M&E Connections

M&E Journal: The Power of Engines to Drive Entertainment App Development

By Jason Flick, CEO, You.i TV

“I never wanted to spend all of my time managing app development, but that’s the bulk of my day right now.”

That’s a direct quote from a call I had recently with a business leader who was trying to launch an OTT application for her specialized content library. She was charged with building a direct-to-consumer business, and a big part of that effort was making sure customers could access the content they wanted on the devices they used most. However, she had become mired in app development cycles before the first platform was even live.

This problem isn’t new to anyone who’s been tasked with meeting current consumers’ expectations. Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, with hundreds of engineers and millions in research and development dollars, consumers now expect that they can access content on whichever platform they’re currently using, whether it’s an Android phone, a PlayStation 3, the latest Samsung smart TV or a Roku streaming device.

The primary driver here is the growing need to build a direct relationship with the consumer. The businesses that are best able to succeed in the current content environment are the ones who own the user; they have the data about consumer behavior, they can quickly respond to user behavior, and most critically, they own the glass.

The glass, which you may know as a screen, is where consumers live today, and where they spend their money. If you own the interface people use to access what they want, be it cabs, hotel rooms or content, you’re well positioned to succeed.

It’s that confluence of consumer expectations, and the need to own the glass, that has executives scrambling to reach more platforms, to capture more direct relationships with their users and their fans. But as I mentioned, it’s no easy feat to reach multiple platforms across multiple form factors, and it’s not for lack of effort.

The current approaches are outdated

Video app development has followed two main paths to market in the past twenty years, but in that same time frame, the number of platforms, platform SDKs, form factors and codebases to manage has exploded.

Those two paths—custom native development and templated approaches to development— both had serious limitations, that all came back to inherent flaws in their workflows. Those flaws were directly tied into the tools they used for development, or more accurately, a lack of appropriate tools to solve their workflow woes.

This is a solved problem in another industry

Video game makers realized a long time ago that designing a game, and throwing it over the fence to a developer, wouldn’t get them to the kind of immersive visual experience they were looking for, not to mention that the kind of motion designs they wanted to render on a screen would melt most CPUs.

That’s why, in the 20 years that apps have been making compromises inherent to their development workflow, the game industry decided to rely on a tool instead: a video game engine. This engine is software that allows the designers of the games to work in the tools they love to use, define all the branding and motion design, export it into a single codebase, and have that codebase render the game on any of their targeted platforms.

Have you ever wondered why Candy Crush or Call of Duty look exactly the same on every platform? The reason is video game engines.

How it solves the TV and media workflow

Since the biggest compromises in both custom native and templated approaches to TV and media applications happen in relation to platform reach and brand vision, it makes sense that adopting a development approach that can solve both would make sense, especially given the “own the glass” imperative in front of media executives today.

If you’re looking to overhaul your own video app development workflow to reach more platforms, with a better brand experience, without spending your entire day managing the process, an engine-based approach can drastically streamline your go-to market strategy.

There are two main ways to leverage engines to deliver app experiences on more platforms.

1. Adapt a video game engine to interface use cases. Since the developers of popular engine toolsets have realized that there’s demand for their technology to deliver interfaces beyond the video game space, some video game engines offer tools and adaptations to suit the needs of interfaces. To take this approach, you’ll need a team that can work within the video game engine framework and ensure it hits the development needs of your interface aspirations. You’ll also need to ensure it can reach all your target platforms, since there are some TV and media specific platforms that may not be included.

2. Choose a purpose-based interface engine. Since this workflow for delivering cross-platform applications comes with so many benefits, and because the needs of interfaces and interface design teams differ in key ways from video games, there are purpose-built engines that are built from the ground up for the needs of interface development. If you’re pursuing this option, you may find that the design toolset of these engines is better suited to the design tools used by your existing team, and that certain optimizations and pre-built integrations exist that meet your project needs.

Both engine-based approaches will revolutionize your workflow in that they put the power back in the hands of designers to bring your brand to life on multiple platforms. You avoid the design documentation and development negotiations, and you’ll realize time savings while getting to more platforms.

Get back to your true focus

When apps can be delivered with drastically reduced time-to-market, increased brand control and lower internal overhead, project owners and sponsors can free themselves from spending their days managing video app development, and get back to the strategic imperatives in front of them.

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