AJ+ on Apple TV: Migrating ‘Mobile First’ Experiences to the Big Screen

When AJ+ launched in June 2014, the digital channel’s videos were crafted to meet the conventional design principles of social platforms, geared towards mobile users who consume their news in small bites and on the go, often with the sound turned off.

Back then, ‘mobile first’ was the mantra of most digital publishers seeking to engage connected users.

As most publishers have learned over the last couple of years, having a native mobile app as your primary platform is not synonymous with pursuing a ‘mobile first’ approach. ‘Mobile first’ attributes are embedded in the content design, rather than the platform.

This realization has led to a search for ways to migrate the best attributes of the ‘mobile first’ experience — the visual language of engagement, community, shareability, save-for-later or ‘handover’ features and recommendations — to other platforms, from mobile sites to Video On Demand (VOD) platforms like Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku.

AJ+ launched its mobile app in September 2014, and since the channel’s content is distributed primarily through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the mobile app has, at best, served as a listening post for engagement and audience feedback.

While growth in sessions and session length on AJ+’s iOS and Android apps remained largely consistent over the last 10 months, the channel’s audience on social platforms grew significantly. A year after its launch in August 2015, AJ+ became the 7th most watched publisher of video content on Facebook, and the third most watched among news publishers.

Taking the lessons learned from rapid audience growth and engagement driven by ‘mobile first’ content on AJ+’s social platforms, we set out to find ways to apply those lessons towards the development of a big screen experience on tvOS.

Content Strategy

At the center of AJ+’s success is its ability to adapt to a dynamic digital media environment, in which publishing platforms are constantly changing and improving their infrastructure, often in ways that require a total revision of a newsroom’s workflow.

One of our key objectives in developing our first VOD platform was to provide a sit-back experience while preserving the engagement elements that have driven our content’s success on social platforms.

Building deeper engagement into tvOS

The general assumption in design for the big screen experience is that people will use mobile and wearable devices as triggers for more sustained, engaged interactions.

In addition to implementing emoji reactions instead of the standard rating feature used in most VOD apps, developers at AJ+ integrated comments from the iOS app into the tvOS app, allowing audience engagement to transfer seamlessly between the two platforms.

With the introduction of Facebook SDK for tvOS, which provides developers with tools to allow users to log into the tvOS app with their Facebook profiles and share Apple TV content to Facebook, the VOD market now holds promise for digital video publishers with large audiences on social platforms.

Originally published at medium.com.