April 13, 2024 by Romain Bouqueau

Streaming at the Crossroads: Abundance, Innovation and the Quest for Engagement

In an era where digital content is more abundant than ever, streaming platforms find themselves in a precarious balancing act. As they vie for the attention of an increasingly fragmented audience, the question of content lifetime has never been more pertinent. This dilemma is not just about what we watch but how the mechanisms behind the scenes—technology and societal trends—intersect to shape our digital landscape.

The Evolution of Streaming Services

The evolution of streaming services has been rapid and relentless, transforming the way we consume media. What began as a convenient alternative to traditional cable has morphed into a battleground of exclusivity, where platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ jostle to secure a permanent spot in our daily routines. Yet, as they expand their libraries to attract and retain users, the underlying economics and the societal implications of this content explosion warrant a closer examination.

The digital age has ushered in an unprecedented volume of video content, casting traditional TV consumption patterns to the wayside. Streaming services, in their quest to dominate free time, have revolutionized access to movies, series and exclusive shows, making them readily available at our fingertips. However, this convenience comes with its own set of challenges, as platforms grapple with the dual objectives of attracting new subscribers and maintaining their interest amidst a sea of options.

Technology Meets Society

Simultaneously, the interaction between technology and societal trends has become a critical aspect of this evolution. As consumers, our preferences and habits are increasingly influenced by the algorithms that recommend the next binge-worthy series or the must-watch movie. This digital environment is not only changing the nature of content consumption but is also reshaping the social fabric of our entertainment experiences, making the role of technology more integral than ever.

You probably read here and there that platforms, not only streamers but also Facebook, Amazon, or Epic, were fighting for your free time. In our industry, it’s incredible how platforms like Netflix have been able to produce good content consistently. They transformed something considered an art into a mass market product.

The problem for platforms now is that they need:

  1. attract new customers and
  2. Retain them within their ecosystem
  3. Be sustainable/profitable in the long run.

The most compelling way to attract and retain audiences is to propose a continuity of content customized to meet their individual tastes. This, of course, is based on content recommendation algorithms. The adoption of this technology, now commonplace, created the need to consistently add content to platforms.

Platforms-also needed to differentiate so they started to create exclusive content. This has implied enormous costs for video streamers compared to UGC platforms (e.g. TikTok) or even companies already holding a big catalog of content (virtually any broadcaster) and willing to monetize it (e.g. FAST channels).

The situation as of the start of 2024 presents a gigantic chaos to consumers. Who understands the pricing options of Amazon Prime anymore? Or the changing models and offers of the others?

What Piracy Teaches Us: Media vs. Video Games

Content owners like Disney perhaps should have licensed their content to platforms like Netflix. While one cannot say what the future would have looked like in this case, as things stand today, it’s possible to envisage a rebound of piracy due to the fragmentation of options for audiences today.

Disney thought they could exploit their existing content, including old classics and the big franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, etc.), and that people would happily continue to pay. It didn’t work, resulting in massive churn for them and many other streamers. Gaining insights into Disney's diverse catalog, distinguishing between its timeless classics and the allure of new releases, could offer valuable perspectives. Such an analysis might uncover distinct audience preferences or the varying impact of nostalgic versus modern content, guiding strategic content decisions.

Games, music and movies have shared the existential threat of piracy for a long time. Old classics have no market value because they've been abundantly pirated. Only new content seems to drive paid subscriptions.The situation for music is stable but it is also not really very good. The gaming industry seems in better shape, and the data from Steam Charts demonstrates the longevity of some games.

Innovation at the Intersection of Social Dynamics and Technology

The point is that video has not seen any notable innovations similar to those we see in the gaming world. Some games still seem to successfully battle piracy by adopting bigger, more beautiful and complex tech into their offers.

It is interesting to reflect on how much more innovation is available to video services with existing tools. It is not a surprise to see Netflix enter the video gaming business. It’s simply another area of innovation made possible by their deployment of GPAC with Motion Spell, which also made their live streaming services, and interactive series, like Bandersnatch, possible. Although they seem to only do casual gaming for now, these novel services are possible with existing technology like GPAC, which offers so much more than 2D traditional TV when it comes to innovation in the video business.

The intersection of social dynamics and technology within streaming platforms is an area ripe for greater exploration. While platforms excel at using data to understand viewing habits, they often overlook the potential of integrating more social interactions and a sense of community into the viewing experience. Enhancing social features, such as shared viewing experiences or adding new opportunities for interacting with content directly on platforms could further engage audiences and foster a sense of community around content, adding a new dimension to the digital entertainment landscape.

To understand the future trajectory of streaming services, it's insightful to look at models like The New York Times' approach to leveraging AI for content personalization and engagement. The New York Times reinvented itself by deprioritizing pure news in favor of more diverse and personalized digital pieces (not only news) which turns its website into a “destination” where users accept to pay to spend time on. The transformative nature of AI and its potential impact on digital content could be extrapolated to understand how streaming services might evolve, particularly in terms of content personalization and enhancing user engagement through AI technologies. Such innovations hint at a broader trend where the integration of technology in content platforms could completely redefine their value propositions, making them more tailored and responsive to individual preferences. This evolution could be the key to sustaining subscriber interest in a market teeming with choices.

Think about the state of the industry today. It is hard to do business because re-inventing ourselves with the same recipes is expensive

Balancing Innovation and Overload for Consumers

Subscription-based services are in bad shape. For music, Spotify won, but analysts don’t foresee a profitable future. In this respect, everyone loses money. In what world could this ever be considered sustainable? The video industry is not doing much better. Even with the flux of movement with the bigger and widely diversified players, the only consistently profitable company is Netflix. The subscription business increased the content fragmentation over platforms, leading indirectly to more piracy and put them in the precarious situation that they are in today.

As we navigate the complexities of the streaming industry, it's clear that the future lies in finding a harmonious balance between content variety, technological innovation and the cultivation of social experiences. The challenges of content lifetime, subscriber retention, and the pressures of constant innovation are formidable. Yet, they also present opportunities for streaming platforms to redefine entertainment in the digital age, making it more personalized, interactive and socially engaging. The path forward will require a nuanced understanding of not just the content we consume but how we connect with it and each other in an ever-evolving digital ecosystem.

Streaming at the Crossroads: Abundance, Innovation and the Quest for Engagement

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