As television services have moved online, and streaming apps compete for consumers’ attention and media budgets, have they grown too quickly? FreeCast CEO William (Bill) Mobley believes they have.
While more options are generally welcomed to any marketplace, the current multitude of streaming services that consumers must navigate have been anything but a blessing.
Most people who cut the cord take some of that $100-$150 plus that they were spending on cable TV subscription and say: “OK; I’ll get Netflix, I’ll get Hulu, and maybe pay-per-view for a movie here and there.” Yet they are still looking to spend less. Then they hear about a Quibi or Peacock or even a Disney+ and begin jumping from one free trial to another, becoming confused, and amassing a cluster on their smart TV, STB, mobile, tablet or even laptop.
While more options are generally welcomed to any marketplace, the current multitude of streaming services that consumers must navigate have been anything but a blessing. Most people who cut the cord take some of that $100-$150 plus that they were spending on cable TV subscription and say: “OK; I’ll get Netflix, I’ll get Hulu, and maybe pay-per-view for a movie here and there.” Yet they are still looking to spend less. Then they hear about a Quibi or Peacock or even a Disney+ and begin jumping from one free trial to another, becoming confused, and amassing a cluster on their smart TV, STB, mobile, tablet or even laptop.
That distinction gets at the heart of our value proposition. When you’re paying for premium services, those are probably your first go-to, and ad-supported providers can fall off the radar. With our service, all of your options, free/ad-supported, subscription, and pay-per-view, are all presented, all side-by-side in a single guide. You don’t have to jump between a dozen different free and paid apps, you don’t have to Google “where can I stream this show?”
When you assume that everyone in the world has their paid subscription services, and then add all the free AVOD providers, sure, anyone can watch them, but it really complicates the experience with more content siloed in different sites and apps. These walled gardens don’t share the entire landscape, which is the essence of entertainment’s purpose of something new, something old, storytelling in segments or over a seasonal period of time, and the need to pick from mass varieties.
What’s happening in the TV industry is that you have content providers going direct to consumers. This cuts out the costs and other hassles associated with the middlemen we know as cable and satellite MVPDs. But the problem is that you now have content companies, who see each other as competitors, bringing that competition into the distribution marketplace.
This is the source of all these issues. A customer that’s fed up with their service from Comcast can get the same slate of channels, or very close to it, from DirecTV. But when it comes to direct-to-consumer streaming products, the same substitution effect does not apply. A Game of Thrones fan can’t simply ditch HBO for Comcast’s newly-launched Peacock service. As these big media companies wage war on one another, trying to get one up on each other, make their own services must-haves, or hamper competition, it is consumers who are hurt most. I believe that all streaming providers must recognise a critical truth: If you’re pushing consumers in a direction of only you, you’re pushing them away.
Problems and solutions a decade in the making
Watchers of the media industry know we didn’t get here overnight. When Netflix first started streaming movies via the web in 2007, it was effectively a digital version of a Blockbuster Video store. If you were looking for a specific show or movie, they either had it or they didn’t. But even back then it was obvious that they wouldn’t be the only game in town for long. In fact, even back then I’d held the belief that the internet would one day be the dominant distribution platform for television.
For a short period, streaming was dominated by a ‘Big 3’ of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. A customer could get Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon’s Prime Video and spend less than $30 a month, and that covered a pretty large portion of the streaming universe. Yet over the past year or so, we’ve had a major fragmentation of the ecosystem.
We’ve seen the launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+, Time Warner came out with HBO Max, Comcast’s Peacock is the latest, and a similar service from the newly merged CBS and Viacom is surely on the way next. That’s five new services, each one similar in size and appeal to the old Big 3, and the size of the streaming universe has more than doubled. $30 a month used to get you close to everything you could stream, and now it doesn’t even get you half, not to mention the hassle of dealing with three times as many accounts and services. Add in the MVPDs (live network channel bundlers), free streaming channels, numerous à la carte network offerings, a vast array of pay-per-view service providers, international, VR, etc and I believe you have what leading analyst Alan Wolk calls a “flixpocolypse”. It’s simply overwhelming to consumers, who for the most part originated from simply surfing linear channels.
The great media aggregator
The challenge we’ve been warning about has surged to the front of consumers’ minds as more continue to abandon cable TV, but find a streaming landscape that’s becoming ever more complicated, and thus more expensive as well.
Consumers have spoken loud and clear – they’re frustrated with the number of streaming services. Dozens of such subscriptions at around $10 a month can cost as much as cable or satellite TV’s most bloated packages, and finding a single show or movie across so many sites and apps is like hunting for a needle in a haystack. And after five years, this problem is still only getting worse. Recent news suggests that Viacom is preparing to launch a streaming service of its own. And more are surely on the way beyond that.
But rather than determine a magic number, because it’s different for every consumer, I would say look at the experience. You have a show or movie you want to watch, but you don’t know where it is. Do you Google “where can I watch X online”? I think we’ve all tried that, and the results suck. The other option is to take a guess, punch it into the search bar on Netflix, and when nothing comes up, move on to the next one. Time-wasting trial and error.
Most of the individual services have a price point around $10, but can range anywhere from $5.99 to $15. When you have to subscribe to five or six of those, that takes a big chunk out of what a consumer might expect to save by ditching cable TV, and it’s not at all hard to run up a monthly subscription spend that’s as much as a traditional pay-TV bill.
A recent study has the average American home with eight digital entertainment services. Rotating through services and free trials is commonly called ‘trial jumping’ as people rotate through three to four new services a year. Why? Because they cannot merely change channels and move from show to show they know; they are jumping services to catch up or binge watch their shows and bail onto the next. Very few consumers in trend review panels have said they watch by network; they do however watch by show name, and linear watchers even relate to a channel number that they go to for a particular show.
What the market wants most right now is not more streaming options; it’s a solution. What’s needed is not another content library that promises to be a better Netflix. The critical need of the media industry at this moment is a technology that will allow consumers to tap the benefits of greater streaming availability without the cost and confusion of subscribing to tens of sites and services.
The right tool for the job
That technology is FreeCast’s SmartGuide, a cross-device solution to managing the media mess that puts off so many potential cord-cutters that is available to both the consumer and commercial marketplaces. For consumers eager to save money, but frustrated by the complicated and cumbersome world of streaming media, we’ve positioned our SmartGuide at the centre of a cord-cutting kit. We also license our guide to commercial partners, including device-makers who pre-load our service onto smartphones, tablets, PCs, streaming sticks and televisions; bandwidth operators who may include a branded video service as part of their offering, powered by our SmartGuide.
While you may call SelectTV another streaming service, it’s entirely different from both the SVOD-style content libraries and Sling TV-style virtual pay-TV. Our service does not replace these other services that consumers already have and love. Instead, it makes these services more manageable, by allowing them to browse content, track favourites, and search from a single interface, rather than having to switch between a dozen different apps or websites. Our line-up is growing, and we’re working more closely with the content providers to integrate their content into our platform rather than just sending people to other websites.
It’s really about creating a one-stop shop. You input what subscriptions you have, so when you’re searching or browsing the site, you’re seeing content from multiple services on the same screen, including free ad-supported content. You know what you can watch at no cost (ad-supported), and what you can watch via pay per view.
Contrast that with the experience of the VOD apps. If you’re on a particular one, and you’re searching for a movie, if it’s not on that service, it may as well not exist. That app won’t tell you where you can find it, if it’s on another streaming service. They don’t want to send you to a competitor, but that makes it harder for you as the consumer to get to the piece of content that you want. You’re not going to give up and watch another programme just because your show or movie isn’t there.
The future in a post-Covid world
The impact of coronavirus on the economy is likely to be twofold. First, you have people spending more time at home. They’re not going out to movie theatres, to bars and restaurants, or other public venues. This certainly translates to more at-home viewing, more streaming. But there’s also a lot of economic uncertainty. A lot of people are out of work, or their income is reduced, and even those still working don’t know if their job could be affected next, or if they may have medical bills. They’re tightening their belts, and I think media spending is one place where they will look for savings, especially if they have a $100 plus TV bill. That’s first on the chopping block if someone loses their job.
That’s why delivering value is so important. Our service does that, and does it very well, and we’ll be telling that story, pitching our service as an affordable alternative to those with lower incomes or simply looking for savings. I believe consumers will be impressed with over 225 premium channels for around $45-$50 a month, as our goal is to serve the masses of linear channel watchers who have exited cable and still want their channels back in their newer digital devices they already own. Many of our customers are struggling economically and our goal is to reach them with relief, yet not sacrifice variety in their entertainment budget.
As for the younger high tech consumers we continue to promote à la carte TV solutions with the programmers under the premise that one day they will break away from bundles and allow this generation of viewer to pick and pay for a series, channels, or networks they watch. Building a bundle or line-up will be the future of consumer choice.
We keep it simple, and we want our platform to be good for everyone. Plus, we want to be even better for the networks and programmers, where we have cross-network and show data we can share, because we know a viewer goes from ABC Grey’s Anatomy to CBS Blue Bloods before popping over to NBC for a ball game. That lends a lot of data to the programming guessing game, and economic argument of the overall type of content a network/programmer may create the following season.
Bundle this crossover click-tracking data with demographic, geographic and preferences, and we are in a position to make very appealing offers directly to their most targeted consumers on behalf of these programmers.
We always believe that if content is king, consumers are the kingdom. Without a happy kingdom, content will be a troubled king.