By Sean Moffitt
Video Killed the Radio Star was an annoyingly catchy 1979 song by The Buggles, released just as MTV and an explosion of other cable and pay television stations were launching. Television and the media would never be the same game again. Fast forward to 2020, in the wake of this current pandemic, and the new song waiting to be authored might be Streaming Killed the TV Star.
Forced into quarantining inside their safe household havens, the world has gulped, and chilled with its fill of video streaming on TV, and they have given their verdict. They like it. They really like it. Video-on-demand has now become the essential, pandemic household, life service. The average American family is now paying $60 per month and subscribing to 3.8 streaming services (Harris Poll).
Not only are we watching more TV overall during our COVID-19 hibernation, a greater proportion of it is from streaming companies. We are now watching home entertainment much differently. According to Nielsen, the share of total on-demand streaming minutes viewed on over-the-top TV boxes has gone from 14% to 23% during this pandemic.
We have felt aghast by the likes of Tiger King, held breathless by Love is Blind, marvelled nostalgically at the sports doc The Last Dance and embraced the newest member of the Star Wars family The Mandelorian. Lost in the news of societal and economic collapse, Disney Plus has accelerated to over 50 million customers in less than five months. Netflix has had a record quarter of new subscribers. The established brands Amazon Prime, HBO Live, CBS All Access and Hulu have all grown.
At the same time, a flood of new streaming platforms have launched to compete with different business models: Apple TV+, Peacock, Quibi and HBO Max among them. Pandemic video streaming has become a global phenomenon with brands like Youku, IQiyi and Tencent Video from the other side of the world adding their own distinctive flavour to the trend.
Streaming entities have already won over the critics. The audiences are now simply catching up. Over the last two years, Netflix and HBO have bounced back and forth as the #1 or #2 most popular award winners in the Emmys, earning more trophies than the other big four broadcast networks combined. They are now starting to infiltrate the Oscar movie awards.
In the next two to three years, we will see continued share erosion of conventional TV. Unlike other pandemic-driven activities, this is not a habit that will go back to normal after the brunt of COVID-19 is over. Fifty-six percent of people project they will actually watch more, not less, video on-demand, after the next normal is established (Source: e-poll).
Greater than our need for individual shows or channels, the Netflixes and Primes of the world are simply reflecting an overall customer value set for the 2020s. According to my study The Customer Zeitgeist, the top four attributes people now want in their products and services they use and buy is for them to be: smarter & data-driven, authentic & human, personalized & customized and agile & responsive. For video-on-demand: check (algorithm-based), check (human interest), check (recommendation engines) and check (at-a-click, anytime, anywhere).
Where is this pandemic-accelerated habit all leading? In the next five years, it’s very possible, scheduled TV will become extinct, replaced fully by an increasingly sophisticated video on-demand world.
And what are the implications for society, culture and industry in a two-billion user world of video on-demand streaming? Here are twenty:
Will we ever have shared water-cooler “M*A*S*H” , “Seinfeld” or “Survivor” moments again, as tastes get increasingly splintered? Or will streaming services become the next movie premieres and cause us to talk more about entertainment and media?
Where will advertisers plunk down their $170 billion of global TV spending, just waiting to be redeployed? or will advertisers start up their own ad-supported channels like Procter and Gamble did with soap operas in the early days of television?
Are we also seeing the death knell for real-life movie theatres, as new film production shifts to on-demand and people stay away from large gatherings? Or will the big streaming companies extend themselves into live event venues for exclusive launches and new seasons?
How will large events and sports leagues, without the prospect of live audiences for the uncertain future, shift their revenues to on-demand from broadcast channels. Will their eventual share of the TV pie be smaller or bigger?
Where will we get our daily news, local TV coverage and broadcast journalism, as mainstream traditional broadcasts crumble away? Is there an opportunity for a streaming channel that focuses on local (perhaps even neighborhood) news, but shareable worldwide?
How will countries maintain their cultural programming and entertainment as they increasingly get subsumed by global Netflix tastes? Will local entertainment and foreign language programming be more exportable to a worldwide audience?
Will this fixation on video streaming lead to more social isolation and mental health issues? or will platforms like Netflix Party and other connection tools, help us watch entertainment together with people, even around the world?
Will video streaming become the new commerce medium/shopping channel as companies and products sell and demonstrate their products directly through end-to-end streaming and fulfillment services like Amazon Prime or JD.com?
Will this accelerate our habit as a culture to become 24/7 animals, as remote work has now done, less beholden to the clock of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. news, 7:00 p.m. game shows, 8:00 p.m. prime time and 11:30 p.m. late night?
With so many platforms, who will step forward and become a platform of platforms making sense of the myriad thousands of options available across numerous closed, video-on-demand services?
ill cyber threats and incursions into privacy infiltrate video on-demand in ways that a decentralized broadcast world might not be vulnerable to?
Can these omnipresent video on-demand services play a role in communicating and educating people on societal good initiatives like fundraising, public health and crime detection? Or will they promote more individualistic and narcissistic values and programming of the Kardashians, Real Housewives and other reality shows?
As streaming services become a more common habit, will regulators and telecommunication overseers shape these entities to look more like traditional broadcasters of the past?
With remote work and Zoom-ing now set to make a major leap forward, how long will it be before companies’ intranets look more like Netflix?
Is the next evolution of online education, learning and worker reskilling look more like Hulu than it does Google Classroom or edX?
With the advanced digitization of these streaming services, how long will it be before truly interactive home entertainment arrives that makes you part of the entertainment, not a spectator to it?
Will video streaming services accelerate two classes of the internet - one for richer households that can access all the bandwidth-heavy features of new video forms (e.g. AR/VR/MR/XR) and one for other households that just get the basics? Or can we bake fairness into streaming culture that seems to have eluded us in other industries?
Will we end up dating people, less focused on their personality, or their eHarmony/Tinder profile,but more based on their Amazon Prime movie list?
Will we see the Hollywood star system lose ground to a more global, democratic and meritocratic star system? Or will the global-ness of these services heighten the need for recognizable stars?
Will truthiness and fake news be rooted out by the educational powers of video streaming on-demand? Or will it make us more susceptible as the levers of programming get concentrated in fewer and fewer hands?
Somebody with a crystal ball or tarot cards might have better answers than I do on the future questions above, but when it comes to the future of TV - it would appear strongly the effects of this current pandemic has accelerated us to the side of on-demand, unscheduled, subscribable, streamable and binge-worthy. On that front, I will invoke some traditional TV parlance - the tribe has spoken.