When HBO Now launched in April, 2015, its $14.99/month price was well above competing SVOD services such as Netflix ($11.99/month), Hulu (ad-free $11.99/month) and Amazon ($8.99/month or included with Prime for $99/year). On the one hand, an argument could be made that an HBO subscription is more valuable due to HBO’s rich library and therefore should be priced higher than newer competitors. But HBO’s market-skimming high price strategy means its more aggressively priced competitors are growing far faster than HBO, enabling them to have greater scale, which will be the key to future success.
In a move that was long, long overdue, Netflix announced yesterday that it was enabling downloading of content to iOS and Android mobile devices. Not all shows and movies are available for download, but importantly, it looks like most, if not all, of Netflix’s original productions are included. I tried downloading last night and it worked perfectly.
I’ve been saying since 2012 that downloading is a bona fide killer app, after I first started using TiVo’s excellent downloading feature to watch recordings on my iPad when traveling. Amazon totally understood the value of downloading as well, enabling it back in September, 2015. In a press release that both touted the new feature and implicitly tweaked Netflix, Amazon proclaimed it as “The First and Only Subscription Streaming Service to Offer This Feature.”
Evidence of Amazon’s expansive video ambitions is everywhere these days. The company has transformed itself into arguably the most influential industry player heading into the new year. There are now so many Amazon video initiatives, it’s getting hard to keep track.
First and foremost, it’s critical to understand the most important attribute Amazon is bringing to bear in video, that enables everything else and makes it such a formidable new competitor: its unique business model, based on Prime. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained in a Recode interview this past summer (see 37:32 cue point), Prime has become a “physical digital hybrid membership program that is unlike anything else.” Bezos clearly spells out how video helps drive new Prime memberships and retention. Prime members are more loyal to Amazon, purchasing more products.
I'm pleased to present the 342nd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Earlier this week I wrote about the success Amazon is having with its Streaming Partners Program, which now includes 75 different SVOD services, likely representing about three-quarters of all SVOD offerings in the U.S. As I explain on the podcast, the program appears to be a win for all parties, including viewers.
Colin is enthusiastic as well, noting he’s signed up for 3 different services already. Amazon’s early aggregation success will likely lead to others to follow its model, and one example that’s hit Colin’s radar is VRV ("verve"). Colin shares details about VRV’s strategy and why Mondo Media, a successful adult animation creator, just signed up with VRV.
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Amazon now has 75 SVOD services participating in its Streaming Partners Program (“SPP”), which is approximately three-quarters of all the SVOD services available in the U.S. As of this past April, Parks Associates said there were 98 SVOD services in the U.S. though clearly more have launched since.
The update on SPP was provided by Michael Paull, Amazon’s VP of Digital Video, at last week’s On Demand conference in NYC, as reported by Multichannel News.
When an SVOD service joins SPP, it is included in a “Channels” section for Amazon Prime members, who can then quickly add it (see below image). All services include a trial period. Once the channel is added, it’s available on all devices that support Prime Video. Amazon provides billing, delivery, operational support as well as periodic promotions and recommendations for the SVOD service, including on Fire TV, all in exchange for a share of the monthly revenue.
Yesterday YouTube announced YouTube Go, a new mobile app that provides sophisticated new features for offline video use. While YouTube Go will initially only be available in India, it will no doubt be introduced in other geographies once proven in.
YouTube Go builds on YouTube’s embrace of downloading for offline viewing in India and other Asian territories begun nearly two years ago with the introduction of YouTube Offline, which allowed downloading of certain videos for viewing within 48 hours. Earlier this year YouTube added the “Smart Offline” feature that allows users to schedule their downloads to take advantage of off-peak data use.
I'm pleased to present the 338th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Today we first dig into an idea Colin outlined earlier this week, that pay-TV could become a “dumb authentication service” as the trend of subscribers migrating their TV viewing away from set-top boxes and toward authenticated TV apps on connected TV devices gains momentum. This is an important shift that is already happening for many people (listen to our podcast 2 weeks ago for more).
In this model pay-TV operators still continue to authenticate viewers and manage billing, but do little else. In fact, the FCC’s current plans to “unlock the box” mean the scenario has even more credibility. We agree that’s a precarious place for operators to be and opens up opportunities for disruptors, like Amazon.
Speaking of Amazon, just this week it made 2 important updates to its Fire TV devices which reinforce the growing role the company is playing in the SVOD and TV ecosystems and why it so well-positioned. Building on this, just today Bloomberg reported Amazon is now eyeing live sports deals, which would push it even further into pay-TV’s turf.
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Yesterday Amazon unveiled new search and recommendation features for its Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices, aimed squarely at improving users’ experience with third-party SVOD services. The device updates are automatically downloaded and will enable universal voice search to over 75 video apps, including Netflix, HBO GO and soon HBO Now, as well as personalized recommendations across apps to be visible in custom rows on the Fire TV home page.
Both updates continue the evolution of Fire TV’s role as a hub for SVOD and free video services. That’s not a novel approach, as other devices like Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV are also aiming to be central hubs for online video. And arguably, Comcast is starting to take its first steps for X1 to also become a hub, by announcing plans to incorporate Netflix later this year.
Yesterday Amazon placed pilot episodes for 10 of its of its original programs on YouTube and Facebook. On the surface, this seems like a smart move, allowing these huge communities to get a taste of popular Amazon shows like “Transparent” and “The Man in the High Castle.” Amazon’s larger goal is to hook viewers and convert them to Prime membership. Free access to pilots have long been available at Amazon itself.
Clearly it is still very early in terms of mining the potential of YouTube and Facebook, but a day in, it’s somewhat surprising to see how few views there are. On Amazon’s YouTube channel, which has a cumulative 34 million views to date, “The Man in the High Castle” has done the best of the 10 pilots, but has just 1,583 views (see below). A distant second is “Transparent” with 258 views. Kids show “Tumble Leaf” is last with only 71 views.
Last week’s Q2 earnings reports provided another valuable window into how Amazon, Comcast, Google and Facebook have all hit on winning formulas in video (at least for now), while Apple continues to spin its wheels, under-optimizing its ability to capitalize on the massive shifts underway in video and TV.
To briefly review, Comcast lost just 4K subscribers in Q2, vs. a loss of 162K three years ago, as its sleek X1 set-top box gains further traction and satellite and telco competitors stumble. Facebook reported a blow-out quarter, with earnings of $2 billion, double what they were just 6 months ago. Facebook has become a mobile powerhouse and is now laser-focused on video, as Facebook Live becomes widely adopted (though still under-monetized).
Netflix reported disappointing domestic and international results for Q2 ’16, extending the company’s bumpy and unpredictable growth. Netflix added just 160K subscribers domestically (down from 900K in Q2 ’15, a quarter which now looks like it was an anomaly after all) and below its own 500K forecast. Meanwhile international subscribers increased by 1.52 million (vs. 2.37 million in Q2 ’15) and below the company’s forecast of 2 million additions.
In both cases, Netflix blamed price increases that were felt as “un-grandfathering” of older subscribers kicked in, which in turn led to higher churn. In the U.S. Netflix went one step further, blaming press coverage of the un-grandfathering process, which it believes led some subscribers to believe a new price increase was coming.
I'm pleased to present the 330th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin and I were both very enthusiastic about news earlier this week that Comcast will integrate Netflix into its X1 set-top box, a move we’ve been advocating for a while. In this week’s podcast we discuss how complicated this negotiation must have been, and why joint subscribers will be the big winners.
Surely a motivating factor for Comcast was the acknowledgment that viewers are spending more time on SVOD, which new research from IBM Cloud Video highlighted this week.
More specifically, the research showed how important video has become for Amazon Prime members, with 75% of them now watching. By not charging for video in Prime, Amazon is potentially a big disruptor in the video/TV industry down the road.
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Three-quarters of Amazon Prime members are watching the service’s video offerings, according to new survey data released by IBM Cloud Video. 61% of Prime members surveyed said they signed up for the service for the shopping benefits, but also watch the video, while another 14% said they signed up specifically for the video. Just 7% of members surveyed said they didn’t know about the video offerings, with another 18% saying they were aware, but didn’t watch.
I'm pleased to present the 324th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Earlier this week provided a synopsis of a fascinating article in Vulture describing the massive changes that big SVOD providers have brought to the TV production business. The most startling statistic is that the number of scripted TV shows has soared from 36 in 2005 to over 400 in 2015.
In today’s podcast we discuss the consequences of this explosion and speculate on whether all of this is sustainable, or whether a bubble has been created, and if so, what might cause it to burst. Colin is more optimistic that current production volumes can continue, while I’m more skeptical simply because SVOD business models are still in flux.
Another dimension to the value of more TV shows is how important both stacking rights for current seasons and access to back catalogs are becoming for the existing ecosystem. With VOD, binge-viewing and time-shifting all on the rise, there appears to be an emerging consensus on broader availability of TV shows. We explore all of this as well.
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Yesterday research firm Strategy Analytics released a forecast showing growth in domestic SVOD spending will slow slightly in 2016 vs. 2015 and then drop by almost 50% in 2021, to just 8% year-over-year. The 2016 slowdown is nominal - a $1.19 billion increase vs. a $1.21 billion increase in 2015, which could be easily tweaked by minor changes to churn rates, as just one example. Domestic SVOD spending in 2016 will be $6.62 billion, still an increase of 22% year-over-year, a growth rather most industries would happily take.
The key takeaway shouldn’t be the current year forecast, but rather what’s expected over the next 5 years, to 2021. Strategy Analytics Digital Media Director Michael Goodman said that the spending forecast was modeled assuming an 85% saturation rate of broadband households in 2021, comparable to pay-TV’s current adoption (60% of households currently subscribe to one or more SVOD services), with Netflix alone accounting for 53% of subscriptions.
For those interested in a deep-dive look inside how dramatically the business of making TV shows has changed over the past several years, last week’s Vulture cover story, “The Business of Too Much TV,” is essential reading. At 10,000+ words, you’ll need to set aside a chunk of time to get through it, but it’s well worth it for a peek behind the curtain of how SVOD has influenced every aspect of TV production.
The biggest driver of change has been the massive increase in the number of scripted TV shows being made - from 36 in 2005 to over 400 in 2015. Cable TV networks were the initial cause of this explosion, but in the past several years it’s been the major SVOD services, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, which have each turned to originals as a source of differentiation as competition has intensified.
When Amazon Video Direct (AVD) was announced last week, lots of industry observers saw it as a new YouTube competitor. At some point that may be true, but for now, there is little for YouTube, the undisputed 800-pound gorilla of the online video industry, to be worried about.
While video content providers will welcome another deep-pocketed third-party distributor into the market, the most important challenge AVD faces is proving that it can make incremental money for these providers, beyond what they can already earn on YouTube, their own direct channels/apps and elsewhere.
Amazon revealed 4 different ways that content providers can monetize their videos, but each has challenges.
I'm pleased to present the 322nd edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week’s announcement by Amazon of “Amazon Video Direct” - seemingly a YouTube competitor and not an obvious extension for the company - prompted Colin and me to reflect on how many recent video industry initiatives have struck us as incongruous. There’s no doubt we’re living through an unprecedented period of instability in the video and TV industries, and a persistent question is how to parse smart experimentation/expansion from wild pitches?
In today’s podcast we discuss 7 different industry moves we’ve recently observed that seem to us like long shots that are disconnected from their companies’ core competencies vs. those that seem like natural extensions of their companies’ brand perceptions and capabilities. (Our biggest head-scratcher is Dish Network’s decision to expand into in-home iPhone repairs. Huh?).
Still, Colin and I readily acknowledge this is not hard science. To that end, we also identify a few examples that at one time may have seemed like odd pursuits, but have turned into big successes (Snapchat’s move into professional video, with its Discover feature, is a prime example). It’s all great food for thought as we continue to assess the dynamic video landscape each day.
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I'm pleased to present the 319th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin and I are back from NABShow where I produced the 2-day Online Video Conference, which included 52 speakers over 15 sessions. One of the highlights for me was doing a keynote interview with Michael Paull, VP of Digital Video at Amazon who oversees the company’s new Streaming Partners Program (SPP).
As I wrote yesterday, SPP will likely have a majority of U.S. SVOD services included this year, putting Amazon in the undisputed role as THE third-party distributor of SVOD in the U.S. Colin and I dig into why that is potentially so critical and the implications it could have for Netflix and the pay-TV industry. (Colin provides a personal example of how Amazon hooked him on a subscription to Tribeca Shortlist which he never would have found on his own).
We then transition to specific takeaways from NABShow. Colin notes that many vendors were demonstrating how online video can be delivered with guaranteed quality and user experiences, making online video every bit as good as TV itself. For pay-TV operators specifically, the imperative to move video services online has never been higher.
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Click here to listen to the podcast (23 minutes, 41 seconds)
Amazon is likely to have a majority of all SVOD services available in the U.S. included in its recently launched Streaming Partners Program (SPP) this year, setting the stage for the company to become the main third-party distributor for dozens of SVOD services. As this happens, there will be significant implications for the structure of the SVOD industry, not least of which will be changing the competitive dynamic between Amazon and Netflix, just as the latter’s domestic subscriber growth appears to be flattening. Another important implication would be Amazon’s impact on the U.S. pay-TV industry and role with cord-cutters.
Michael Paull, Amazon’s VP of Digital Video, who runs the SPP, told me during our keynote interview on Tuesday at the NABShow Online Video Conference that he expects “dozens” of SVOD services in the U.S. will become part of the SPP in the coming months. When added to the 30+ SVOD services already available in SPP, the result would be that the majority of U.S. SVOD services would be part of SPP. (Note, according to Parks Associates’ recent research there are 98 U.S. SVOD services aside from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon currently available).