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There is a number of video streaming services, either already positioning themselves in the market through diverse strategies or high expectations revolve around their launches in the near future. At the moment a lot is going on for the most notable players in this race. Below 8 mini-articles summarize the strategy and corresponding news for each of them. An additional section is about blockbusters and moviegoers. Also, take a look at the companion article The Video Streaming Race - Some Thoughts About The Future.
In the past Disney made a channel and sold it to an operator with satellites or similar infrastructure, and that operator then sold it to a customer. The Internet, however, allows video streaming services to cut out the middleman and to sell directly to customers. Disney will launch its first direct-to-consumer streaming service ESPN+ this Thursday, April 12, 2018. The service is focused on live events from sports such as MLB, NHL, MLS, boxing, golf, or tennis at $4.99 per month. Disney’s second streaming service is expected to launch in late 2019. The highly anticipated platform will provide almost every film ever made by Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. This includes movies such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones as well as properties of 21st Century Fox, which Disney is currently in the process of acquiring. Absent from the platform will be R-rated titles such as Deadpool, since the service will contain only family-friendly programming. Disney will not necessarily go in the volume direction that Netflix has gone. Planned original content includes among others a new Star Wars series and animated series based on Monsters Inc. and High School Musical. It looks like Disney has the ability to set up a combative service that features some of the most popular global brands and content and that could well hurt Netflix, which does not yet have a family-friendly platform.
Apple is targeting a launch window between March and July 2019 for their new streaming service. The company is expected to spend $1 billion on TV shows and movies in 2018. Much like Disney’s future streaming service they will focus on quality rather than quantity and will avoid darker R-rated content. Apple currently has more than 10 shows in the works. These will feature a number of big names such as Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. They will also revive Steven Spielberg's sci-fi anthology series Amazing Stories and there are rumors about Apple buying a back catalog of titles, which, however, has not yet materialized. By 2019, when Disney launches its new streaming service and there are also Netflix and Amazon, it remains to be seen whether customers will be eager to spend money on another subscription for a handful of Apple originals.
Netflix will spend $8 billion in 2018 alone to develop 700 film and series titles. Thereby Netflix pushes 50% of content to be original programming. The service has 53 million subscribers in the U.S. (117 million international) and is currently home to 88 original series. The strategy is to stockpile content and to have everything anyone would need to watch so they do not go elsewhere. However, niche programming is a risk given how much TV watching is done by couples and families looking for content everyone can agree on. In addition, Netflix focuses on series and has reduced the amount of films from 6,755 titles in 2010 to 4,010 titles in 2018. Local content productions in 20 countries such as Germany, the UK, India, and Japan personalize the service globally. These local originals, nevertheless, reach a global audience, 90% of the viewers of the German original series Dark, for example, came from outside Germany. Why does Netflix suddenly produce so much original content? It is because networks and studios are starting to pull their content back from Netflix as their deals expire, in efforts to build their own streaming platforms. The best example is Disney, which will withdraw its titles from Netflix at the end of 2018. In order to compete with Disney, Netflix started the “disneyfication” of their content. This means, for instance, that the company launched a line of Stranger Things merchandise and partnered up with Universal Pictures to create a series of Stranger Things-themed experiences at three of their theme parks. In order to compete with financially strong Apple and Amazon, which can easily outbid Netflix for new content, the company will also have to become the best place for creators (especially for those with experimental concepts). Their content slate is certainly a problem here since there is there’s a practical limit on marketing, visibility, and attention to creators. That is also why Netflix is planning to spend $2 billion on marketing this year, but the question remains, will that be enough? "If you have 50 kids, you're not going to every soccer game", HBO Programming President Casey Bloys said frankly in an interview about this issue.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon is expected to invest approximately $5 billion in video content this year, with an emphasis on big-budget original shows for the mass market. This approach makes sense given the ideology behind Amazon as a shopping destination for everyone. Prime Video’s U.S. audience comprises 26 million customers and currently enjoys 28 Amazon originals. The library is amplified through paid-for content, which means that if there is something you want to watch and it is not yet in Prime Video, you can still pay for it. Amazon will create a multi-season prequel to the franchise The Lord of the Rings. The total cost for rights, production, and marketing is estimated at $500 million. Now, why does Amazon spend so much money on original content? It helps with the conversion and retention of Prime memberships. New viewers must first sign up for a $99 per year subscription and go on to spend more on the website. Prime members on average spend $1,300 on Amazon compared to $700 for non-Prime members.
Hulu has a total of 17 million U.S. subscribers to both its streaming platform and its live TV service. Unlike Netflix, Hulu is available only in the United States and most shows contain advertising. In 2017, the company spent around $2.5 billion on content. To keep up with the competition, Hulu secured deals with several big names in the industry such as Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, and Sean Penn. Due to a tricky corporate structure, however, Hulu is heading towards an uncertain future. The company is owned by Disney (30%), 21st Century Fox (30%), Comcast (30%), and Time Warner (10%). If Disney’s pending $52.4 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox will be approved, as is expected, Disney will own 60% of Hulu. What will happen to Hulu, considering that Disney is already developing two streaming services? Will Comcast buy out Disney? Or will Disney buy out Comcast? Disney should be very interested in keeping Hulu, as it would be a ready outlet for edgier or R-rated content that will not fit into Disney’s new family-friendly platform.
Google is currently pushing into entertainment with three platforms: YouTube Red, YouTube TV, and a new music streaming service. YouTube Red is only spending "a few hundred million" on original shows in 2018 and will hold spending at current levels for the next two years. While that sounds like a lot, YouTube Red, however, risks to fall further behind the ballooning budgets of Netflix and Amazon. It seems as Google is taking a "wait and see" approach to its original content investments this year.
HBO, a subsidiary of Time Warner spent $1.1 billion on original content in 2017 and is home to 21 original shows. HBO's linear TV channel and HBO Now, its streaming service have more than 140 million subscribers worldwide. Much like Disney and Apple, HBO is selective about the amount of video content it acquires and produces and focuses more on quality. "More is not better, only better is better,” as HBO CEO Richard Plepler says. HBO is thereby able to provide marketing and production support to each of its shows in a way that Netflix may not be able to, owed to its content slate. AT&T wants to go direct-to-consumer and is currently trying to acquire Time Warner in order to control HBO, CNN, and Warner Bros. The U.S. government has sued to block the $85 billion vertical merger. The difference between companies like Netflix or Amazon and AT&T is that AT&T controls the infrastructure to transport information to subscribers. The company claims that it has a market disadvantage against vertically integrated video content platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, and Comcast/NBCU. The government, on the other hand, sees vertical mergers as a potential threat leading to higher prices for consumers and less innovation. According to this perspective, a single company should not control both the medium and the message.
Another merger is aimed at by Comcast, which currently bids $40 billion for Europe’s Sky satellite-TV business. Sky has a mature streaming platform called Now TV, which would lay the groundwork for Comcast to offer its own worldwide Netflix competitor to distribute a mix of Sky’s live TV broadcasting and NBCUniversal content. Sky’s programming is, however, centered around more traditional pay TV content like topical entertainment, news, and sports. Those are more regionally focused and much harder to scale across the world, making a true Netflix competitor less likely. The deal tries to disrupt a previous offer for Sky made by 21st Century Fox. Fox already owns 39% of Sky and Comcast’s bid may be intended to keep Fox assets away from Disney. Much like Disney, Comcast seeks to expand into video streaming as it faces increased competition from players such as Netflix and Amazon. As we can see, the race is not only about video streaming, but also about industry consolidation and conglomeration.
Blockbusters and Moviegoers
Ultimately, with all the discussion about video streaming services it is important to not forget about blockbusters and moviegoers. Steven Spielberg enjoyed his best opening in a decade with Ready Player One. Disney's Black Panther surpassed James Cameron's Titanic to rank as the third top-grossing title of all time at the North American box office. The movie has grossed $1.29 billion worldwide. While there are still successful theatrical releases, the future of movie theaters might be about frequent customers, not customer count. Monthly moviegoers are between 25 and 39 years old. With 43 million, they only comprise 12% of the entire U.S. population but account for 49% of all tickets sold. Subscription services like MoviePass, which offer "unlimited" movie tickets for $9.95 per month, are trying to reach out to these monthly moviegoers while building consumer data that can be sold to studios and theater chains. Black Panther has been the best-selling title of MoviePass with over 1 million tickets sold.
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