Build Your Video Business

How VHX Takes the Fast Lane to Building & Improving OTT Video Apps

by Casey Pugh · August 10, 2016 · Comments

Building native over-the-top (OTT) apps with custom video players fitted for multiple devices and screens is no easy task. Video apps are notoriously more difficult to develop than most, largely because there are so many variables that come into play. You have to think about everything from hosting to file management, to design and delivery – it’s a lot of moving parts! Getting all those pieces to work smoothly together requires a detailed process of setup, project configuration, development, and cross-platform testing. 

So what exactly is the process to build a video app? Here’s an example of all the requirements for submitting a new video app to the Apple marketplace:

  • Develop the app (the hardest part)
  • Set up an account with banking details
  • Create a new app on iTunes 
  • Create an in-app subscription on iTunes 
  • Initiate project configuration
  • Import app settings 
  • Import app assets
  • Generate and manage certificates on iTunes
  • Generate push certificates
  • Generate provisioning profiles
  • Generate screenshots of the app
  • Configure app metadata on iTunes 
  • Compile a build of the app
  • Upload the app to iTunes Generate framed screenshots for every device dimension
  • Update app metadata and marketing copy 
  • Begin QA process: create TestFlight testers & push to TestFlight (or Fabric)
  • Submit to the App Store

As you can see, creating, updating, and submitting apps is very involved. And that’s just for one app, in one marketplace — which on its own can be a large undertaking for one team. At VHX, we create multiple branded OTT apps for many sellers. And make them look great. So, we figured out a way to automate the entire building process and deployment pipeline to make sure we’re shipping brilliant video apps for many different platforms.

HOW WE MOVE FAST

After spending time exploring different solutions, we chose Fastlane, a set of developer tools that allows us to build one automation workflow that supports all apps and platforms. Fastlane’s tools make our processes more efficient, and our iOS and Android app rollouts less error-prone. 

We also developed our own custom solutions for automating the build and packaging process, specifically for Roku and tvOS apps, which are not yet supported by Fastlane. Since each VHX partner app requires an individual configuration, we setup a JSON config template that stores information so we can easily fetch information, such as an app’s assets, metadata, or Apple/Roku/Google Play credentials — all necessary to run, build, and submit an app to the store. 

We are now able to parse the information from the JSON configuration file for each platform, create secure app store profiles, build the apps, submit them to the store, notify beta testers of a new build, and automate the process of taking screenshots for each app. This effectively cuts out about two-thirds of the workload you see in the steps above while maintaining the simple level of customization that our partners require.  

Another reason why we move quickly through app production cycle is by practicing a loose agile methodology, where the development team works in two-week sprints. At the start of each sprint cycle, we address project priorities, goals, and plan tasks to be completed in two weeks. Working in this condensed time frame allows us to stay laser focused on each project or task, which is ultimately what helps us get more apps out the door.

QA TESTING

At the end of each sprint cycle, a QA (Quality Assurance) version of an app is made available to the entire team. Every new feature or addition to the code is first tested by a developer. Every version of the app undergoes a thorough QA review, where each feature is tested: purchase flow, video playback, login process, offline video download, etc. Every app is tested across multiple devices, to make sure everything works seamlessly. Once the app has been fully approved by the QA team, we can begin the submission process to the app store.

APP STORE SUBMISSION 

When you’re submitting an app to different app stores, there’s a lot of insider knowledge required just to understand the process — it’s a process in itself! For example, Apple has very strict design standards that apps must adhere to and certain content is restricted, which can present challenges for our sellers each time we submit for them. Moreover, the approval process can often be inconsistent, and depending on who is reviewing, apps can be rejected for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we need to write appeals to an app store to get apps approved, and in other cases it gets approved within a couple days.  Fortunately, we’ve been able to manage this process very smoothly with all our direct experience working with Apple and getting dozens of apps approved in a timely manner.

MAINTAINING THE APPS 

A big part of our development ethos is iteration: Our apps are constantly improving, with new features and frequent bug fixes. We listen actively to user feedback and invest a lot of time in thinking about how we can accelerate release cycles with each subsequent sprint. Each time we introduce a new feature or bug fix, we go through the production, testing, and app submission process all over again. It’s an endless labor of love, but with each new release we get the opportunity to improve our apps — our product, which has always been our mission.

SPEED + PRECISION + EXPERIENCE = SUCCESS

With our extensive tech experience combined with programming automation and two-week sprints, we are now able to build an OTT app in just one week — a process that used to take three weeks. It’s how we effectively produced 40 video apps in six months. That’s a lot of apps! This kind of speed and agility allows our sellers to get to market quickly with apps, so their customers can watch their favorite shows on iOS, Android, Roku, and Apple TV.

Ready to have your own video apps? We can build you one (or many!)