What Does 2016 Hold for Streaming Viewers?

January 7, 2016

If 2015 was the year that OTT became A Thing, then 2016 is the year of growth. As I write this, the Skinny Bundle universe is expanding, as companies like Quickplay enter the fray, and the whole industry awaits with baited breath the long-awaited announcement that Apple is all in. Meanwhile, new entrants abound, from existing media companies getting into the game, to hardware makers like VIXS wondering if they can invade the sitting room with tempting devices.

As new players emerge, there’s no doubt that the existing market leaders are sharpening their blades, looking for ways to build fences around their audiences.  In the amusingly-titled Becoming Less Evil TV[R]ev examines the strategic efforts MVPDs are making to get closer to their consumers.  And the players who used to be the upstarts are retrenching, digging in and making sure they don’t get lapped: Sling TV is tweaking its device deals, adding ESPN3 and expanding its personalization capabilities, while Yahoo! Is killing Yahoo Screen, presumably to build a new offering.

Consumers, however, aren’t on a linear path. Digitalsmiths tell us that even among full-on cord-cutters, over 45% are actually still watching linear television for some of their entertainment – presumably live events like sports. There’s plenty of work being done in supporting these viewers, such as DVR device designed to make watching linear TV over the air more pleasant. And the MSOs are testing as many permutations of a Set Top Box(STB)-less bundle package as they can come up with, looking for ways to make the cord-cutter every bit as much their customer as those with the STB hooked up to their television.

This may in fact be the year that experience syndication starts to truly take hold. As the LA Times points out, there is now an almost dizzying array of options for cord-cutters, and the sheer breadth of the offerings is now starting to become unwieldy for the entertainment-hungry viewer. Managing the bill for Internet, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, SeeSo and more is becoming a near full-time job, and consumers are close to being ready for someone to gather all the pieces together and package them for easy consumption. The natural players for such an offering are the MSOs, and we can expect them to move aggressively on this front very soon.

Who else can do it? Amazon is rumored to be working on a stand-alone service that looks and smells very much like experience syndication – or a skinny bundle, if you will. Their technological prowess suggests it is entirely possible they can stitch together a service that will be quite good enough, aggressively-priced, and simple to manage. Apple may or may not get involved (the pundits are in two minds about this), and it seems inevitable that Google (for sure) and Yahoo (maybe) will take a run at this opportunity.

What’s going to make this all together is Experience. Between them, all the competitors have great content – much of it the same, some of it exclusive – but likely not enough to make any single library a truly killer app to build walls around their audience.  They will need to surround their content with truly stellar Experience–something that includes, but transcends, the quality of the picture and the smoothness of the playback. Experience includes advertising (is there the right amount, and is it the right stuff), content affinity scheduling (connecting shows together that draw the customer to keep watching), content curation (making sure the new shows continue to build the provider’s brand) and more. Understanding what viewers want, when and how they want it, and what else will keep them in place – these will be the problems for which providers seek solutions in 2016. And the best of them will build a strong position, readying them for rapid, profitable growth over the year.