Streaming Wars: The COVID Ceasefire

With COVID-19 pinning viewers at home around the globe, the sheer consumption of streaming content coupled with the simultaneous grounding of new content production forces major players to shift focus from the battlefield to the home-front.  

All across the streaming battlefield, the sound of the guns fall silent. The armies, exhausted by a ceaseless 12+ month barrage, take stock of their positions as all succumb to that most disastrous of army afflictions, disease.

Plague has always followed armies in time of war, and this one is no different, only far more widespread. As coronavirus swept the globe in February and March of 2020, the exhaustive slug-fest of the previous year’s campaign required a pause as the streaming armies and their leaders take stock of their positions.

Supply lines need reconfiguring, logistics need enhancements, and the generals need to reassess their own strategies. Quarantine has had me binge-watch no less than five war shows: Homeland (Showtime), Fauda (Netflix), The Last Kingdom (Netflix), The Pacific (HBO) and The Mandalorian (Disney Plus). I’d feel for my wife, if we hadn’t also completed The Circle (Netflix), Love is Blind (Netflix), and Too Hot to Handle (Netflix). Apparently, we’ve finished Netflix.

The Great Battle that preceded Covid-19 left many too exhausted to continue as is. Walmart dropped out (for now) by selling its streaming service, Vudu, to Fandango, itself a Comcast property. Tubi sold to a leaner Fox (who sold most of itself to Disney last year). Xumo sold to Comcast as the DSP seeks to bolster its streaming portfolio with the advent of its vanguard, Peacock. 

Quibi, the brainchild of industry mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and tech-maven Meg Whitman, arrived on the battlefield in the midst of the plague, and found its mobile-only arsenal a hard-sell at a time when audiences were stuck at home and glued to their televisions instead of on-the-go. Quibi has had to rapidly adjust to get its content and platform onto the silver-screen. 

COVID-19 has acted as an accelerant, pulling the future forward by several years (Professor Scott Galloway, NYU Stern). One of the principal drivers of live-TV subscriptions and viewing, sports, is on hold for an indefinite period of time. Cord-cutting has accelerated at an unprecedented pace. More than 1.6 million consumers cut the cord so far this year, according to Fortune and the WSJ, more than half of those who cut the cord in all of 2019. 

The pandemic has also driven opportunities for non-streamers in the world of user generated social media and podcasting.  

TikTok, a true social media phenomenon, experiences astounding growth. In fact, TikTok’s forces has grown so powerful, it has attracted top generals from other armies on the battlefield. The Streaming War’s Douglas MacArthur, Kevin Mayer, who oversaw the launch of Disney+ and grew its subscription base to over 50 million subscribers in five months, recently joined TikTok as CEO. Other Disney+ executives have left to join the ranks of NBC Universal’s Peacock, no doubt hoping to drive the same level of success for Comcast’s streaming vanguard they oversaw at the Mouse House.

The trouble with ceasefires, versus truces or treaties, is that they inevitably end. As economies around the world trudge toward reopening, the streaming armies hurry to complete re-armaments and adjust their 2020 campaign strategies that are driven by two core pillars: Content and Customer Experience.

 

Content

 

On the content side, strategies are accelerated by COVID-19 and we’re seeing unprecedented moves across the streaming landscape. In the past couple weeks, two notable events have occurred in the content space:

  • Spotify signed podcast superstar Joe Rogan for exclusive distribution to his hugely popular The Joe Rogan Experience.
  • Apple TV+ acquired Tom Hanks’ passion project which he penned and directed, Greyhound for first-window release. This is a WWII submarine film (I. AM. ECSTATIC.)

With the production of new content on hold, those with the deepest content libraries have the strongest likelihood of survival in the remainder of the 2020 campaign season. Lest we forget, two of the biggest powers in the Streaming Wars have yet to reach the battlefield, though their troops have started to arrive. With the May 27th launch HBO Max and impending launch of NBC’s Peacock, we’re gearing up for a Gettysburg level battle in the coming months. Both forces bring a vast array of content resources to the battlefield and must contend with the superpower who rules the high-ground (Netflix) and the new superpower deeply entrenched on the ridgeline (Disney+). 

Even Hulu, as protectorate of Disney, has a slew of interesting original programming that rivals some of the highest brow content available – I’m looking at you The Great (stellar) and The Handmaids Tale (terrifying). 

 Spotify’s signing of Joe Rogan demonstrates its clear commitment to establishing a monster podcasting platform.. For the rest of 2020, I expect to see this type of deal-flow to accelerate, along with  consolidation in the space as Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and Audible duke it out for top “radio” personalities. 

 

Customer Experience

 

As we mentioned in our first installment of the Streaming Wars series, King Content was deposed by the usurping Consumer. We stated, “Customer is King.” As content becomes commoditized, there comes a tipping point where the cost of subscribing to so many OTT platforms: TV, Movies, Music, Podcasting, Audiobooks, becomes unsustainable or loses its cost efficiency vs. keeping the cord connected.

Alas, if I’m cutting the cord to save money on my monthly cable bill, how many platforms should I subscribe to before I’m paying more, on average? Platforms who will win the Streaming Wars are those that enhance their platform’s stickiness and elevates the customer experience to best-in-class heights. Streamers must focus on a three prong approach to gain the upper-hand in CX: 

  • Proactive Concierge Support
  • Proactive Community Moderation Outreach
  • AI/ML Driven Big Data Initiatives 

Reactive to proactive customer support is creating the great sea change in CX. If a consumer is calling in with an issue, that is in and of itself a brand ding that increases the customer’s propensity to churn. It’s tablestakes to have omnichannel support as well as self-service available for all customers so that they can reach you in a pinch via chat or in-app messaging (synchronous chat).

But a shift from reactive to proactive support can also transform the interaction from an issue or a ticket, into a relationship. This paradigm shift cannot happen without a foundational understanding of the user journey, but will enable platforms to interact with customers, especially high value customers or trial users on a deeper level to decrease the risk of churn and increase the platform stickiness. 

I still can’t get over the shock of American Airlines calling me just to find out if my family and I were ok during COVID and if there was “anything they could do to help during this difficult time.” To get this outreach from an airline, American Airlines no less, stunned me and immediately enhanced my brand perception of AA. Now, what if my streaming platforms did the same thing, but more regularly, and around topics as diverse as recommending content to ensuring I received the best new promotions, self-service articles, etc? It’s obvious that a tie-in between support and marketing would add tremendous value to both teams in a proactive support world. 

Community Moderation

In a world where all is shared on social media platforms and broadcasted to thousands and sometimes millions of fans and contacts (think YouTube, Twitch, Discord, etc) there is immense opportunity in engaging with these communities wherever they reside.  

Nurturing and participating actively in communities across platforms, in sub-reddits, and on the large social media networks helps build the relationship between the platform and its customers, as well as nurture the brand image and voice in public forums.

Simultaneously, utilizing a trust and safety protocol amongst these communities to stop abuse and prevent policy violations or false information from being disseminated is vital. Protecting communities is as important as nurturing them. And soon, these customers will become advocates and pivotal assets not just during the Streaming Wars, but afterwards to uphold the Pax Stream-ana (yes I believe I just made that up).

AI/ML Ops

AI is the defining software technology of our generation. But to build AI infrastructure, platforms increase their automation capabilities  and build out well-thought out  machine learning (ML) algorithms before they begin to implement AI. AI bolsters business intelligence with all the nuances and persona-details necessary for all users/customers/viewers. 

But to get there, the herculean task of tagging all the data and meta-data manually to lay the underpinnings and foundation for any  AI stack is required. The data must be tweaked, retagged, and relabeled to continue to accelerate the AI efficiencies. let’s add more here along with tips on how to approach it.

AI/ML provides companies with the resources and visibility necessary to continue to bolster and transform customer interactions into lifelong, deep and valuable relationships. This will forever enhance your marketplace position, as well as free up resources to focus on enhancing content investments and stickiness features.

As the Coronavirus ceasefire draws to its shaky termination, fresh troops mobilize to the front. The guns are fixing into position, and the barrage will inevitably begin anew. Without the proper CX investments, the question remains: how long can the lines hold? 

Have questions on the future of streaming and the customer experience? Contact Ricky Girson at ricky.girson@taskus.com.

Ricky Girson

VP, Media and Entertainment
June 01, 2020