Remote, Controlled: What does the future hold for video streaming

By Nick Watson and Gabriel Few-Wiegratz


As we complete the 14th week of lockdown, Netflix finds itself in its 14th year of OTT (over-the-top) streaming services [1]. For more than a decade, new OTT technology and increased bandwidth has allowed a huge expansion of TV opportunities. Yet this has become a hyper-local experience; shows are watched individually, household by household, and the days of TV guides and neighbourhood discussions have disappeared. However, through the misadventures of the Tiger King, the lockdown has opened my eyes to the Chrome extension ‘Netflix Party’. Social isolation has reminded us of the importance of shared experiences, so it is no wonder this little app (which has already been around for a handful of years) has suddenly soared in popularity. Once again, we can now view and discuss our shows together, but remotely.

Since April, when Netflix Party became a ‘hot creator’ on the Chrome store, attention has turned to a wide range of similar third-party services like Scener and Rave [2]. These each follow two principles of digital consumption: simultaneous and shared. Although a new trend for streamed shows, this follows similar developments in nearby sectors like e-sports and social media – more than 20% of Facebook videos are now live rather than pre-recorded [3]. Netflix Party already has 10 million users so there is little doubt these experiences have the demand to become a profitable expansion for big streaming platforms [4]. It would be no surprise if the near future saw the further development of this technology, which aims to take the remoteness out of remote watching.

With a market size of $42.6bn (£33.9bn) in 2019 and an expected annual growth of 20.4% from 2020-2027, the streaming market has clear attraction to new entrants, such as the new Disney+, HBO Max and the upcoming Peacock from Comcast. [5]. However, the appeal of ‘all you can eat’ streaming services declines if you need multiple subscriptions to watch your favourite shows. Between video and music, research suggests that US consumers are typically willing to pay for a maximum of 3-5 subscription services, indicating a new competitive environment [6]. New arrivals to the market will also need deep pockets to compete on quality: Netflix already has a budget of $10bn (£7.9bn) for original productions [7]. Synchronised streaming and other platform developments may provide an alternative USP and make consumers more willing to subscribe to further platforms.

Yet alongside competition we are seeing partnerships. Recent talks suggest Indian platform Viacom18 may start to produce content for Netflix in order to expand to US audiences [8]. We could see the future of streaming become one of international conglomerates which then compete on an even larger scale. However instead of the so-called ‘streaming wars’, it is also possible that as the quantity of streaming services increases, they will specialise to find unique positions in the market. Through their collection of animations alongside hit blockbusters from popular franchises like Marvel and Star Wars, Disney+ has begun to hint at this shift with its distinct catering to a family audience. Much like family screenings at the cinema, we may begin to see targeted streams and premieres for likeminded groups or communities.

The global potential of streaming has not been lost on investors. Although China, (with its huge potential audience) is not opening up to foreign platforms, Chinese firms are looking outward themselves. In 2019, key domestic actor Tencent Video established the WeTV platform in Thailand [9]. Likewise, India has detailed 26% FDI being permitted for foreign digital media [10]. These efforts reinforce that media companies now view streaming platforms as a global commodity. Linguistic localisation provides another opportunity: two of Netflix’s ongoing targets involve subtitling provisions and the supply of more international content [11]. This opens up the possibility of cross-cultural interaction and might prove an attraction to those who have friends and family overseas.

Finally, it is important to recognise how changes in tech itself will be critical to streaming’s fortunes. By 2022 video is forecasted to account for 82% of internet traffic [12]. Exceptional latency speeds will be required for video quality to be maintained. Although 5G technologies have faced criticism recently and may experience infrastructure delays in some areas, they have a clear potential to enhance streaming and benefit individual and shared viewers alike. Similarly, developments in machine learning and big data will allow ever more personalised advertising and accurate recommendations based on consumption patterns. With multiple viewers sharing a stream this may even lead to collective suggestions for groups and partners.

So as the COVID lockdown begins to lift, now is the perfect time to consider streaming’s future. What direction will the industry take? Will streaming services become increasingly personal, or will the reopening of the office see a nostalgic return to water cooler discussions over last night’s show? Stay tuned to find out…

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