This raises some important questions. How do viewers decide what they want to watch and how do content creators know what to produce? In this era of data deluge, how do we tailor make content? It’s not a simple calculus, because we can’t yet create an algorithm the guarantees a hit.
We can start this discussion by examining the evolution of video on demand streamers. Netflix began its business life as a DVD delivery service while Amazon was (and still is) on an online marketplace and product delivery service. Gradually, they evolved into video streaming platforms – initially as content curators and later as creators of original content.
Hulu truly launched as a pure streamer without in its own right. Hulu launched with a combination of signature flagship shows like The Handmaid’s Tale to cement its brand and curated TV shows both recent and vintage.
Netflix is by far the largest of the video streamers, trailed by Amazon Prime Video (offered free to Amazon Prime subscribers), and Hulu. There are a host of minor players experimenting with a mix of original and curated material with varying degrees of success.
Streamers can add some clarity to the industry by defining their core brands in terms of preferred demographics. Viewers are baffled with the array of new services on board such as HBO GO, BET NOW, Apple TV+ and Disney +. The difference between these streamers is that they own their own libraries of material.
Currently, there isn’t any cross-pollination between the major streamers and these largely studio-backed powerhouses. Curiously, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+ view their content as secondary to their core businesses.
The new players must re-educate viewers on how to watch their shows. Audiences must adapt to watching the same show from free to air, to cable to a video streaming model. Although it’s creating some confusion in terms of which TV shows that will exclusively be shown on a streaming platform and which are additional viewing platforms, audiences will cope.
It’s important to note that the major difference between free to air/ cable TV and video streaming is the flexibility viewers have to curate their viewing experience. People can not only tag shows to watch later, but they can also create their own playlists so they can watch what they want when they want. Viewers can even set up multiple lists – one for every member of the household, the latest episodes, catch up viewing, and themed viewing like 80s comedies.
Watching TV has become a more active and personalized experience. No more simply turning on the TV to see what’s on.
As we’ve mentioned before, there are hard industry trendlines that spell bad news for terrestrial broadcasters and cable TV. The cord-cutters have spoken.
Video streamers aren’t immune to these seismic industry shifts either. Netflix, although still a streaming behemoth, is hemorrhaging subscribers as the minnows rush to sign them up.
Despite the changing landscape, there will always be a place for traditional viewing platforms, although nobody is quite sure what that might look like. It may well be that streaming is seen as an enhancement of the core brand. Streamers may toggle between legacy episodes or special events. What happens if the internet becomes prohibitively expensive or the service is patchy? Will viewers eventually want to cherry-pick individual shows à la carte from different streamers without subscribing to them? This may open up the future possibility of cross-platform licensing or single-view business models.
A potential business strategy would be for the source video streamers to retain their content rights and re-license them to a variety of platforms after their initial viewing window. This might make them more viable. This will also benefit creatives through residual income streams. Streamer typically buy TV shows outright, in perpetuity without residual payments. There is only a single payment made to content creators.
In the quaint days of sitting in front of the TV with your finger on the remote, viewers could easily change between channels with lightning speed. In fact, it’s dubious if certain viewers even had a chance to process the show they just rejected. How can you decide if you like a TV show in less than a second?
Closing one app and opening another can’t be done at such speed. Perhaps viewers can launch multiple apps on different devices and pause what they don’t like? But we digress. Viewing streaming allows viewers to dabble in different TV shows. They might at least watch a few minutes before deciding to switch to another show.
The paradigm for content creators has changed from competing for a limited amount of time slots across three or four terrestrial broadcasters to virtually unlimited bandwidth. It has arguably reduced friction between creators and enhanced creative freedom. The democratization of content though increased viewing opportunities. This has both benefits and drawbacks.
The exponential growth in content hasn’t translated into proportionate growth in audience numbers. The paradox of choice argues that too many choices will scare viewers into watching only a handful of trusted and familiar shows.
The audience is also getting increasingly fragmented from one size fits many general viewers to one size fits a few passionate viewers. Producers are looking to service the audience of smaller sections of the viewing pie. The availability of endless viewing metrics should theoretically allow producers to define the next hit show using specific parameters. Content creators are also looking to build exclusive relationships with specific talent and their followers – both online and off.
There are around 100 million TV households in the USA and 1.2 billion across the world. That’s 2.4 billion eyeballs – give or take.
The North American film and TV market is mature, while Latin America’s is still emerging. Does this mean American content creators can tap into global audiences with unlimited growth potential? Not so fast. There are a variety of regulatory hurdles that local producers must face. Some countries have caps on foreign content, or minimum local quotas. For instance, France dictates a mandatory 40% EU and 30% French content. There are various workarounds such as forming partnerships with local talent to meet the required thresholds.
Global video streamers have strategies in place to give local producers a platform and American hits a home. Then there are the vagaries of local infrastructure, streamers must contend with such as a reliable internet service or power supply.
Why stop at TVs? We are moving into other viewing devices such as mobile TV for airports, cabs, and mass transit. This excludes viewers glued to their cell phones watching all kinds of content on the go.
It’s difficult to know what the video streaming industry will look like in five, or even one year. Currently, viewers are subscribing to 2-3 services. This may increase in the future if the content is desirable. Culling and consolidation will also happen.