Streaming Wars During the COVID-19 Outbreak: the Effect of the Pandemic on the New Players of Video Streaming

Video streaming was becoming more and more popular around the globe before the pandemic. But over the last few months of massive lock-downs it simply boomed. In this article, VP of Media & Entertainment practice, Max Kalmykov, explores the modern ecosystem of video streaming platforms – both big players and newbies in the industry.
28/07/20
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By Max Kalmykov
Vice President, Media & Entertainment
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Streaming Wars During the COVID-19 Outbreak: the Effect of the Pandemic on the New Players of Video Streaming

Massive numbers of people remain isolated due to the global coronavirus outbreak. Although some reopening has begun, many countries in the world are still shut down. Movie theatres are closed, concert halls are empty, and sporting events are on hold. So, what can people do for entertainment during these challenging times?

Video streaming was already on the rise before the pandemic, but its growth has skyrocketed over the past few months. For many people, more time at home results in watching more movies, TV shows, and other video content. And this increased appetite for video entertainment has ramped up the electrified battle between streaming platforms to new heights of competition.

But who will come out on top in the video streaming wars? Will the big players reign supreme, or will new platforms become the primary sources for consuming streaming video content?

At the end of April, YouGov conducted a survey for Variety Intelligence Platform, in which it asked adults in the United States about their streaming platform activities. As you can see in the graph below, AT&T TV Now, Hulu with Live TV, and CBS All Access experienced dramatic subscriber gains during the early period of the pandemic.

Streaming Wars During the COVID-19 Outbreak: the Effect of the Pandemic on the New Players of Video Streaming
Source: YouGov

For those who have used these platforms in the last 12 months, an impressive amount subscribed in April, at 27% for AT&T Now, 21% for Hulu with Live TV, and 18% for CBS All Access. But these numbers do not paint the entire picture of what has occurred during the pandemic.

The Big Players

Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are considered the big players in the world of video streaming, while several newer industry entrants show great promise for success. However, during the pandemic, Netflix has proven to be the biggest winner of all.

Netflix

In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix added an astounding 15.8 million subscribers, which was more than double the predicted amount. By illustrating an increase of more than 22% year-over-year, there is no question that the platform’s success is far-reaching.

But why is Netflix coming out on top?

Perhaps the biggest advantage for Netflix is the platform’s worldwide access, in addition to being the only video streaming option in some countries. By providing a growing quantity of original content offered in different languages and customized for each region, Netflix has secured a powerful position in the expanding world of video streaming.

Additionally, Netflix has thoughtfully curated an impressive content pipeline, leading a rising number of consumers to subscribe to the service. With its large library of original programming, Netflix will be able to survive through the production halt for a longer period than other streaming platforms. And the company is showing its resilience during the pandemic, continuing to run pitch sessions and operating writing rooms remotely. All of these factors contribute to the positive statements coming from analysts, who believe that Netflix’s star will continue to rise.

Hulu

Although data about Hulu’s subscriber acquisitions during the quarantine are not available, the platform has certainly managed to stay strong during the pandemic. Unlike Netflix, Hulu is only available in the United States, but this did not prevent its programming from stirring up a buzz amongst viewers, with highly successful shows that include Normal People and the next season of the Golden Globe winner Remy.

Hulu’s success can also be traced to the platform’s ad-supported subscription option, providing a cheaper alternative that has gained popularity, with reports from the company stating that 70% of its 82 million viewers are subscribed to this lower-priced service. Another key to Hulu’s popularity can be found in its viewer-friendly advertising methods, which generated approximately $1.5 billion in revenue in 2018.

Amazon Prime

What makes Amazon Prime successful? The primary advantage is the company’s decision to provide a bundled offering, resulting in significant savings for consumers. By including free one-day shipping for the majority of Amazon products, Amazon Prime is an exceptionally valuable choice for users, especially during the pandemic, with many more people than usual requiring deliveries due to store closures and social distancing regulations.

Another massive advantage is Amazon’s movie rental services. As theatres remain closed, many films have premiered on Amazon’s online platform, generating significant revenue and cementing the importance of the company in the world of video streaming.

The New Faces

While the big players fight to stay on top of the lucrative video streaming industry, many new entrants are clamoring for their piece of the market. Although it is a high mountain to climb, the rapid growth of video streaming due to the continuing pandemic may allow these new players to secure a significant piece of the action.

Disney Plus

With Disneyland closed, the company is banking on its streaming service to stay afloat.

In February, Disney Plus had reached 26.5 million subscribers. But in the months that followed, the platform’s numbers almost doubled, reaching 54.5 million worldwide subscribers, and thereby rivaling Netflix and Amazon Prime for market share. Launching the service in India has further expanded the platform’s reach, with 8 million new subscribers in the country already.

Considering the fact that Disney Plus first launched last November, its rise has been exceptionally rapid so far. And with the company’s theme parks closed throughout the world, the success of its streaming platform is paramount for Disney’s sustainability over the course of the pandemic.

Quibi

Although the move was clearly fraught with risk, Quibi decided to go ahead with its April 6 launch date. In the first week, Quibi was downloaded more than 1.7 million times. The platform allows for a free 90-day trial period, which makes the true meaning of the download numbers less clear, as it is uncertain whether or not a significant percentage of free trial users will convert into paid subscribers.

Quibi focuses on «quick bite» content, always coming in at under 10 minutes long. So, while the company boasts that 80% of its customers who watch a program finish at the least the first episode, this stat is not overly impressive due to the extremely short length of Quibi’s original programming. While the platform may find success in the coming period, its reach is currently hard to gauge. Reports about paid subscribers over the next few months will tell the true story, allowing us to see if the initial interest in Quibi translates to revenue and substantial growth.

HBO Max

Launched just over a month ago, HBO Max has generated some significant buzz. Although official viewer numbers are not available yet, app store intelligence company Sensor Tower says that HBO Max was downloaded by 87,000 people during its first day. This first-day download number is quite low in comparison to Disney Plus (4 million) and even Quibi (300,000), but this is at least in part because it is not a completely new service but rather an update for the existing HBO Now streaming app. Sensor Tower explains that users who updated their old HBO app are not included in the download numbers from the launch date. So, while the initial numbers are unimpressive, they do not tell the whole story, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming period.

Peacock

NBCUniversal launched its own streaming platform on July 15. Called Peacock, the platform’s advantage is its large catalog of content, including popular shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation. The company also anticipates great interest in a range of new original programs that will be available for streaming on the launch day, including a range of shows in a variety of genres, from dramas and comedies to sports and programs for kids.

Peacock will be available in three tiers. The free option will have limited programming, while an ad-supported version with complete programming will be available for free to existing Comcast customers and will be available for $5 per month to others. Lastly, the company will be offering its Peacock Premium service for $10 per month, featuring the platform’s entire range of programming with no ads, plus the bonus of non-televised Premier League soccer games starting in August.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to be a challenging time for us all. Fortunately, video streaming services allow us to be entertained while remaining safe. And of all the sectors, video streaming is one of the few that is actually growing as a result of the global health situation. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced production to shut down in most cases, but video streaming companies are continuing to fight for market share while plotting out their next moves for once the pandemic has passed. Netflix is fortunate to have a large amount of original programming, but the company’s content will eventually run out too. So, while the industry giants continue to dominate this lucrative sector, new entrants are showing their potential for success, and only time will unveil the true winners in the video streaming battle.

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