Why creative and not data will win the battle for user attention on streaming platforms

When it comes to reaching a video audience, a user’s historical behaviour isn’t enough when the artwork is unengaging. Here’s why creative could be 'make or break' for an industry facing high competition.

Gerry Batson, Head of Creative Advertising, Territory Studio, explains why creatives need to produce standout artwork for streaming platforms that capture user attention and keep them engaged. 

There’s no denying the importance of data in the digital economy – content creators of all stripes rely on the behaviour and interest of users to tailor their media. Streaming is no exception. However, with so many streaming platforms battling for the attention of users, is behavioural data enough to drive an effective user retention strategy? 

Netflix has already hailed the importance of its content artwork, finding that users spend as long as 1.8 seconds viewing each thumbnail – it’s pivotal to their choice in media and with so much historical data available, there are plenty of evidential viewing habits to draw patterns from. Arguably, only Amazon has enough historical data to utilise the same methods.

Despite this, data alone often fails to truly capture the innovation that sparks trends and intrigue. The greatest innovators in history, while acutely aware of their forebearers, used ingenuity and not trends to create something new. True creativity humanises the experience and helps content on streaming platforms stand out.

Data, a double-edged sword

When an executive is making final decisions on the promotional campaign for a new and expensive television film, it always helps to have the weighted backing of user preference. The application of creative, being vital to the user experience and the user’s first impression, is no exception to this process. 

In the past, there were focus groups used to predict public opinion and now there is a seemingly endless stream of data recorded digitally instead. It’s therefore understandable that modern business models hinge strictly on the success of the past as a measure of success – why reinvent the wheel? Especially when there’s a tight budget and limited time. 

The problem lies in its interpretation. What may have worked in one set of conditions could fail entirely in another, not least because user data doesn’t account for the entire set of variables affecting the viewers’ habits. 

Indeed, this may become increasingly difficult for huge platforms such as Netflix and Amazon with the exponential increase in data available from new releases. If the interpretation is wrong, will more data just exacerbate a problem? It’s arguable that if creatives add new variables to the dataset, the usefulness of the historical data is only increased – you now have more tried and tested outcomes. 

The case for creativity

The most objective performance analysis contains a myriad of tried and tested methods across time built through trial and error. However, there’s a thin line between adaptation and too much caution. 

When an innovator tries something entirely new, it’s a risk. It could drastically fail or revolutionise industries forever, sometimes the effect is instant and sometimes delayed. This is how creatives operate. In the case of originating creative that grabs user attention on video streaming platforms, this risk can reap potentially big rewards. 

Artists start by immersing themselves in the title, working out the best way to visually interpret the key themes and its aesthetic features. The first round of conceptualisation is designed to be as broad as possible – it’s a curation of ideas crafted to communicate different verticals and instigate new conversations. Through versatility comes questions and from there, viewer intrigue. Rather than provide the viewer with stale visuals that feel all too familiar, something unique achieves the clicks and creates the conditions for true staying power. 

A concept-first approach to creative not only heightens attention but significantly improves the data set by adding new, tested potentialities. The historical data now tells a more accurate story of your users by balancing the ingenuity of creatives with informed data. It’s a feedback loop that continues to improve each approach. 

Not to mention, taking the concept-first approach also has the potential to reach new audiences, even if the initial clicks are low. These low clicks may be users that didn’t typically take an interest in similar titles before – the base statistics alone do not tell a full story. 

Rather than replace the usefulness of data, creatives offer innovative approaches that increase its effectiveness. 

Why this matters

The streaming industry isn’t a two-horse race anymore – Disney, Paramount, Apple and many more are claiming their market share while investing heavily in their own intellectual property. For these competitors that lack historical data, relying on small data sets isn’t an effective option. There’s no time to wait for viewing behaviours to habituate and direct the course of action on their platform – they need to be competitive now.

Not to mention, the user experience on a streaming platform, with hundreds of options available instantaneously, is an entirely different beast from the traditional consumption of the past. Television stations may have provided unique content, but they schedule that content, competing directly with other stations broadcasting at the same time slot. Likewise, new theatrical releases are carefully curated and scheduled on opening weekends to maximise box office return. When it comes to streaming, gaining a subscription is only part of the battle. 

Within the platform itself, each release is in competition with one another, battling to get the attention of a subscriber. As new titles continue to flood in, this inner competition becomes a vital component of the user journey. Indeed, with Netflix tolling out its advertising model, user attention will become even more valuable.  

Added together, the steady rise in competition between each platform and the individual titles themselves means attention has never been in higher demand. This should inspire a new approach to creative design and content promotion, prompting a shift in scale that balances creative input and data-led insights. In this way, Netflix and other streaming platforms can continue to engage with their subscribers and win their attention.

By Gerry Batson

Head of Creative Advertising

Territory Studio