Content Comes in Many Forms

“I am Loki, of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” Loki, “The Avengers,” Marvel Studios, 2021

Sometimes we get so enamored with movies in theaters and content on our home screen we think that’s the alpha and omega of the entertainment industry.

It takes our kids to bring us back to reality.

We’re looking forward to seeing Top Gun: Maverick with our son. After all, it’s been 35 years since we saw Cruise climb into the cockpit and take the stick.

The kid really prefers to take the controls with Ace Combat 7 and rule the skies. We have to admit he’s darned good at it too.

Of course, he should be … he spent hours on his GeForce NOW account in the cockpit. Then had to add Google’s Stadia when Badai Namco suddenly disappeared from his preferred cloud gaming platform.

It gave us pause to think maybe M&E isn’t all about movies/TV shows.

We make a big deal out of people shifting from pay TV to streaming.

Analysts like Ampere Analytics had already developed a new classification for households … super stackers.

You know, households that had three or more SVOD subscriptions.

Ampere recently reported that more than 29 percent of U.S. streamers already had five or more services.

That’s because Hollywood has always been glamorous … at least from the outside looking in.

Beautiful people … beautiful projects … beautiful award events … beautiful deals.

O.K, so a lot of it is fantasy, but folks like to believe it.

Some like to simply look.

Friends – Disney’s Bob Igor (l) and Apple’s Steve Jobs both appreciated creativity and elegant technology. We may never know if they thought about the two firms joining forces.

 Others like to get fringe folks and outsiders involved in the industry.

In his memoir The Ride of a Lifetime, Bob Igor didn’t say that he and Steve Jobs had discussed a merger or acquisition but then, he didn’t say they didn’t either.

Still, there were those nasty Hollywood rumors.

The two firms have always had more in common than differences because both organizations are creative and have a positive global image/following.

Disney has billions of folks who enjoy visiting the parks, taking the cruises, watching the movies, buying the merchandise and, with the roll-out of Disney+, watching the content at home.

Apple has hundreds of millions of device lovers around the globe and, with the roll-out of Apple TV+, millions of content viewers.

Only Igor knows whether Jobs took a pass on the merger, and it looks like he wants to keep the Jobs mystique intact.

All of that didn’t stop Wall Street from saying Tim Cook blew it when he didn’t snap up MGM when it was being shopped and allowed Amazon to acquire it for a mere $8.46B.

A media merger may still be in the future for Apple – it has the financial reserves for it – but they’re in a stronger M&E position than the boys in the Street give them credit for.

Certainly, better than AT&T when they racked up $85B in debt to purchase WarnerMedia – total debt load $153.39B – before realizing it would be better if someone who understood the industry and people controlled its future.

Building a great global streaming service takes talent and luck but it also requires a heavy dose of relationships and … listening.

Discovery’s David Zaslav knows relationships count and surprising the creative and distribution folks isn’t cool.

There are more media acquisitions to be had because streamers around the globe need all of the stuff in the libraries as well as the production facilities/leases and creative development resources.

The real key is understanding where the audience is and their interests today … and tomorrow.

That’s something Apple has attempted to do for a long time.  It was apparent when they announced Apple TV+ back in 2019.

Full House – While all of the attention was on Apple’s streaming video offering back in 2019, the company also wanted people to know they were looking at the total entertainment picture with a loaded gaming app (l) and news/reading materials.

Sure, folks got all excited about the content Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa and others were going to create for the new service.

But like Disney and Amazon, what they really rolled out was a multi-legged entertainment home/personal service.

Disney had its destinations, deep library and roster of new content as well as a bustling (and profitable) video game business.

The ecommerce company had subscription and free streaming (Prime Video, IMDb) as well as reading options, games and music galore.

Apple reminded people that in addition to video stories they had games, news and music to keep the faithful busy in their closed garden.

Single Pad – Increasingly, streaming entertainment services are understanding that by offering a full range of content they can keep people in site so they don’t jump from service to service.

With all three of the services, people didn’t have to jump from one app to another.

The faithful could move from movie to TV show to games to the full spectrum of entertainment and stay in their pond.

Netflix’ Hastings and Sarandos haven’t been resting on their content or sitting around counting their film statues.

They may be the leader in streaming content with more than 210 global subscribers, but they’re also considering a bundle of games – many based on some of their most popular project storylines, not unlike Apple Arcade with exclusive/timed exclusive games.

Why?

Well, first off, subscribers want a continuing stream of new content and once they’ve burned through the new stuff, they’re ready for something new … even if it’s somewhere else.

One way to keep people is to give them interactive shows (which the industry is trying to master) to allow viewers to engage with the stories and experience different viewing segments and endings.

Warner?

Naw, they shed their gaming business (Sony snapped it up) because games don’t have red carpet events.

Stream Budget – It doesn’t take people long to figure out that their streaming budget covers more than just movies/shows.

But entertainment is more than just movies and streaming shows, especially among the emerging influencers – Gen Z.

Constantly with a screen in hand, they prefer to play video games, stream music, connect/engage on social media and, in their spare time, watch TV or movies

Gen Zs have been early adopters in the entertainment market and they influence what next generation, millennials and Gen Xers connect with.

Living Online – Gen Z folks were born with a device in their hands (almost), and they know how to use it for … everything.

According to Deloitte, 87 percent of Gen Z, 83 percent of Millennials and 79 percent of Gen X people regularly play video games on their smartphones, game consoles, computers and big screens.

SVOD bosses liked the idea that 49 percent prefer paid gaming, and they tend to stick with their single-person and multiplayer games for a long, long time.

Most Gen Z players report that video games help they stay connected with others and more than half note that they will cut back on other entertainment activities to play games.

When they’re not playing video games, more than half of the young adults (18-29) stream music every day.

And they aren’t alone.

More than 40 percent of young and old folks list music as one of their top three entertainment activities.

And for the SVOD service, 45 percent of the listeners – 67 percent Millennials – would rather pay for their service than have it interrupted with ads.

Perhaps that’s why last year, 80 percent of music revenues came from paid streaming services.

Churn – moving from one service to another – is a continuing issue for video services because people find it difficult to manage 4-5 subscriptions, find it tough/frustrating to find the right entertainment and manage their entertainment budget is a juggling act.

Too Easy – Unlike your old-fashioned pay TV bundle, streaming subscriptions are easy to add, easy to subtract and folks do regularly.

Younger generations rely on social media influencers and social media ads to find the content they want to view or determine which services they should add, drop, retain.

We admit that we don’t understand it, but people found the ads in social media for streaming video content were “likeable” if they helped them find the movie/show they were looking for in their service.

When they couldn’t, they switched.

Cost Counts – Some have been known to say their services are only a few dollars more and people will see the added value but … it doesn’t quite work that way.

But the main reason for deleting/adding services was cost.

Cost isn’t an arbitrary figure since consumers already have a service budget in mind, regardless of how valuable the provider feels their content is.

Consumers are most willing to pay $12/month for ad-free service (40 percent) or 10 min/hr. of ads for free service (39 percent).

One Door – Many streamers quickly realize that the best way to manage their content sources and budget is through a single door where they can easily pick and choose their entertainment.

One of the reasons Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Nvidia Shield have become popular with people streaming their entertainment is that they offer a centralized location for viewers, players and listeners to find the content they want without having to move from one app to another.

In addition, you can scroll through their paid and free offerings.

Both Roku and Amazon offer value for everyone in the distribution chain.

For viewers – more content selection.

For advertisers – broader audience.

All of that works well when you watch, play, listen to your content at home because most households still have their robust broadband connection from the old pay TV days.

Great but…

The biggest issue is one that is outside the content producers’/distributors’ control … mobile bandwidth for on-the-go entertainment.

In the U.S. and in a number of high-volume streaming content countries, the mobile service providers deliver 4G performance, at best.

So, if you wonder why, you’re not enjoying brilliant 4K HDR streaming video with your device, or your video game has a little lag, it’s because content delivery service folks have to throttle back “a little” so the content/performance is still acceptable … just not perfect.

Work-in-Progress – Around the globe, there is a lot of work/investment that still has to be made to deliver on the promise of 5G service.

We know you bought a new 5G iPhone this year and life is good, getting better–especially if you live in South Korea, Canada, England or just about everywhere but the U.S.

Verizon and T-Mobile have been aggressively building out their 5G infrastructure over the past few years.

Now, even AT&T has shifted its attention from selling content to delivering 5G service across its entire spectrum.

Of course, you may be experiencing high-speed wireless service if you’re in the right location.

If you do … don’t move!

If you’re streaming Netflix content, you’re likely to be able to watch 4K.

Understanding the issues, the company developed advanced codec solutions that deliver quality with a minimum of bandwidth.

In addition, Akamai, Cloudflare and other major CDNs (content deliver networks) are helping streaming services by closely managing their services and strategically locating content servers closer to the edge of the network to improve streaming performance.

While your mobile service provider proudly touts their 100Mbps or 144Mbps service in your area, services in other countries would say that is very good 4G (maybe LTE – Long Term Evolution) performance.

The U.S. wireless service may not be broad and fast, but it is one of the more expensive wireless services around the globe. It’s also why most users are advised to switch their device streaming from 5G to Wi-Fi for viewing/playing.

Quality is good and it’s easier on the budget.

For the time being, you’ll probably agree with Loki when he said, For the record, this really does feel like a “killing me” type of room.”

It will get better–soon.

Until then, check the settings on your iPhone or just listen to music.

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Andy Marken – andy@markencom.com – is an author of more than 700 articles on management, marketing, communications, industry trends in media & entertainment, consumer electronics, software and applications. An internationally recognized marketing/communications consultant with a broad range of technical and industry expertise especially in storage, storage management and film/video production fields; he has an extended range of relationships with business, industry trade press, online media and industry analysts/consultants