The iTV Doctor Is In! Going Over The Top with Ostmodern

Dear Readers:

As promised in our last column, we're going to take a look at one of the creative and design shops that is creating the Over The Top experience in Europe and the UK: Ostmodern.

I find it fascinating when speaking with my friends in the industry that, to a person, they all think of television as PERSONAL. There are few products in our lives about which we have such skewed perceptions. Television is baked into our Entertainment DNA: there is not one of us who doesn't remember the shows we grew up with, and the impact those shows had on us. We use television to learn, to escape, to excite and to simply veg out. But it's ours; it's personal.

So when we see the rapid evolution of television, both as the minds behind the changes and the users of those new products, we cannot divorce ourselves from our emotions. And while the video products we create and distribute are designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience, the USER EXPERIENCE is--by definition--completely one-to-one. Our customers come to our products with their own Entertainment DNA.

That's why I like Ostmodern's user-centric approach. They start with the customer's POV, and move on from there. We spoke to Jody Allen and Tom Williams, founding directors of Ostmodern, about their approach and their work.

iTV Doctor: Thanks for taking the time with us today. Tell me a little about Ostmodern.

Jody Allen: Ostmodern is a digital product design company, with a key specialism in creating products which have video at their core. We've been in business 8 years and in that time have grown from a handful of people focused solely on UX and design into an end-to-end design and delivery company with over 50 people.

Today, we cover the full span of VOD from upfront business and UX strategy through to concept, design and branding, then into frontend/backend build delivery. For some of our clients we also now run and maintain their on-demand video products through our own internal backend framework. Our commitment to brilliant user experience and design is still a key focus for us, though, and is a key reason why our long-standing clients keep coming back.

Our biggest clients are probably still the major UK broadcasters and pay-TV operators that we originally set up to service, but increasingly we are doing more work outside of the UK and now count News Corp and Philo as our biggest stateside clients.

iTV Doctor: I'd like to get our readers under the hood on your approach and your projects. First off, tell us about your long-term work with Channel 4. Where are you taking them now?


Jody Allen: We've worked with Channel 4 since 2006, when we launched 4oD, their VOD service. At the time, it was the first long-form VOD product by any of the UK terrestrial broadcasters, launching a year ahead of BBC's iPlayer. Since then, we've redesigned and relaunched the service several times--the current live version is a couple of years old now.

At the start of 2014, Channel 4 engaged us to create their new "All 4" online service, which will see the streamlining and merging of 4oD with their other digital properties. The new product will be a more refined, hard-working service with one destination for each show and a much bigger focus on VOD in general, whether long-form or short-form content.

At the heart of the new All 4 concept is time. We often feel that in the rush to achieve on-demand perfection, VOD products have lost sight of the magic of scheduling and timeliness in TV. What have I missed? What is on Channel 4 now? What can I look forward to next week? This concept is central to the service and will be a consistent narrative throughout, providing context within currently airing shows, whilst surfacing the unique Channel 4 VOD archive as "Box-Sets."

We're really excited about the product and can't wait to see it launched next year!

iTV Doctor: And you've taken the ITV Network (NO relation to the iTV Doctor!!!) across multiple platforms. How have you managed to keep the viewers engaged across all those screens?


Tom Williams: Over the past 3 years we've created iOS, Android, YouView and Samsung apps and responsive Web sites for ITV's OTT player, "ITV Player." More recently, we've also started working with ITV's regional counterparts in Ireland and Scotland.

In our 8 years of operating we've spent countless hours conducting user testing of products on different screens all over the world, from Singapore to Moscow. Subsequently we have a deep understanding of the roles that different platforms play in people's lives. From the extended lean-back experience of watching a TV with friends, to the staccato and deeply personal nature of a mobile device--not all devices are important to users in the same way.

iTV Player

Ultimately it always begins with content. We spend a lot of time profiling users and understanding which content is appealing to which audience and on what devices. This was an extremely important starting point in our relationship with ITV; they have a very broad demographic with a focus on some specific program formats. Knowing who will use which devices to watch what content can inform your product and content strategy, and rather than making the identical product on each device, you create something that is "tuned" to give you a better ROI on a particular platform.

Certainly with broadcasters who have digital estates that have evolved, it's seldom the case that you develop all your platforms simultaneously, and this wasn't the case with ITV. When you're incrementally launching on different devices, it's extremely important to have some key experience paradigms to consider; these allow you to create a sense of a single product whilst also evolving the feature set and UI to take advantage of developments with native OS and developments in user behavior.


iTV Doctor: My son still wears his Manchester United jersey (his youth team played at Old Trafford a few years ago). I see you've worked with Fox on a multi-team, multi-screen project called "ballball." Tell us about that.

Tom Williams: I hope your son has averted his eyes the last couple of seasons; Man U have had a bit of a rough patch. He should start supporting a proper team like Tottenham Hotspur!

We've been working in sport since we redeveloped Arsenal Player, their online video portal, in early 2010. Since then we've developed a specialism in sports products with video at their core. This is why News Corp approached us to help them launch their global football (soccer to you) video product,, during the spring of 2013.

Having acquired the rights to live goal clips and match highlights for all the main European leagues, News Corp needed someone who could create a multilingual, cross-platform product that would appeal to audiences in Vietnam, Indonesia and Japan. We launched the product for the start of the 2013/14 season and have had enormous growth across those three regions, evolving and iterating the product to maximize engagement as we learn about these evolving markets. We're currently in our second season of running the product and it's still enjoying massive growth.

When one of our existing clients, BT, spent £970 million on Champions League rights, it was our success with Ballball that made them decide to entrust the design of their cross-platform Champions League product set--we're working on this at the moment so we can't share it, but it's going to be pretty special!

iTV Doctor: And finally, Ostmodern is working with YouView, a UK-based OTT aggregator. That's a model I think we'll see working well in the US.

Jody Allen: Ostmodern started working with YouView back in 2010 on the design, delivery and integration of their set-top box UX. As an aggregator, it was key that YouView conceived a product which, while working hard to democratize content at a high level, allowed broadcasters and content owners to offer a unique branded experience through dedicated apps at a lower level. In line with this, the product had to cater for tiny indie content producers with a few hours of content, all the way up to giants like the BBC and BT.

Balancing that, making sure brands have the flexibility to speak to consumers in their chosen tone of voice, while at the same time ensuring overall coherence and consistency from a user experience perspective, was probably the main challenge on the YouView project.

We believe that for a video product to be successful, users need to be at the center of the experience, and that the users' tastes and behavior often stick with them across platforms, devices and even content. For example, a lot of users are impatient. They won't tolerate a pre-roll ad longer than 15 seconds, and will fast-forward past the "previously seen on 'True Detective'" intro at the start, on any platform, device or service.

However, that's just one user profile. A UX that recognizes me and my preferences makes it easier for me to watch, to subscribe and to pay for the privilege of doing so. That's what Ostmodern is working towards.

iTV Doctor: Will we see you at TVOT NYC on December 9th?

Tom Williams: We'll be there! And we're hopeful of appearing on your Over The Top panel!

iTV Doctor: I think that can be arranged.


The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.

Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at

North America