Consumers flocked to streaming services in unprecedented numbers in 2020, and they had a plethora of options — which continue to grow every day — from which to choose. As consumers update their entertainment setups to align with today’s digital media landscape, they’re faced with two main decisions.
First, how do they want to access content (e.g. through a smart TV, set-top box, streaming device, etc.)? And second, what content do they want to watch? There is a subscription tipping point, and viewers are cultivating their own “playlist” of streaming services, apps, and ad-supported channels in order to access their favorite shows and movies, while maintaining a comfortable number of subscriptions.
For media owners, all of these choices mean more fragmentation and complexity in terms of content distribution and monetization. How can you compete within the vast amount of programming available and make sure your content is found in the seemingly limitless number of places consumers are searching for it?
The race to build direct-to-consumer (DTC) apps
In response to this fragmented distribution landscape, many media owners and programmers are consolidating their content to one DTC app in an effort to take back control of their content and focus eyeballs on one core distribution point. We’ve already seen this play out with several new entrants in the streaming wars, including Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, Discovery+, Paramount+, AMC+, and others.
Consumer reception has been strong thus far, and these players are succeeding in creating a premier destination for creative content that attracts viewers — and ad dollars. But, consumers aren’t likely to support an unlimited number of DTC apps, and the fight over subscribers will intensify.
So how can you shape your distribution strategy to reach viewers in the places they’re already streaming content?
Following consumer trends to new distribution opportunities
It’s challenging to identify where to compete as a media owner. A consumer app will not be the right choice for everyone. The good news is that viewership is increasing across a number of distribution avenues creating can’t-miss opportunities for viewer and revenue growth. Even for those with a DTC offering, these opportunities are too big to ignore.
As the streaming ecosystem takes off and matures, we’re seeing three main trends that media owners can tap into for content distribution:
- Consumers continue to cut the cord and move to vMVPD services.
The number of pay TV households in the US has declined from 94.3 million in 2017 to an expected 73.7 million in 2021. Consumers continue to leave their cable subscriptions behind in favor of vMVPDs such as Sling TV, AT&T Now, Hulu + Live TV, Spectrum TV, Philo, and fuboTV. This subscriber growth means more people are accessing content directly through these apps rather than through a media owner’s separate, proprietary app.
- Free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) services are gaining popularity.
Consumers won’t pay to subscribe to every streaming service. In fact, SpotX’s “CTV Is for Everyone” research found most consumers aren’t interested in owning more than four subscriptions at any given time. They are, however, interested in accessing more content through ad-supported services, with 60% preferring to watch free content over a paid ad-free service. It’s no surprise then that FAST services — including The Roku Channel, VIZIO’s WatchFree, Samsung TV Plus, LG Channels, Redbox Free Live TV, Pluto TV, Tubi, and many others — are all quickly attracting viewers to their curated linear channels and on-demand programming.
- More content is now accessible through set-top boxes (STBs).
Until recently, it used to be that only programmers had content and inventory accessible through set-top boxes. Now, any media owner can make their content available across STB devices, opening up another avenue for reaching viewers as they access their favorite streaming apps directly through the STB. It is true that the number of cord-cutters continues to rise, but STB distribution is still a worthwhile investment and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Of the roughly 130 million households in the US, 57% still subscribe to pay TV.
How Crackle Plus unlocked new distribution channels to reach 60+ million new viewers
Crackle Plus was one of the first movers in the advertising-based video-on-demand (AVOD) space, and has maintained exceptionally high viewership and engagement growth ever since. Already, its linear and VOD networks are available across a wide range of devices and services, including Amazon FireTV, RokuTV, Apple TV, smart TVs, gaming consoles, in-room hotel set-top boxes, and mobile and desktop devices.
Crackle is now investing further in its streaming experience while also expanding into the world of FAST channels. New distribution on fuboTV, Philo, Plex, VIDAA, VIZIO WatchFree, and XUMO will open up Crackle’s content to 60+ million new viewers in 2021. This unparalleled distribution unlocks its content and makes it easily discoverable — essentially putting Crackle Plus everywhere.
Consumer apps, vMVPD platforms, FAST services, and cable set-top boxes are all major distribution options that media owners are leveraging to grow reach and brand awareness among the next generation of video consumers. A range of distribution options is also appealing to advertisers, as they search for new opportunities to engage their target audiences.
Streaming growth isn’t slowing anytime soon. Don’t miss out on the viewership and revenue potential by ignoring any of these opportunities to increase access to your content.
Mike Laband is Senior Vice President of Platform at SpotX. Laband joined SpotX in May 2010 and is responsible for overseeing all US and Canadian publisher and media owner business development, platform services, advanced integrations, advanced TV initiatives, and audience development. His team is focused on cultivating relationships and partnerships with media owners to leverage the SpotX video platform for ad serving, programmatic yield optimization, and data enablement. Prior to his business development role, Mike oversaw SpotX’s publisher operations and brand safety, as well as led the rollout of platform tools and services to publisher partners. His extensive knowledge of SpotX’s internal ad operations, technology, and the video landscape enabled him to certify SpotX against the IAB Quality Assurance Guidelines in 2011. He also has participated in a number of the IAB’s mobile and desktop video working groups. Mike graduated from the University of Colorado, Leeds School of Business with an emphasis in marketing.