The Year in OTT: Top 7 Moments in Streaming

It’s that time of year already. The suite is booked at CES. Invitations are going out, you’re setting up meetings and preparing to build the foundation for a strong 2020.

But before we get swept up in the annual madness that is Las Vegas in January, let’s look back at some of the industry highlights of 2019. It’s been a banner year for streaming entertainment, both on the business and content side. Here are seven of the most interesting items that caught my eye this year:

#1. The Irishman (just don’t watch it on mobile?)

Hey, it's not a smartphone! Source: The Guardian

Martin Scorsese is a lot of things – Oscar-winning director, actor, historian. Just not a fan of people watching his work on a smartphone. I can kind of see his point. The Irishman, released via Netflix, is a detailed, sweeping 3.5-hour saga that immerses you in the world of 20th-century gangsters, politicians, and Teamsters.

I preferred watching it on a TV, and while this type of epic is best suited to a big screen, mobile is where the growth is at. In 2019, mobile overtook smart TV, computers, and tablets to become the most popular screen for online video viewing globally. Netflix is even experimenting with mobile-only plans selected markets like India, where the plan will start at only $2.78 per month.

BTW, fun fact: According to Bloomberg, only 18% of viewers watched The Irishman all the way to the end.

#2. Disney Eats The World

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Media concentration tends to happen in waves, with companies being bundled and unbundled, just like channels in a cable package. The acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney is one of the biggest entertainment deals ever, at $71 billion. Part of the strategic realignment of assets to compete in a direct-to-consumer landscape, seeing Rupert Murdoch returns to his roots in news and sports in a newly re-organized Fox Corporation.

And it’s not just Disney. Comcast/Sky, ATT/Time Warner and CBS-Viacom have all completed tie-ups, leaving control of 90% of US media with just four conglomerates. With more deals in the offing for 2020, let’s hope lack of diversity doesn’t lead to homogenous content.

#3. Baby Yoda

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Ah, the face that launched a thousand memes! One of the most surprising and delightful moments in 2019 was the reveal of Baby Yoda in episode one of The Mandalorian.

It’s hard to keep a secret on the Internet, and Disney did an incredible job of keeping this character under wraps.

Bob Iger took the decision to hold back the merchandise sales of Baby Yoda until the Spring. That meant no leaks from the various licensees who would be making the products. A visionary and brave call by Iger and I think one that’s paying off handsomely. Looking forward to reading his new book, Ride of a Lifetime, over the break.

#4. TikTok and the New Wave of Social Video

Kristen Hancher. Source: YouTube

The biggest competition for streaming services is the number of minutes in a day. There’s only so much time you can spend consuming video, and for the youngest cohort, that video is increasing via TikTok (1.2 billion downloads) and the other mobile social apps.

Kids born after Friends finished its run aren’t going to sign up to Apple TV+ to watch Jennifer Anniston in The Morning Show. Gen Z is watching breakout UGC stars like Loren Gray and Kristen Hancher, who cross boundaries beyond TikTok into traditional media.

These stars are building empires outside the traditional system, and in turn have made TikTok’s owner Bytedance the most valuable startup in the world. The rise of Bytedance (and Kuaishou), along with the introduction of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi will kick off a battle for Gen Z eyeballs in 2020.

#5. Rise of the Niche Players

Source: DAZN

It’s not just Disney and Apple winning new subscribers this year. A new wave of standalone, single-genre services are gaining traction through being laser-focused on the markets they serve.

If you’re into boxing and live in the US, then DAZN and Fite are for you. Korean dramas? Try KoKawa or Vicki. Anime lovers have great choices in Crunchyroll and Funimation. Factual programmer CuriosityStream has just hit over 10.5m subs (although reports say most are from its cable deals rather than the OTT service). It’s encouraging to see a strong market for quality, diverse content, not just mainstream Hollywood blockbusters.

#6. AWS Delivers FOX

AWS is a cloud behemoth, and they’re only getting stronger in the media and entertainment space. Last week they announced a groundbreaking partnership with FOX Corporation (the part that remains in Murdoch ownership post-Disney). This deal is the first time that a single tech platform will be used for both traditional broadcast and OTT delivery.

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This means one workflow for cable and satellite MVPDs, 200 affiliate stations, telcos and OTT services. This is significant because of the depth of services that AWS offers for media (deep analytics, machine learning, content production and delivery among many) will be available across all of FOX’s distribution channels. The platform is capable of supporting 8k too, so clearly they are building for the next decade and beyond.

#7. Amazon’s Mrs Maisel

On the content side, Amazon’s breakout hit was just renewed for a fourth season, just as the third season starts its streaming run. With 16 Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has put Amazon Studios on the entertainment map and justified a slice of the $6 billion they are spending on original content this year.

Maisel is the story of a 1950s housewife turned star comedienne, told with frantic broadway-style pacing and Scorsese-level attention to detail. Huge set-pieces (aircraft hangars with 1,000 GIs, trips to Paris) put this show squarely in the big-leagues of the TV with a movie budget.

Amazon seems to be hitting its stride with original content. The upcoming $250m Lord of The Rings adaption is already generating a ton of buzz. The first 20 episodes are in production and season two has already been ordered. Counting down to see this one!

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Thanks for reading! I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year, and I look forward to seeing you at CES! Reach out to me if you’d like to talk about how taking a data-driven approach to churn, retention and engagement are going to transform your streaming service in 2020!

Picture: Seventeen Magazine | Disney | Netflix