Video streaming round-up
ITVX, Disney+ ads, Netflix price rise, Apple MLB deal
It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the world of video streaming. Here’s a round up of some of the big developments and my take on their impact.
First up, ITVX which ITV announced will launch later this year and is billing as “the UK’s first integrated advertising and subscription funded (AVOD/SVOD) platform”.
Whilst ITV and Channel 4 both already have integrated AVOD/SVOD offers, the subscription elements of ITV Hub and All 4 (branded ITV Hub+ and All 4+) simply remove the ads on the core catalogue.
The subscription element of ITVX, however, promises to unlock a whole different content catalogue from Britbox “and other partners” (no detail on who those other partners might be yet).
Having ITV’s Britbox catalogue accessible in the same product as their live streams and ad-funded on demand catalogue makes a lot of sense from a commercial perspective, making it easier to upsell the Britbox package (no need to download a separate app) and opening the door to retiring Britbox as a standalone service in the UK in the future.
However, blending different free/ad-supported and subscription-based content catalogues in a single user experience is a challenge as the UX for non-subscribers becomes a hodgepodge of things they can and can’t watch (without paying), which they’re likely to find frustrating.
Amazon Prime Video has got slightly better (or maybe that should be slightly less worse) at handling this through use of ‘Included with Prime’ and ‘Rent or buy’ labels, although it’s still pretty frustrating when, for example, your child can watch Peppa Pig Series 18 for free (as part of your Prime subscription) but can’t watch Series 17 (which contains the episode they want to watch) without buying it.
The ITVX press release also trumpets ITV’s move to a “digital first windowing strategy - premiering much of its new content first on ITVX and subsequently months later on ITV linear channels”.
The emphasis on premiering here is interesting. It’s something the BBC has experimented with but largely abandoned in favour of ‘day one drops’ (releasing all episodes of a series on the same day the first episode is broadcast) for the vast majority of comedy and drama series, as it potentially gives you the best of both worlds (concentrating press and online buzz around the premiere of episode 1, whilst still enabling viewers to watch at their own pace rather than needing to remember to return for episode 2).
It’s unclear from the press release whether ITV plan to keep free availability at 30 days - a time period which feels arbitrary and mystifying to your average viewer who spends zero time thinking about content rights and commercial models.
In any event, ditching the ITV Hub brand makes sense. From a content perspective, it has become synonymous with the live channels and a very thin catch-up offer (as boxsets were syphoned off to Britbox). The brand has also been tarnished by poor stream quality and technical issues, particularly during high-reach events like international football and Love Island.
It will be interesting to see how they approach the launch of ITVX. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t internal pressure for a big bang, whip-back-the-curtain reveal. However, that’s not a good way of rolling out new digital services, with users not having time to adjust to the change and any teething troubles playing out very publicly.
Hopefully they’ll opt for some sort of beta and give themselves enough time to finesse the product in response to usage and feedback before it replaces ITV Hub. It’s easy to be impatient when you’re late to market but they can’t really afford a botched launch.
Another, much bigger, fish announced it’s planning to take the plunge into the world of blended SVOD/AVOD last week. Disney said it will roll out an ad-supported subscription tier later this year in the US and internationally in 2023.
This feels like a smart move to me, enabling Disney to open up even more of a gap between them and Netflix in terms of an entry-level tier (Disney is already $2 cheaper than Netflix for its basic monthly plan in the US) and forging relationships with advertisers hungry to connect with Disney+’s user base.
Netflix price rise
Meanwhile, Netflix announced another price hike for customers in the UK and Ireland, underscoring the challenge of not having other verticals to underwrite your streaming ambitions (unlike Disney, Amazon & Apple).
Apple TV+ MLB deal
One of my predicted media trends for 2022 was growth in live streaming. Following the surprise news that Discovery had gazumped DAZN on BT Sport, last week saw another giant throw its hat in the live streaming ring with Apple announcing it was partnering with Major League Baseball to bring live games to Apple TV+ for the first time. Whilst it’s currently only a couple of Friday night games, it suggests the speculation that Apple is looking to spend big on sports rights was on the money.
Whilst it’s unlikely to be with sport, it feels like only a matter of time before Netflix joins the live streaming party.
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