By: Darren Lepke, Head of Video Product Management, Verizon Media
Act 1: The Phantom Menace
Not so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were only a handful of streaming platforms reliably delivering digital media to the consumer market. At the beginning of the last decade, these services were disrupting the industry but were still light years away from causing any real damage. Even with a rise in cost over this period, traditional cable still had a comfortable lead over the new rivals. But in the last few years, OTT providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video have formed a sort of Rebellion, seeking to destroy the cable industry Empire. In any industry, as in life, necessity breeds innovation and innovation breeds competition – a lot of it. As we come to the end of this decade, streaming, which was once a category that only had a few options, now has dozens. The fight for consumer attention will go on as the battle has only just begun.
Act 2: A New Hope
Traditional cable ruled the galaxy for decades because it was the only option. In the beginning, OTT services that joined the battle offered only back-catalog television and films, and they weren't always the most exciting. It felt like all the best movies, and TV shows were in exile in Dagobah. But slowly and consistently, these platforms began securing the rights to highly desired properties, while also introducing original shows and films. By 2018, consumers in North America alone streamed eight billion hours of content per month. And newcomers to the category continue to stir up buzz among consumers due to their stellar content. For proof, look no further than Disney+, which became Google's top search term last year, attracting ten million sign-ups the first day it went live. Against all of cable's wishes, a New Hope for viewers' needs has arisen with OTT providers, but the question remains: What comes next?
Act 3: The Force Awakens
While the Empire's plan to conquer the galaxy has all but been foiled, traditional cable still has some fight left in it, as only 60% of Americans have become cable-cutters. But as more OTT providers enter the arena, they now face a new opponent: Themselves. We have seen an overwhelming amount of original content recently, often confusing consumers as to which OTT service is best for them. As these platforms continue to produce the most attractive content, the key to coming out on top is moving away from cable's "a little bit for everybody" mantra towards "a lot just for me." Modern consumers want personalization across all aspects of their lives, and digital media is no different. The future of streaming belongs to those who can individualize content to the most users possible. Whether that means highly effective recommendation engines, personal linear channels, customized ads, in-show purchasing options, or more immersive VR/AR experiences remains to be seen.
As we round out the saga within the OTT galaxy, it's important to consider the foundational pieces that support the infrastructure of streaming. As more consumers transition to streaming platforms, players such as Netflix and Disney+ will have to take large viewing numbers into account in their pursuit to provide a true TV-like experience. Ensuring that consumers have a seamless viewing experience is of paramount importance, and constructing an impenetrable architecture is the crucial piece of the puzzle. See also: the fall of the Death Star. If streaming giants are unable to protect their bases and ward off attacks, cable could very well see a resurgence in Act 3. Regardless of which side reigns supreme, one thing is for sure: Balance is sure to be restored to the consumer once again.