Video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have now been reported to have more subscribers than traditional pay-per-view TV services in the UK, according to new figures released by Ofcom. This of course also applies on a global scale, in the US and beyond.
This week Finance Monthly asked experts in the media industry, communications sector and markets experts what they thought of the proliferation of online streaming services and their impact on traditional TV.
Luke McDowell, Context Public Relations:
Netflix is a brilliant example of a business that adapted and reinvented itself to become not only a giant of the streaming world, but the television and film industry as a whole. It is of no surprise that streaming service subscribers now outnumber the traditional pay TV subscribers.
British television has lagged behind the streaming services for a while now, it’s no longer enough to make your programming available on catch-up, you must now realise the market need for ‘binge-watching’; as this is where Netflix and Amazon Prime have cut their teeth. Users want to be able to experience a whole series in a matter of days or even hours, and as attention spans dwindle, so do the returning viewers on typical week-by-week scripted programming. I think the next big trend we will see is studios closing the gap between seasons, so we may even see one or two seasons of a show in the same year, in order to offset the inevitable audience number drop.
We have already seen some of the traditional broadcasters sell programming to streaming giants, either after the initial air date or in other non-native territories, which has been a step in the right direction. However, in order to future-proof themselves, traditional pay TV providers must cater to a new generation who want to watch content whenever and wherever they are, without the arduous wait for the next episode.
This generation also want the ability to pick and choose subscriptions, with one individual possibly having accounts with multiple services. In my experience of working with streaming services over recent years, this is something that was recognised by early contenders such as Roku who created a set-top box built for streaming that was smaller, more portable and more user-friendly than your typical offering, and offered compatibility across a range of services. Offerings such as TVPlayer have also started to bridge the gap between streaming and traditional British television by bringing live TV to younger, more mobile generations through their app; this is something traditional pay TV institutions should take note of.
John Phillips, Managing Director, Zuora:
It’s no secret that the media industry has changed. A few years back, it was in crisis. The shift towards digital meant advertising spend was predominately diverted to the tech powerhouses such as Google and Yahoo!, resulting in a widespread fear that consumers would never again pay for online content.
A few years later, we started to see a few media houses take control and implement basic paywalls in order to access premium content. This slight adjustment jumpstarted revenue, and for the first time since the crisis, brought growth in through their respective subscriber basis.
Since then, the wider media industry has caught on and subscription services have evolved tenfold. Today’s subscription services have morphed into flexible and adjustable models, where media brands have the power to create unique, effective and profitable plans.
From the standard rate plans for weekly, monthly or quarterly subscriptions, to flexible charge models - per article or per download - the ability to adjust has allowed media leaders to test and try what clicks with their subscribers. As a result, they’ve created a successful and reliable revenue model independent from advertising.
David Ciccarelli, CEO and Co-Founder, Voices.com:
Before I got married, we cut the cord to the TV. This was likely predicated by growing up in a household where there was a one hour limit on the amount of television we could watch. When considering starting a family of our own, my wife and I agreed that books and the Internet would be the primary source of news and knowledge entering the home. Since then, we’ve never been a cable subscriber, and I think I know why.
What Netflix does well is facilitating the act of discovery. First, by allowing viewers to create their own profiles, the platform recalls the shows that you watched, but also those in progress that you likely want to finish. By analysing the viewing habits of the individual, Netflix can make recommendations seemingly tailored to your unique preferences.
While recommendations are a good means of discovering new content, it’s equally enjoyable to navigate the categories of both movies and TV series’ in hopes of finding something new. Surely, TV networks could better organize their content using a similar structure. Let’s move beyond the timeline and give the viewer alternative paths for discovering what’s on right now, and in the future.
It’s well understood that TV is advertiser-supported. However, perhaps it’s time to innovate beyond standard ad formats, the ubiquitous 15 and 30-second spot. Shorter spots may be one option, or subtle overlays may welcome new advertisers looking to reach audiences in fresh new ways. While I certainly don’t claim to have the answer on this one, I’d like to encourage broadcasters to consider this space ripe for innovation.
Both Netflix and the movie theatre experience are very immersive. In our household -- and I’ve heard of others doing the same -- sitting down for a show on Netflix, even one as short as a single episode, involves getting snacks, drinks, and blankets on a cold day. When visiting others, I have yet to see or hear of a similar ritual when flipping through the channels on TV for an indefinite period of time. Live sports may be the rare exception. Nonetheless, programming could be designed in such a way for the viewer to suspend their disbelief. Constant interruptions ruin the flow of the experience. Networks should consider new ways to keep the viewer watching and engaged.
Chris Wood, CTO, Spicy Mango:
British TV will have to change the way it operates if it wants to compete with internet giants such as Amazon and Netflix. OTT providers are under still under no obligation to adhere to the usual broadcast guidelines, giving consumers access to content whenever they want it. On the other hand, the linear world is still heavily regulated, particularly around watershed, and this essentially positions OTT at an advantage and has allowed those businesses to innovate faster.
Increased regulation, processes and rules are proven factors of reducing innovation, which the Broadcast sector has seen a lot of in current years. When boundaries are allowed to be pushed, technology has space to innovate and becomes more attractive to different businesses. The fact is, that internet giants free from regulation have completely captured the market and audience today and consequently the traditional broadcasters have been left behind. But how could we introduce regulations that apply to all and how would it work? How would a watershed rule be enforced in catch-up OTT? Would it require credit card verification to prove age? Is PIN enforcement enough? Or should it be enforced at all? Rather than locking everyone in, why don’t we open the doors?
Providers like the BBC need to be freed from constraints like this in order to innovate. With less and less Millennials tuning into live TV and more opting for paid for streaming services like Netflix on a device of their choosing, there is little value for this demographic in their TV license fee if they are only going to watch odd World Cup match or the news. OTT products and services have grown rapidly – primarily because of the flexible nature of viewing that is offered. For British TV to grow its user base and capitalise on these benefits – it’s time to remove the shackles.
The result would give viewers more platform choices and enable content developers to create more relevant programmes for their audiences.
Chris Lawrence, Head of UK Communications, Media and Technology Consulting, Cognizant:
In many ways, we are living a golden age for television. Technology giants, like Netflix, have raised the bar, spending more than ever before on high quality shows. It has become clear that to keep up, broadcasters need to make sure that they are investing more money on producing shows and films that draw in audiences. But in order to spend additional budget on production, cost savings need to be made elsewhere.
That is why broadcasters are using technology to streamline back-end operating costs. Automating back-end operations is a crucial step towards greater agility, enabling broadcasters to maximise revenue from content. A good example of this is UKTV’s investment in a new broadcast management system to provide greater flexibility to schedule and manage content across its channel brands and support Video on Demand viewing.
Broadcasters also have a chance of winning back customer loyalty through providing a slick customer experience and reducing any friction along the customer journey. Reacting to this challenge, last year the BBC announced it would be using artificial intelligence (AI) to “better understand what audiences want from the BBC". The initiative, launched in partnership with eight UK universities, will take the learnings and directly apply them to the BBC’s UK operations. The use of AI to boost the customer experience and streamline services will crucially enable broadcasters to invest more heavily in the front of screen services. Because ultimately, content is king.
James Gray, Director, Graystone Strategy:
As technology has changed so have subscription models and hence we now have a shift towards Amazon Prime and Netflix from pay TV. There was a time when TV content was consumed by a family with one subscription per household and only one device - a TV - in the house to watch it on.
Now individuals consumers have multiple content subscriptions and many different devices so they can access programmes on the bus, in the park, at the station, by the pool on holiday, and in a different room to another family member. Smart phones and tablets have enabled this, as well as the availability of wifi and more recently better rates for data and data roaming.
But there are some real polar differences as to which customers take which TV service. Graystone segmentation analysis shows that older customers “Settled Seniors” have the lowest take up of Pay TV, with 53% having Pay TV like Sky or Virgin and only 17% taking internet TV models like Netflix or Amazon. Unsurprisingly the Technology Trailblazer segment, which is much younger, has the highest adoption rates - 65% and 56% showing that they are taking multiple subscriptions. It’s a clear indicator of where the market is going and where providers need to place their bets.
The younger segments are also far more transactional, so for example if a show moves from Prime to Netflix they will move too. Amazon’s move into football will no doubt cause some ripples in the market. It illustrates that as well as offering convenience, the content has to be right too. You must know what your customers like and provide more of it - Netlfix is very good at producing original drama for this reason.
What fascinates me is where the subscription economy is going. I can pay for shaving products, gin, dog food even socks on a monthly subscription. We can’t be far away from a time when all subscriptions can be managed under one mega bundle - TV, mobile, broadband, gas, electric, gin, socks, car access, and who knows what else.
As millennials care less about ownership and more about experience and access, we will see more and more subscription models managed via smart phone apps. And for companies that has to be a great thing, particularly if consumers manage their subscriptions like my gym subscription - 36 monthly payments to date and just 5 visits! (But next month I am definitely going more regularly!)
Alistair Thom, Managing Director, Freesat:
With a raft of new entrants in the market and increasing choice for consumers driving change in viewing habits, there’s no argument that TV services in the UK and elsewhere are facing tough challenges. Whether that’s competing for content rights against global companies with huge budgets or facing up to new distribution opportunities offered by online services.
Yet from a Freesat perspective, we believe that Ofcom’s report suggests that new entrants offer a great opportunity for subscription free platforms like ourselves. While On Demand services offer new choice and flexibility for customers, they do not offer all of the content customers want, nor can they offer the same level of shared experience as the “appointment to view” TV moments found on traditional broadcast TV; whether that’s amazing sporting events like the World Cup, global spectacles like the Royal Wedding or this summer’s “OMG TV” in Love Island.
Our research has shown, that the most watched programmes are consistently those available on free channels, even in homes signed up to a pay TV subscription. These pay platforms must now face up to the additional challenge to their business models offered by new entrants with lower monthly fees and no long-term contracts.
I strongly believe that the UK has the best free-to-air TV in the world and while methods of entertainment consumption are clearly evolving, especially amongst younger viewers, there will still be a place for more traditional viewing in the changing media landscape for many years to come.
 Freesat carried out omnibus research with OnePoll in May 2017, surveying 2,000 TV subscribers on their TV habits.