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Q&A: Applicaster, pioneering DTC media apps for publishers

Headquartered in New York, Applicaster is a venture-backed global tech company founded in 2009 by Jonathan Laor (CEO) and Neer Friedm (CTO). Its mission is to simplify the production, delivery and management of direct-to-consumer (DTC) media apps for the world’s largest media companies and premium content providers. WNIP caught up with Jonathan Laor to find out more…

Can you give us further background about your company?

With its open APIs and extensive partner marketplace, Zapp (our SaaS platform), serves as an open-ended resource for companies to prototype, develop, launch and manage apps, utilize OTT services, and integrate key functionalities into third-party apps. Customers such as DirecTV, Fox and Hearst are using Applicaster for DTC app design and delivery across mobile and connected TVs. Applicaster has additional offices in San Jose, Los Angeles, Miami, London, and Tel Aviv.

What business problem is your company addressing?

There are three main challenges that, from our perspective, the publishing industry is facing:

  • Launching and maintaining a long term, but flexible, DTC app strategy
  • Monetizing that strategy
  • Staying relevant once launched.

Poor decisions on any of these three can significantly impact publishers, as the plethora of content and ways to access it in today’s world can quickly lead to an audience shift that will take time and money to claw back.

When choosing to develop apps, publishers typically have two routes to choose from: build a heavily customized solution themselves or buy a templated solution from one of the many providers out there. We have seen that both of these options are far from perfect.

Custom platforms pose many technical challenges and can result in a large amount of code that can make it difficult to be responsive to market changes. In a recent Outsystems report, 46% of IT professionals said the average time it took to launch a mobile app was at least five months. That’s an eternity in an industry where trends and technology change constantly.

Templated solutions, on the other hand, may get you to market faster, but will likely lack personalization or flexibility unless you choose to supplement with high-cost custom work (which brings you back to the point above).

In regards to monetization, the publishing world is much more complex than it used to be. Nowadays publishers need to be able to adjust their monetization strategy on the fly in order to react to new competitive pressures or customer feedback. Often we see publishers make the decision in the planning stage around a particular strategy only to realize once launched that it doesn’t give them the return they had hoped for, or that their audience wants more flexibility in payment options.

Relevance, while the last of these three challenges, is probably the most understated. If you don’t stay relevant, you won’t be able to monetize. And if you can’t monetize (for the most part) then what was your DTC strategy built for? In order for companies to stay relevant, apps need to be updated constantly from content, tech and UI perspectives. Downloads and active use drive insight, giving you the data you need to help you stay relevant to your audience.

What is your core product addressing this problem?

Applicaster’s SaaS platform, Zapp, simplifies the production, delivery and management of DTC media apps, helping publishers bring their content to market faster. The flexible architecture of Zapp can seamlessly integrate into the backend, regardless of cloud infrastructure, for in-house developers to expedite the production of their app. The pluggable infrastructure also allows for content, UI, and other features to be updated and changed with ease as customer insights become apparent, including monetization components.

Many times, publishers don’t have the existing resources to develop and manage a high-quality direct to consumer offering(s). Zapp helps with this by eliminating the more tedious and routine steps of app development, giving in-house tech teams more time to focus on custom design and functionality. Through our marketplace, customers also have the ability to choose best of breed tech rather than use what one particular supplier has on offer – something we refer to as vendor lock.

Can you give some examples of publishers successfully using your solution?

Germany’s Funke Media Group owns many titles and needed a solution that allowed them to easily scale their app presence in minimal time and at minimal cost while maintaining high quality output representative of their brand. They also wanted the flexibility to trial different monetization strategies (and other areas) at different times on different properties.

Pricing?

As a SaaS-based platform, we operate on an ongoing subscription with a minimal setup fee.

What are other people doing in the space and why?

Many app development companies focus on the launch of an app, which is really only half of the battle. Continued resources are required for app management to make content updates and keep pace with new formats, software and devices. As a true SaaS platform, Zapp is seamlessly integrated into a company’s tech stack and can be used by not only developers, but also product, design, and content teams.

It is also scalable to meet the needs of various platforms, such as iOS, Android, CTV, and other formats. Our team is comprised of media veterans, meaning we’ve previously faced the challenges our customers are facing now and have built a platform designed with their concerns and struggles in mind.

How do you view the future?

Applicaster has continued to evolve with the needs of digital publishers, providing ways for them to distribute and optimize content for users through apps for mobile and connected TV. Mobile is just one part of the digital experience and, as the digital landscape becomes more complex, I think we’ll start to expand our offerings. Recently, one of our customers needed us to revamp their website experience along with creating an app. While apps are at the core of Applicaster, we’ll continue to adapt with the needs of media companies and offer the services they need to enhance their digital presence.

Thank you.

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