What an ugly term SVOD is: Subscription Video On Demand. And yet, there isn’t really a better term right now. Despite what Steven Spielberg might think, Digital TV isn’t the right term, no matter what screen we view our entertainment on, especially if Netflix movies will start showing in their own Oscar-qualifying cinema.
Show Me The Money!
SVOD isn’t going anywhere; in the US alone, consumers spent $12.9 billion on it, a year-on-year increase of 30%. By way of comparison, spending on physical video media decreased by 14% to $4 billion in the same timeframe. Digital is the only medium where sales are increasing.
The demise of physical video media has its issues related to a diminishment of the availability of classic and niche titles. Seemingly the economics of the Long Tail failed to materialise. But the trend to digital is far too lucrative to ignore.
Netflix is obviously a behemoth in this space, well-established and heavily invested; their strategy has shaped this market space, closely followed somewhat more haphazardly by Amazon Prime Video. The UK also has Sky’s NowTV, while the US additionally enjoys Hulu.
Now, however, everyone wants a slice of the pie. In the US, Star Trek: Discovery is only available on CBS All Access. Karate Kid spin-off Kobra Kai is only available on Youtube, and I’m sure it won’t be long until Syfy launches a channel for likes of The Magicians and Deadly Class.
Enter the new players: The BBC has tried to get Britbox off the ground for a long time, a subscription service for British-made TV from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. It’ll compete directly with each channel’s free streaming service, presumably providing a home for content once it passes its 7 or 30 day window. Britbox, already available in the US, should be coming to the UK in 2019. Hopefully it’ll provide a way for UK viewers to watch BBC America’s Killing Eve.
Apple, of course, has been trying to get something off the ground for a long time too. And 2019 marks the arrival in the US of long-awaited Apple TV+, another home for exclusive shows.
Enter The Mouse
With all the competition on the rise and on the horizon, the one the big players are really scared of is Disney+, also due this year. It’ll initially only launch in the US, but it won’t be long before this behemoth rolls out globally. Disney is a gigantic network of studios now, comprising some of the most successful franchises of all time. They have Marvel Studios, Lucasarts, and of course all their own directly Disney branded movies and TV shows.
Marvel TV shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones have already been pulled off Netflix, bit by bit other digital distribution deals are being allowed to lapse, and Disney is preparing it’s own slate of new shows.
In the world of Star Wars, they’re creating The Mandalorian. For the Marvel Universe they’re making a show centred around Hawkeye, hopefully using Matt Fraction’s comics run as their inspiration. These new shows, older shows like Star Wars Rebels, all future Disney movies and as many back-catalogue films as they can re-garner rights for make for a compelling pitch for consumers hungry for more of their favourite franchises.
Update: Disney+ will arrive in the US on November 12th, priced at $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year.
Balkanisation and the Return of Piracy
Let’s face it, few of us can afford to subscribe to every single service to watch every single must-watch show, even if geographic restrictions were to allow it. It’s bad enough right now, but it will only get worse with these new players; wanting to keep up with all of the hottest new shows is already a dizzying dervish dance of dipping in and out of various digital subscriptions.
I can imagine, as this problem persists, that more providers will take Amazon and Apple’s approach: Offering annual memberships instead of monthly ones, to try and retain subscribers for longer than the run of, say, Game of Thrones.
Some consumers will likely just focus on a small selection of their favourite digital channels. Others though, will feel frustrated by not being able to watch everything they want to without dropping £50+ every month.
My fear is that as this balkanisation of SVOD continues we will see a resurgence of video piracy. It never went away, but with the easy availability of streaming media, it diminished. A research company found that between 2011 and 2015, saw a massive decline in usage within the US, dropping from 52% to under 27%.
Now though, it’s rapidly back on the rise; a situation that will only worsen as the number of channels continues to increase.
Futurology is always tricky, but I think we have a model in this case. Subscription cable and satellite channels resisted an à la carte offering for a long time while pushing prices up. Viewers wanted to pick and choose their channels, rather than paying premium prices for a bundle they had little interest in.
I suspect that more and more digital providers will flood the market place, until the whole thing collapses under the weight of piracy and increased apathy. Up until some bright spark with enough industry clout offers a combined interface with a more sensible pricing model.
SVOD providers will of course fight this tooth and nail, wanting to clasp their subscribers to their digital bossoms, together with the data they represent. But until there’s another industry disruption, they seem doomed to repeating their mistakes over and over again.