Due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, outdoor activities have been restricted, and the amount of time people spend inside their homes has relatively increased. These changes in daily routines have rapidly increased the demand for content to be consumed for leisure indoors, and thus the market for “over the top” (OTT) services (e.g., Amazon Prime, Netflix, Watcha), which can be enjoyed without time and place restrictions, has been growing significantly. “OTT service” refers to a service that provides various media contents such as movies, drama series, and educational programs through the internet [1
]. Although OTT users can search for the content they want, they may suffer from content overload because of the overwhelming amount of content available in the service. Therefore, OTT services adopt a method of recommending contents to users, presenting movies with thumbnails from the video, for example, to induce users to watch the content. At this point, the attitudes and behaviors of consumers may end up varying depending on how the recommendation information is presented to the user [2
]. In this regard, it ought to be possible to identify a method of providing the most persuasive information to the consumers, reflecting their situation or tendencies.
On the other hand, the recommendation system relieves the phenomenon of information overload by providing the data and information that a user really needs, and helps the user effectively select contents (e.g., books, movies, songs) [4
]. Since numerous content exists in OTT service, it is becoming increasingly important for service providers to allow consumers to easily and conveniently accept information through a recommendation system. The studies on the recommendation system have mainly focused on the improvement of the prediction rate or the optimization of the algorithm [6
]. Interestingly, several recent studies deal with information expression or presentation that maximizes the effectiveness of recommendation systems by using electronic advanced research equipment such as an eye tracker [7
]. For example, the study of Sulikowski and Zdziebko [8
] suggested that the recommended area layout influences the effect of the recommendation. Specifically, the vertical recommendation area is more effective than the horizontal recommendation area. Similarly, another research tried to evaluate the effective interface of web sites through user eye movements or heat maps [9
]. These studies offer the meaningful implications that it is necessary to consider how users can better accept the recommended information or content beyond the prediction rate of the recommendation system.
This study considers the psychological ownership of consumers as an important variable influencing information acquisition. In the academic fields including marketing, business, and psychology, psychological ownership has been regarded as a key concept that can affect consumer attitudes or behaviors [10
]. Psychological ownership is defined as that state in which individuals feel as though the particular target of ownership (tangible or intangible in nature) or a piece of it is “theirs” (i.e., “It is MINE!”) [15
]. Previous studies in these various domains have revealed that psychological ownership toward a particular target can influence information processing of consumers. In particular, recent studies have investigated the role of psychological ownership in the digital world and verified that users experience psychological ownership of intangible targets such as online services and contents [11
]. Furthermore, recent studies have suggested that users’ decision-making can vary depending on the degree of psychological ownership of online services, drawing attention to the role of psychological ownership in the online context [18
However, there are still insufficient empirical studies on various categories or specific objects to which psychological ownership is applied in the online context. For instance, Kaplan and Haenlein [23
] dealt with six different types of social media (i.e., blogs, social networking sites, collaborative projects, content communities, virtual social worlds, virtual games), and categorized each social media type by the nature of social presence/media richness and self-presentation/self-disclosure. This study indirectly showed that psycho-logical ownership will be applied in various ways depending on the characteristics of online services. Since the characteristics of each online service are diverse, changes in the motivation, formation, and consequences of the psychological ownership may appear differently. In other words, psychological ownership will apply in different ways depending on the object in the online context. Psychological ownership has been studied through various targets such as online music streaming service [11
], online community [19
], online game [25
], online sharing platform [26
]. However, it is difficult to find studies that have conducted experiments by adopting Over-the-Top service, which is one of the most actively used online services recently, as the subject of psychological ownership. This study is expected to fill the research gap in that it expands the scope of the psychological ownership object that has been carried out so far and conducts empirical research.
In summary, this study (1) focuses on the relationship between an individual and a target, and aims to verify how one perceives the psychological distance to the target according to one’s psychological ownership of an intangible object, such as an online service (i.e., video streaming service) and (2) will investigate which recommendation strategy is effective when presenting content information, depending on the user’s psychological ownership of online services. Furthermore, we (3) conducted a moderated mediation analysis to identify the relationship between the interaction effect, which consists of psychological ownership and method of recommendations message, and psychological distance in regard to one’s attitude toward content information.
The rest of the paper is organized into the following sections. The next section presents the theoretical background and hypotheses development based on previous literature. After that, research method that explains the design, participants, procedure, and measurement items is provided. The following section describes the results of the study and the last section present the conclusion including the summary of this research, theoretical/practical implication, and future research directions.
3. Research Method
3.1. Design and Participants
We designed an experiment of 2 (Level of psychological ownership: high vs. low) × 2 (Method of recommendation message: concrete vs. abstract) factorial conditions with participants randomly assigned to one of the four conditions (see Figure 2
). The experiment was conducted online for two weeks by a major research agency in South Korea. The re-search agency collected the experiment data from its own research panel with the recruitment requirements of 20s to 30s general consumers who had experience using OTT services. Most of them (about 97%) have a service account of OTT services now. As our questionnaire was originally in Korean, we conducted a back-translation procedure to ensure translation validity to English. A hundred-ten participants were responded to the survey of this experiment. One hundred and eight participants completed all procedures in the survey. Therefore, we performed analyses on responses from a total of 108 participants. Their average age was about 24.8 (SD = 3.72) years, and 58 (53.7%) were male. The experimental service was Watcha similar to Netflix, a famous Over-the-Top service in South Korea that provides video content such as movies and dramas, and recommends movies to users. There were two reasons for choosing Watcha as the experiment service: (1) it is the most well-known and preferred OTT service in South Korea, and (2) the service is preferred regardless of age group or gender. That is, we chose Watcha to make our experiment representative.
To control the external variables affecting the experiment conditions, it was investigated whether there was a mean difference of three potential external variables between the four groups by the experimental conditions. First, since how often users use the OTT service can simply influence their attitude toward online services, we controlled the usage frequency, measured by asking participants how often they were using the OTT service. For the same reason, interest in OTT services to watch movies was controlled, measured by asking respondents for usually they like to use online movie watching services. Finally, we have controlled the involvement in the OTT service itself through two measurement items (“OTT service is important part of my life,” “OTT service is highly related to me”). All questions were measured on the 7-point Likert scale (1: strongly disagree, 7: strongly agree), and as a result, there was no statistically significant difference between all four groups (F(3, 104) = 2.49, p = 0.07, ns; F(3, 104) = 2.34, p = 0.08, ns; F(3, 104) = 2.04, p = 0.11, ns, respectively).
Experimental conditions and manipulations were modified according to the purpose of this study, referring to Kim et al. [24
] research. First, participants were asked to assume they would use an online movie streaming service (i.e., OTT service) to watch the movie. Subsequently, a brief description of the ‘Watcha’ service and the main page screen appeared to the participants. The first part of Appendix A
contains a description of ‘Watcha’ service and the main page screen presented to the participants. Next, along with the login page screen, it was presented to participants that they could log in to the movie streaming service as a premium or guest user. In the second part of Appendix B
presents the login page image with description of the two types of user.
Additionally, then, two types of scenario are presented to manipulate the level of the psychological ownership. In the condition of high psychological ownership, it was presented as a premium member who paid 10 USD per month for the service. It was suggested that premium members can use additional functions. For instance, they can freely customize my page, wish list, and review or rate movies. These experimental conditions were produced by focusing on control and investment among the three dimensions that form a sense of psychological ownership [21
]. On the contrary, in the condition of low psychological ownership, it was presented as a guest user can only use the service for two weeks, free of charge, and are limited in the features they can use. After that, participants were offered content (i.e., movies to be released) while using Watcha service, and a message about recommended content information was presented. Finally, referring to Homer [46
] research, a recommendation message (concrete vs. abstract) for content information was presented to the participants according to each condition. As shown in Appendix B
, the abstract condition focused on presenting symbolic needs, subjective, and abstract messages to participants (e.g., highlighting the emotions the participants will feel). On contrary, the concrete condition focused on presenting practical needs, objective, and concrete messages to participants (e.g., highlighting the latest technology and explicit numbers).
3.3. Measurement Items
For the purpose of this study, we operationalized the psychological ownership as the psychological state in which users perceive that the online service as “It’s my service” based on extant studies [16
]. Psychological ownership was measured on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree
to 7 = strongly agree
) using the following three items from Danckwerts and Kenning [16
]: “I sense that this video streaming service is MINE”, “I feel a high degree of personal ownership for this video streaming service”, and “I feel like I own this video streaming service”. (Eigenvalue = 2.67, Cronbach’s α = 0.94). Based on the construal level theory [38
], we operationalized the recommendation message as to whether participants perceived recommendation messages concretely or abstractly. For the manipulation check on the recommendation message, participants answered two questions about whether the message was being emphasized in an abstract or concrete way. Specifically, referring to Park [44
], to measure the method of recommendation message, we used the following two items using the 7-point semantic differential scale (1 = more concrete
to 7 = more abstract
): “This recommendation message emphasizes concrete aspects, such as the technology used to produce a movie” vs. “This recommendation message emphasizes abstract aspects, such as emotions that can be felt through watching a movie” and “This recommendation message concretely describes the information about the movie” vs. “This recommendation message abstractly describes the information about the movie”. Lastly, following MacKenzie and Lutz [47
], we measured the attitudes toward content information through the items (i.e., like, good, favorable) on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree
to 7 = strongly agree
; Eigenvalue = 2.64, Cronbach’s α = 0.93).
We have been working on the following five approaches to improve the internal and external validity of the experiment: (1) We selected a familiar service that fits the reality of the experiment target, (2) In order to feel as if participants used the service, the main page and login page of the actual service were presented similarly in the stimulus for the experiment, (3) Measurement items that have been verified in several previous studies were used, (4) In order to increase the generalization of the results, a representative sample from South Korea was selected as an experiment subject, (5) To prevent the confounding effect, control variables were measured and statistically verified.
The theoretical contributions of this study are as follows. The results of this study once again corroborated the broad findings of preceding research, namely that psychological ownership can develop even for online services, which are intangible targets [16
]. As digitization progresses, the targets individuals own are becoming more and more intangible. For example, materials that were recorded on paper in the past are being stored as files on cloud services such as Google Drive and Evernote, and we have a sense of ownership of such digitized content as our “own”. In addition, we develop psychological ownership of our online game characters and our social media feeds and accounts. In this regard, it has been argued that psychological ownership can have a major impact on consumers even in a digital environment, but this argument needs to be verified in various contexts. This study re-verified that the method of recommending information (concrete vs. abstract) performs the same role. In addition, this study confirmed the role of psychological distance, by verifying the interaction between psychological ownership and the type of recommendation for content information. Finally, this study supports the study of Claus and Warlop [40
], which points us toward the relationship between psychological ownership and construal level theory, by arguing that psychological ownership can play a role in terms of psychological distance even in an online environment. To support this argument, this study verified the moderated mediation effect of psychological distance using process model 14 developed by Hayes [49
]. This demonstrated that psychological ownership affects the efficacy of different types of recommendation information through psychological distance.
The insights gained from this study can have the following practical applications. This study indicates that one can use the degree of psychological ownership of users to develop stronger online business strategies. The results of this study showed that psychological ownership influences the decision-making of users. For example, users who have invested a lot of money, time, and effort in online content services can be expected to have greater psychological ownership than those who do not [10
]. Therefore, service providers can use these user data to classify a group that has strong psychological ownership and a group that does not, and when presenting content recommendation information to users, the provider can then plan a differentiated promotion strategy for each group thus classified. Furthermore, the findings of this research contribute to establishing specific guidelines for content curators providing valuable information to users. Recently, users face a difficulty in not being able to choose due to overload of information. Continuously recommending unwanted information by users in online services can be a factor that lowers the reputation of the service and increases dissatisfaction. In order to solve these users’ difficulties, content curators have been contemplating ways to effectively present information to users. In other words, content curators should make it easier for users to accept the information provided by the service. At this time, if users’ personal preferences and psychological factors are identified and recommendation information is provided, users’ satisfaction can be further increased. According to the results of this study, for example, when presenting recommended content, it is expected that it will be more effective if a message tailored to individual characteristics is provided rather than showing the same message to all users.
This study has the following research limitations. First, when analyzing the method of presenting recommendation information, we only considered the contrast of specific and abstract messages. There are many other aspects of how messages are composed, and further research will be needed to conduct tests that incorporate more variables. In addition, although the test target of this study was limited to OTT services, it is necessary to expand the research to cover a more diverse range of online services (e.g., social media, online communities) to strengthen the validity of our findings. Second, in this study, the experimental subjects were limited to the video streaming service. It can be applied to various types of online services such as games, cloud services, and social media, and is expected to show various results depending on the properties of the online service. Finally, this study used a scenario method by adopting the experimental techniques of previous studies to treat level of psychological ownership. However, when individuals actually use and experience certain objects, differences in the degree of psychological ownership may appear (stronger or vice versa). Therefore, in future research, having experiment participants experience an online service for a certain period of time and then presenting various variables or measurements will be a good way to improve the validity of the experiment. In addition, it will be interesting to apply techniques such as eye-tracking and implicit behavior tracking [7
] to the concept of psychological ownership. For instance, “How would the layout of a website be attractive to users with a high sense of psychological possession?” The answer to these questions could be attempted through eye-tracking. Conversely, groups of psychological ownership could be classified according to what part of the website or how long the user’s gazes stay. In summary, it is expected that future research will be able to derive more interesting findings using the latest technologies in the psychological aspect of individuals.