Tuesday, September 2, 2014, 11:25 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
September is here and that means summer 2014 is in the rear-view mirror. For online video and the broader video ecosystem, it was another busy few months, as viewers around the world continue to shift their consumption patterns, with many companies scrambling to keep pace. Below I've distilled my list of the 10 biggest online video stories of the summer - read on and let me know if I've missed something!
1. Amazon acquires Twitch for $970 million
In the blockbuster online video deal of the summer, Amazon surprised many by acquiring live-streaming video game platform Twitch in its second-biggest purchase ever. Though Amazon was reticent about its specific intentions for Twitch, the e-sports phenom looks like a springboard into the booming online video advertising business, a vibrant content source that helps support Amazon's portfolio of connected/mobile devices and a way to gain younger audiences' attention.
2. Research: Teens prefer YouTube stars
In a clear sign that Hollywood's long-held grip on content and celebrity creation is slipping, research from Variety found that for 13-18 year-old Americans, the top 5 personalities with the most influence are all YouTube stars (as are 10 of the top 20). The research underscored how powerful YouTube has become as a distribution platform and why MCNs have become such hot properties lately.
3. PewDiePie: 30 million subscribers and growing
The biggest star in the YouTube constellation continues to be Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, also known as PewDiePie, who topped 30 million subscribers to his channel. Love him or hate him, the foul-mouthed Swede is a force to be reckoned with, racking up over 5.8 billion views to date and reinforcing the appeal of direct-to-audience content models.
4. Netflix tops 50 million global subscribers
YouTube is the undisputed king of free, ad-supported online video, but in the subscription-based over-the-top camp, Netflix firmly wears the crown, soaring above 50 million global subscribers as of June 30th. As domestic growth has slowed, international has accelerated. CEO Reed Hastings boasted that Netflix now has slightly more subscription revenue than HBO, but by Emmy standards, HBO still rules, taking home 19 awards to Netflix's 7.
5. Cord-cutting is muted
If you thought all the attention YouTube and Netflix are attracting would be at the expense of pay-TV, think again, as cord-cutting remained relatively muted in Q2. According to analysts MoffettNathanson, the U.S. pay-TV industry lost 305K subscribers in Q2 '14, an improvement from the 387K it lost in Q2 '13. When new home formations are included, the firm estimates annualized cord-cutting at 400K, a blip for an industry with over 95 million subscribers.
6. World Cup streaming record and TV Everywhere
TV Everywhere is the key way that pay-TV is trying to deliver more value for the buck and live sports are getting the most traction. The latest example was World Cup streaming, which drove record online viewership according to data from Akamai. The World Cup joins the Olympics, March Madness and other marquee sports events as the primary way viewers are learning about TV Everywhere, which, years after its introduction, is starting to show signs of life.
7. Fox comes up short in Time Warner bid
With 21st Century Fox's $80 billion bid for Time Warner (aborted, for now), Rupert Murdoch demonstrated he's one of the biggest believers in sports-focused TV networks and the staying power of the pay-TV model generally. I'm not nearly as sanguine that sports fees can grow to the sky, as the stalemate over the Dodgers' SportsNet LA network is beginning to show. Murdoch's reluctance to raise his Time Warner bid may show that he's not ready to pursue this old school deal at all costs.
8. NFL Now launches
Speaking of sports, the NFL took an important step toward capitalizing on online/mobile video's surge and on further controlling its own destiny, by launching the NFL Now service to super-serve its fans. Chock full of original video, highlights, stats and the ability to personalize, NFL Now carefully respects the boundaries of the league's multi-billion dollar broadcast deals, while carving out a meaningful new growth opportunity driven by online video advertising.
9. Online video deal-making
M&A and financings in the online video space continued this summer. Beyond the blockbuster Amazon-Twitch deal, highlights included Telstra acquiring Ooyala, Facebook picking up LiveRail and RTL taking a majority interest in SpotXchange, among others. Also during the quarter TubeMogul went public, though below its originally intended range. Nonetheless, the company's first post-IPO quarterly report included surprise earnings and an increased forecast, powering its stock higher.
10. Aereo knocked down and Xbox Studios knocked out
Amid the bounty of good news, two sobering stories from the summer included Aereo's loss at the Supreme Court and Microsoft's decision to shut down Xbox Entertainment Studios. The former proved that while technology makes a lot of things feasible, powerful incumbents will zealously defend their traditional turf. Meanwhile, the latter showed that even well-funded new entrants face an uphill climb trying to differentiate themselves in the super-competitive premium programming space.
So there's my list of the summer's biggest online video hits. I'm sure I've overlooked other biggies, and if you think I did, leave a comment below!