As the number of CTV users continues to grow, sharing great content through your own on-demand video channel on platforms like Roku and Amazon Fire TV has never been easier.
The number of CTV channels on top platforms has been growing to match the increasing number of CTV users. In 2020, Leichtman Research Group found that there were 400 million connected TV devices in US households, and that 80% of them had at least one connected TV device.
There are many brilliant content creators out there who have great work they can bring to the CTV universe, and you might be among them. Let’s look at how you can share your videos with the world by creating an on-demand video channel for CTV.
Platform Development Tools
For studios, producers and independent artists looking to bring their content libraries to CTV, there are 4 main platforms to consider: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Google TV. Development options range from simple, template-driven setups (available for Roku and Amazon Fire TV) to more complicated custom development.
Roku and Amazon offer their own development suites for creating your CTV channel. Roku’s is called the Roku Direct Publisher; Amazon’s Fire TV is called the Fire App Builder. Both suites work on the same principle – builders can pick and choose from a set of options for their channel aesthetics, function, and design. Roku and Amazon have already done the heavy lifting by creating the code that powers those features and ensures they work together. With the Fire App Builder, you can also build on top of the blocks assembled in the development suite by adding your own code. To get started, just check out these instructions for Roku, and these ones for Fire TV.
Roku’s Direct Publisher provides a straightforward feed-based tool for channel building, with a step-by-step wizard to guide you through creating your branded Roku channel. The wizard will walk you through naming your channel, connecting it to your content, laying out and categorizing your content, uploading your chosen graphics and artwork, and linking it to the Roku ad server to monetize your creation.
You can do all this without writing a single line of code, since Roku has done all the work of coding the architecture for you. Roku will also automatically take care of all software updates. Roku’s Direct Publisher is by far the least technically complicated way to get your content into the CTV universe.
The Fire TV App Builder has its own app building architecture, but it is a bit more complicated to use. Fortunately, it also provides the ability to code on top of the development suite’s pre-existing architecture. To develop apps with the Fire TV App Builder, you need Android Studio, Java Development Kit version 8 or newer, a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, a television with an HDMI port, your content uploaded to a server, and information like your title and description texts and images handy. The development suite requires a bit of familiarity with programming (or the ability to follow the instructions in Amazon’s tutorial video), but does not require any actual writing of code in Java, which is the coding language the platform uses.
For many content creators, a simple, template-based app is the best way forward to bringing content to CTV. They offer faster development along with lower costs. However, template-based channels couldn’t offer a consistent cross-platform UI, wide monetization options and the capability of integrating third-party analytics providers into the app, such as Google Analytics or Brightcove.
For content creators looking for a more sophisticated channel, including a more robust, custom UI, features and user data collection, custom channel development is required. It’s also required for some platforms, so to build a presence across most or all the main platforms with excellent user experience and content monetization, you’ll need to opt for this option.
Custom development involves coding and building a CTV channel from the ground up. It’s required if you want to launch a channel on Apple TV or Google TV, since they don’t offer robust no-code development suites. It’s also an available option for Roku and Fire TV. Going with custom development involves a great deal more time and effort, but it allows building the channel to your exact specifications and with significantly more capabilities including:
- Consistent cross-platform UI, since building a channel yourself gives you the capability to give users a consistent UI across mobile, tablet, smart TV, and desktop.
- User authentication, allowing users to customize their preferences, bookmark content, and track their streaming behaviours.
- Attractive options for content presentation, like recommended content carousels, grids, or an EPG view.
- In-app monetization options of your choice, like subscriptions, in-app transactions, or one-time installation fees, instead of being limited to monetization through ad rolls.
- DRM support, allowing you to protect your creations with DRM encryption.
Below is a more technical breakdown of the custom app development process for each of the four major platforms.
It’s quite simple to get started with developing for Roku. You just need a Roku device with software release version 2.7 or later, a development workstation with a text editor and a terminal application, a standard browser, and a Roku Developer account with access to Roku’s Developer Dashboard.
Brightscript is an interpreted language, which means that code is executed at runtime, rather than through compiled object files. That means in theory, running and testing Brightscript programs is less time-consuming. It is written in C, giving it all the advantages of a powerful, fast, portable programming language. However, scripting for Roku apps in BrightScript doesn’t actually require any knowledge of Linux or C. Brightscript’s syntax is closer to Basic or Lua, with XML defining the various Roku SceneGraph components, thus making it highly accessible for most programmers.
One of the special advantages of custom development in Roku is the ability to access third-party analytics. Not only can you receive audience engagement reports from Roku like with a Direct Publisher-built channel, but you can also integrate third-party analytics providers like Google Analytics or Brightcove.
The first consideration with custom channel development on Fire TV is using Android development tools, like Android Studio and Android frameworks. This is because Fire TV runs on an Android engine. After developing your app, launching will be easy on both the Amazon Fire TV and Google platforms. To launch an app on Fire TV, you’ll need to accommodate the latest 3 Fire OS versions (Fire OS 5: Based on Android 5.1, Fire OS 6: Based on Android 7.1, Fire OS 7: Based on Android 9). Click here for more details on how to build an Android app for Fire TV, and here for information on how development on Fire TV differs from that on Android TV.
If you’re skilled at HTML 5 development, you can also use Amazon WebView. You have the option to build HTML5 web apps, Cordova apps, or hybrid apps using the Fire OS port. You can learn more about this here.
To develop apps with the Fire TV App builder, you need Android Studio, Java Development Kit version 8 or later, a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, a television with an HDMI port, and a media feed (in either JSON or XML format) with video assets. In addition, these feed elements are also needed: title, ID, description, URL, card image, and background image.
Creating Apple TV apps is similar to creating iOS apps. They use the same processes and techniques. Developers experienced with iOS should have no problem developing for Apple TV.
To start, you need a 4th generation Apple TV device, a USB C - USB 3.0 cable, and Xcode 7.1 or later. You should also setup provisioning for your Apple TV as you would for iOS devices. It’s a good idea to create an empty tvOS app with Xcode to test if your provisioning works correctly.
TVML acts as a conduit between native iOS code and the Apple TV user interface.
Custom apps are basically just iOS apps extended to conform to tvOS SDK.
Experienced Swift and Objective-C iOS developers will already be familiar with most tvOS libraries, like AVKit, AVFoundation, UIKit, CoreGraphics, and CloudKit. This process should also be fairly simple for iOS developers, but they do need to pay attention to the differences in designing and developing for tvOS vs. iOS.
Google offers a plethora of tools and SDKs for developers in Android Studio. Google TV layouts will look fairly familiar to those with experience building for Android phones or tablets, but the user interaction model for TV is substantially different from the one used for smaller screens. In order to make your app work well on a smart TV, you need to design layouts that can be easily understood from 10 feet away and provide navigation that works with just a directional pad and a select button.
Google’s official developer language is Java, but it’s also possible to work with C, C++ and Kotlin. You can find instructional materials on building user interfaces for these types of apps with the Leanback Android library. This library provides a suite of tutorials for creating an efficient and user-friendly interface for browsing and playing media files with minimal coding. They are designed to be extended and customized so you can create an experience that is unique to your app.
OTT/CTV app development and marketing ecosystems
With so many channel creation options, which is best for you? If you have the coding and developing skills, as well as the time, go the DIY route; you can save yourself the expense of paying someone to create your app for you. If you want experienced, expert channel app development and support, there are a number of companies that develop CTV streaming channels, such as VlogBox, Uscreen, and Dacast. VlogBox has developed over 1,000 streaming channels in genres like movies, vlogging, edutainment, and games across all four major platforms. This VOD app development option consumes far less time, since VlogBox’s typical turnaround time, from first contact to published app, is just 2-3 weeks - even just 7 days for simpler jobs.
You can choose from their attractive templates or work with them to design a more bespoke aesthetic and user interface. They offer great analytics and easy monetization, plus their PR and marketing teams are some of the most active and focused in the industry, ensuring news of your new channel gets attention. When you put your channel in the hands of professionals like the people at VlogBox, rest assured, your channel will be well-tested, uploaded to its CTV app store, and receive any needed tech support. You’ll have a personal manager, who will provide answers to all your questions, ensure materials get added and integrated properly, and most importantly, help strategize and optimize monetization.
All four major CTV operating systems offer powerful tools for people with the skills, time, and desire to develop their own VOD channel apps. However, if you need a highly-customized channel but don’t have the time, expertise, or development capacity to build it yourself, OTT platforms are there to assist you with everything you need, from start to finish, as well as optimizing your CTV channel efforts to help grow your brand and business. They already have assets in place, like developers and video-specific coding templates, to get the job done quickly, effectively, and reliably. OTT platforms also test and certify your app, as well as ensure that it's successfully added to the store. Once your channel goes live, they can also take care of any support and maintenance going forward, a true collaboration that can help ensure your CTV channel growth and success.
Content providers can easily setup viable CTV channels with VlogBox with just a few videos, adding new materials as they become available.
Start your channel right away with VlogBox.