Woody Allen: The Past As Future

January 13, 2015

Apparently the future for Amazon lies in the past: they have tagged Woody Allen to create new original content for their Prime service.

Coming hot on the heels of their first Emmy win, this hire is a strong signal, though not necessarily the signal that the general population expected.

The public is being told that this shows streaming video is now an official Mainstream Thing.  The reality, though, is more complex: streaming TV was already a Mainstream Thing – and to differentiate within a swiftly expanding market is way harder than it once was.

Two years ago, if you wanted to see a recent TV show, your choices were largely limited to a download from iTunes or a stream from Netflix (if they had it).  Today, your desire to watch, say, Sons of Anarchy, can be slaked at any number of sources, from dedicated SVOD streaming services, to numerous download stores, to the TV Everywhere offerings of just about every MSO in the marketplace.  Having the rights to a popular show is not, in today’s increasingly crowded market, the key to success.

There are now two ways to differentiate.  The first is the one we see illustrated by the Woody Allen hire: create your own content, which nobody else has.  What started with the fascinating House of Cards series has now metastasized into the crazy array of streaming-only content.  Yet, despite the wins for both Netflix and Amazon at the Emmies, no more streaming content wins mass appeal than that which originates on the TV and cable networks (actually, the latter still take more than their fair share of the awards).

The second way to differentiate, and the one which is gathering real momentum, is in delivering a discernibly superior experience.  Consumers today – all of us – will sample from as many services as we can lay our hands on.  We’ll search for the content we want, throw it onto whatever screen we have in front of us at the time, and lean back to expect a TV-quality experience.

And, of course, if that isn’t the experience we get, we do what we do with everything online: we ditch it and try an alternative, until we find an experience we love.

Quality of experience was a luxury until very recently for online TV providers, who could wield content rights as their differentiator.  Now the differentiator is the experience.

Sure, Woody Allen will doubtless make content that will attract eyeballs.  But if episodes buffer and play at low quality, you can take it to the bank that those fickle denizens of the Internet will move along to the next stunt-cast online-only show with their subscription dollars and their advertiser-appealing eyeballs.