Streaming Wars: SVOD industry marches to the front lines of advancing the customer experience

We aren’t too far removed from the platinum age of television, a period in the early 2000s when shows like Lost, American Idol, The Sopranos and 24 captivated viewers across America. Networks like Fox, ABC and CBS were pumping out hit after hit in every genre. Families gathered to see who would win reality shows like Survivor and American Idol or to see if the characters from Lost would get off the island. People watched as Jack Bauer attempted to stop a terrorist attack on 24 and laughed as they watched sitcoms like The Office and How I Met Your Mother.

However, the new age of television won’t be dominated by networks and many won’t be watching it on an actual TV. Streaming services like Netflix will usher in the new era of television on our TVs, laptops, tablets and other devices with a business model where customer experience ranks up there with content.

Netflix started out in the late 90’s selling DVDs and rentals through the mail. In 2007, just as Blockbuster began its decline thanks in large part to Netflix, the company launched its streaming service. This put the content of the platinum age in one convenient location for everyone to watch. A few years later, Netflix began producing its own original content, combining its vast library with fresh new shows like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things. However, with new players arriving soon thereafter and some even poaching shows like Friends and The Office from them, Netflix is beginning to lose some steam.

The subscription video on demand (SVOD) industry is due for a major shift as several new streaming services are expected to launch in the next year. Disney, Apple, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal all plan to launch their own streaming service, each with their own strategy on how to dominate this suddenly crowded industry and elevate the customer experience

Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ will feature decades of content produced and purchased by the entertainment powerhouse. This means they will be able to feature their own animated shows and movies along with content from Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. For the time being, most of the service’s original content will stem off of its existing library. Already planned are spinoffs set in the Marvel and Star Wars universes.

Whereas Disney will be able to lean on decades of original shows and movies, and previously acquired content like Star Wars, Apple plans to come out of the gate with only original content available. Apple has enlisted several A-list celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Stephen Spielberg and Reese Witherspoon to star in and create shows and movies for its new streaming service, Apple TV +. A unique strategy Apple has employed is engineering its app as a hub for several channels that the viewer has a separate subscription for. This way, instead of using a competitor’s app, viewers are inclined to search for something to watch on the Apple TV+ app, ensuring they have to at least look at Apple’s library of content before deciding on what to watch. Some of the channels include HBO, Starz, Showtime and CBS All-Access.

WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal also plan to lean on both original content and libraries of past shows and movies. WarnerMedia’s new service, HBO Max will include all content available on HBO and from their other brands such as Cartoon Network, The CW, TBS, TNT, DC Entertainment, New Line, Tru TV and more. NBCUniversal’s still unnamed streaming service will have its own unique claim to fame. Its plan is to introduce an advertisement supported streaming service, similar to Hulu. One big difference is this new service will be free to customers of Comcast (NBC Universal’s parent company), NBC and Sky. An ad-free version will also be available, although that will require a paid subscription.

While the content each service provides will be what drives new customers to subscribe, what each company does behind the scenes will help to determine the long-term success of its streaming service. In the age of digital transformation, the customer expects a viewing experienced personalized to their tastes and interests. To achieve this, streaming services are leveraging new tools and concepts to deliver superior user experience across a multitude of audience.

Netflix for example, has long been committed to constantly improving the user experience on its app and website. From using artificial intelligence to tailoring recommended titles to viewers—and acquiring consumer insights to enhance the user interface—innovation is always a priority to Netflix. Netflix also made an innovative step forward when they debuted Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Unlike other content on Netflix, Bandersnatch is an interactive movie, meaning at certain times during the movie viewers can decide what happens next.

WarnerMedia should be at the forefront of innovative change once their Innovation Lab is operational. The Innovation Lab will use AI and machine learning technology to create new and innovative customer experiences. This lab will lend itself to all the companies under AT&T’s umbrella including WarnerMedia. The lab, which will be located in New York City, will be powered by AT&T’s 5G network. Consumer insights gathered at the Innovation Lab should help WarnerMedia fully optimize HBO Max. These analytics can give WarnerMedia insights on how to improve the streaming service, offering an optimized experience for the viewer.

The next year will be a continuing arms race to prelude the upcoming streaming wars. Each company will work to acquire licensing rights to new content, create and develop its original content and use all the resources at its disposal to improve its streaming service behind the scenes.

Furthermore, each company has its own plan for the identity its service will have going forward. Disney + and HBO Max will most closely resemble Netflix but each will be able to lean on its treasure trove of content to bulk its library. Apple seems to be going down its own path by bringing in several of Hollywood’s elite to provide their content. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal is the only one to embrace an ad-supported streaming service.

Whichever company or companies end up dominating this industry going forward one thing is clear—Netflix has some real competition in the SVOD industry.

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Ryan Gildea

Ryan Gildea is entering his senior year at Pennsylvania State University. He is majoring in broadcast journalism. Ryan is an editorial intern at Meadowlands Media. You can contact him at rgildea@meadowlands.org

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