscribers expect you to be, in many parts of the world means getting your app onto a wide variety of under-powered and memory starved STBs. As you can imagine, this consideration turns out to be quite complex.

In a five-year span from 2014-19, the number of subscription streaming offerings increased by 140%. At the same time. The number of households with Pay TV subscriptions continues to decline YoY by roughly 3-4%.

Imagine a typical North American household:

  • A few smartphones
  • A couple of tablets
  • A set-top box
  • A couple of TVs
  • A gaming console
  • A streaming device

In fact, Variety has identified that a typical household has 11 connected devices, with 7 of them being screens such as TVs or handsets.

Now imagine trying to get one app on all of those devices. For a consumer to effortlessly transition their viewing experience from multiple devices throughout the home, and beyond, they will need a consistent user experience on each device. Each icon, graphic, and feature needs to be identical to avoid confusion.

The traditional development approach to solving this problem is as follows:

  • Build for each platform using either a native or templated framework approach
  • Prioritize resources on the most popular platforms
  • Maintain multiple teams and technology stacks through operational overhead
  • Align user experience aspirations across the various technologies where possible

This approach quickly becomes untenable as more platforms are targeted. There is no scale to be had. The reach to new platforms (and, thus, new potential subscribers) is directly coupled to the effort applied on a per-platform basis.


Let’s take a closer look at the problem. Any device with a screen, a development environment, and an internet connection is a potential end point for an interactive video app. Broadly speaking, there are two types of device categories typically targeted for video consumption: connected devices (or consumer electronics) and set-top boxes. Double-clicking into each category, you begin to see the complexity of each.

Connected Devices:

  • Operating System (eg, iOS, Android, Web browsers, etc)
  • Development Language (eg, Swift, Java, HTML, Brightscript, etc)
  • Hardware Profile (wide range in specifications with implications on performance)
  • Closed vs Open systems
  • Video playback Support
  • 3rd-Party Integration support (Authentication, Analytics, Accounts, Billing, etc)

Set-top Boxes:

  • Chipsets
  • Drivers
  • Media servers
  • Middleware
  • Video player

With connected-TV Devices, there are a dozen or so primary devices/platforms that currently occupy the vast majority of household penetration. With set-top boxes, the hardware options for distribution are exponentially higher in numbers and complexity. Proprietary middleware software, low memory availability and CPU constraints makes getting into these devices difficult. To achieve distribution with modern OTT requirements, you need a strategy, and technology, that can scale with your ambitions.

Experience, Everywhere with You.i Engine One

As you may have guessed, we feel there’s a better way. In fact, we’ve shown it with the world’s largest brands. You.i Engine One tackles the industry fragmentation problem head-on, including the complex, yet robust, set-top box and embedded ecosystems, as a holistic distribution strategy.

Taking cues from the gaming industry, we’ve built a cross-platform rendering engine that couples a high degree of portability with a consistent interface for developing word class apps. This approach works by abstracting the hardware and operating systems of the target devices, allowing developers and designers to focus on building amazing app experiences while letting the technology focus on the ports.

At a high level, You.i Engine One is a software development kit that is comprised of the following:

Run-time Rendering Engine
Achieve native performance through an abstracted rendering pipeline that supports OpenGL, OpenGL ES, DirectX, and custom graphics APIs to consistently deliver rich experiences across every screen.

Platform Porting Strategy
You.i Engine One’s industry-leading cross-platform reach is supported by two approaches— natively or with You.i Cloud. We work with hardware manufacturers and operating system producers to ensure consistency with certification requirements.

Cross-Platform Video Playback
An abstracted, cross-platform player API, integrated against native platform video players. Includes support for Live & VoD streaming playback, trickplay, DRM, and captioning.

Design Workflow
A full design workflow built specifically for rich, immersive streaming experiences using industry-standard tooling. Designers and developers alike work collaboratively, ensuring a high degree of efficiency across the software development lifecycle.

Developer Tooling
Build with either React Native core elements or C++ with a complete application framework with platform-independent controls and components.

Integration Ecosystem
Access platform capabilities from prebuilt cross-platform APIs or integrate custom capabilities by bridging to the native development environment. Build using React Native Modules, 3rd party SDKs, and more.

LEARN MORE: Watch our full Fundamentals series

Combined, You.i Engine One represents a powerful toolkit that tackles the challenges of bringing a streaming app to connected devices and set-top boxes head-on. It takes the guesswork out of porting, leaving teams to focus their attention on bigger updates. The result is access to millions of potential subscribers for your D2C service on a platform they know, in a way they can understand. With the You.i Engine One’s single codebase advantage, build your app once and deploy to wherever the Engine, and your next subscriber, resides.


Thumbnail photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

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