A Streaming Watershed


On Sunday, Netflix dropped a trailer for  'Cloverfield Paradox' during the Super Bowl, with a premiere date of: available to stream that night right after the game. 'Paradox' is the third film in a big budget, CGI-action franchise - the first and second films premiered in theaters and earned a combined $280 million at the box office worldwide. This movie will never play in theaters.

Premiering a movie online is pioneering and Netflix took every opportunity to demonstrate why they got to do it first. Software-based online distribution lets Netflix shrink the 'trailer-to-open' movie promo calendar from a couple of months to three hours. A product with DNA that's direct-to-consumer and on-demand, Netflix can take bold aim at large, live audiences and deliver. The single largest TV audience every year tunes in for the Super Bowl, a last predictable bastion of mass cable viewership for many incumbent broadcast competitors. Regardless of the film's reviews and reception - exceptional movies and shows are platform agnostic - the move is a big, bold notice that our streaming future is at hand. The doors seem wide open at this point for blank-canvas creativity with media distribution-consumption models. The film and TV industry as a whole has arrived at a fascinating, tectonic mega shift as it adjusts to distinctly new consumption behavior and an overall gargantuan demand for more that has manifested. 

A quick look at the state of the streaming-cable viewership tug-of-war in the U.S. shows that cord-cutter and cable subscriber numbers are growing and declining at the same average rate over the past five years. Duh. The more interesting stat is the steeper curve of a newer customer-market segment, individuals who have never paid for or had exposure to traditional cable services: the never cords. In The diagram below, two data points stand out. The first is the point in 2022 where the total number of never cords surpasses the cord cutters and never looks back. The cord debate will be moot as future generations grow up never experiencing a cable cord. 

data source: emarketer.com

data source: emarketer.com

The second notable point is actually not graphed, the inevitable date when the total number of non-cable viewers surpasses cable subscribers. My graph is a ten-year projection that keeps the rate of change constant, based on the trailing four-year average delta for each of the three segments graphed. There are a few reasons to expect future periods that significantly accelerate the various rates of change in the graph: 

  • The aging of the baby boomers is a double dagger for cable. The generation is both literally a large group as well as a disproportionately large demo of total cable subscribers.
  • Yearly growth spikes from successive future generations that increase the growth and size of the streaming-only segment exponentially. 

Below are some more thoughts what else might happen as streaming takes centerstage in film and TV: 

Good Times Ahead for Creators

The sources of funding for film and tv content now include tech's 'big five' - Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Facebook, and Google (via Youtube) - representing a combined market-cap of three trillion dollars. Those new tech dollars combine with the established studios, premium networks, and joint-venture streaming services that are in the Walt Disney or Time Warner umbrellas. These monster acquisition budgets reflect how seriously all of these companies are working to satiate and capture The Binge, or the huge audiences with huge appetites for all the shows and movies, all the time. Such a wealth of financial and distribution partners gives directors, producers, and writers a massive leg-up in an industry that traditionally takes its artists starving. Sharing back-end profit participation and final cut creative control should become table stakes for creators in financing negotiations. And, very simply, across the entire business more original stories will get greenlit, which is an amazing state of things. 

Will 'All-You-Can-Eat' Pricing Survive? 

A forthcoming saturation of great new content available on many different platforms may present a threat the 'all-you-can-eat' monthly subscription model that most streaming services employ. For example, if I hear about an amazing new show on Starz, I definitely want to watch it but I don't necessarily want to add another $8.99 monthly subscription to Starz. So unless I can binge that show during a free trial, I'm stuck. It's unlikely that streaming/internet consumers will end up stacking 5-10 streaming subscriptions that end up costing them the same or more than their old monthly cable bill. That starts to look like just another bundle with inefficient billing. Certain streaming services may need to experiment with ala cart pricing like iTunes in order to capture audiences. There may also be a future in which the streaming industry leaders collaborate on releasing content available on all platforms or offer multiple services in a single subscription bundle. 

Do Streaming Brands Matter? 

Audience loyalty to the services and platforms that deliver us moar shows and movies may become non-existent. I believe Netflix deserves credit for leading the push into streaming and is one of the few examples of a successful counterargument to  The Innovator's Dilemma. However, platforms just like studios should be conscious of a much more direct line between audiences and content creators now. For the past fifty years, audiences had preferred stations, channels, or streaming services because those networks broadcast their favorite shows. That curatorial strength still matters but there's less reason for viewers to have a favorite content distributor when there is fantastic programming everywhere, which can often be seen on a number of different streaming services. The more that creative minds can speak, interact, and build loyalty with audiences directly, the better. However, can the platforms stomach becoming the afterthought access pipes for video content instead of the flashy new faces of online media? 

OTT Ad Placement & a Display Land Grab

I've met a few startups working in the OTT - advertisement space. However, there remains a tremendous opportunity to establish a robust ad ecosystem for streaming and casting programming, both on-demand and live. Today, ads that run during broadcast TV breaks to streaming viewers are at best a mind-numbing loop of the same 2-3 ads for the entire program and at worst are just a static, pixelated network logo for 30 seconds. History would signal a coming land grab for all of the pauses and places within content streaming where companies can put or run ads. I am not one to advocate for ads anywhere, but its very clear that incumbent advertisers haven't done much to serve gigantic streaming audiences that they are losing from cable broadcast. 

Discovery on Ever Smaller Screens

While more new content should be a good thing for the whole industry, without an evolution or expansion of how streaming services market new programming, discovery is limited to the home logged-in page on a laptop or phone screen. That's not much space to squeeze in thumbnail images of new shows or movies. There's lots of experimenting with novel ideas to be done here. Platform recommendation engines should be increasingly well-stocked with individual viewer's tastes. So, a version of the Spotify 'discovery weekly' playlist for tv and film recommendations would be an asset for companies offering streaming content. There is also reason to believe that some industry participants will look to the traditional marketing mechanisms that have traditionally worked - billboards, late night talk show circuit, and live programming spots. Its clear though that the virtually un-marketed  approach that Netflix for example has taken with much of its original programming will be tested as streaming libraries become more and more crowded. 

Tim DevaneComment