What Is Windowing?

The concept of release windows is a controversial one. Distributors see the practice as a valid strategy for maximizing revenue around content, while fans view it mostly as an inconvenience, which sometime leads to piracy over legitimate outlets.

Looking at it purely from a video syndication perspective, windowing seems inevitable for any content producer looking to expand into the mobile video distribution business. But it’s time to re-examine what exactly we mean by “windowing.”

In this day and age, it’s just too easy to rip content of any kind — music, video, photos, text — and simply post it elsewhere outside of the window’s walls. Offering content first to paying users and then later releasing that same content to free users is a tough policy to enforce.

Instead, the “windowing” we should be examining is the kind of content that can’t be ripped and placed elsewhere. In particular — access to the creator. Assume for the moment that any new video released is available to any viewer, paying or otherwise, who wants to see it regardless of whether you’ve tried to limit its release or not. You can still offer paying viewers a unique experience by offering a connection between the creator of that video and the fans who are paying for a higher level of access.

Think a release-day Q&A chat (either live video or text). Or sending paying fans push notifications of the moment new content is released for quicker, easier access. Get creative with the possibilities.

The reality is more and more YouTube celebrities and other content creators are expanding their reach into mobile apps. And by that I mean custom-branded mobile apps, not simply the mobile version of their YouTube channel. For this to succeed, they need to give fans and other viewers a reason to watch their videos on the mobile app instead of (or in addition to) their YouTube feed.

How this is executed depends largely on the mobile business model. There’s a huge difference between ad-supported mobile apps and subscription-based mobile apps. Viewers tend to choose the free option first so long as there’s no significant difference in the free experience over the paid one.

Early access to videos being created alone won’t be enough to get viewers to pay for an app subscription. The content is just too ubiquitous. But offering something more than what free viewers are receiving, in a format that can’t be replicated and shared elsewhere, is the opportunity of the future, and an easy way to drive viewers to an app that gives you more control and a better return on ad revenue.

Certainly you can also try to window early release content to paying users, but to work it’s essential that you pair that offer with the convenience of no ads, and add features such as social commentary, the ability to save to personalized playlists, and other features. Treating a premium mobile app as an exclusive fan club experience is a worthwhile practice to better monetize the top-tier of your fan base.

Now, ad-based and subscription-based need not be mutually exclusive. There’s no reason a mobile app can’t offer both. The top-tier fans pay for the premium experience, while the more casually engaged fans are fine with the ad-based version (while the even more casual fans probably are fine sticking with the YouTube experience). That gives you three windows through which to offer access: paying branded-app fans first, ad-based mobile fans second, and everyone else third.

One of the main forces defining online video in 2015 is how creators can establish their off-YouTube strategy. Mobile apps are one major factor in that question. Custom multi-channel networks (MCNs) are another. But whatever the format, windowing is a strategy that will need figuring out for any of this to gain traction. It will take experimentation with different tactics, and that will require a platform that supports not only the mobile/tablet/connected TV distribution options, but also the ad vs. subscription business model, AND the flexibility to release video across both these different distribution channels and business models.

Image via Shutterstock.

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