This was year when the streaming wars really started to heat up. Media and tech companies old and new pushed into the space with new services from Disney and Apple, while others from AT&T and Comcast percolated behind the scenes. Viacom and CBS merged, creating another media giant that will have impressive streaming bona fides. And there was a resurgence of free TV services, which are becoming a major complement to a streaming space largely defined by ad-free subscription services.
As more services come onto the market and the streaming wars become more pronounced, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. After looking back on five ways the streaming world changed forever in 2019, here’s what we’re most excited about in the space going into the new year.
The continued evolution of Hulu and Disney’s relationship
Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox meant the House of Mouse got two-thirds ownership of streaming service Hulu and that Disney assumed operational control of the streaming platform shortly thereafter. While that hasn’t resulted in massive front-facing changes for consumers, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes movement. The company folded Hulu’s scripted originals under Disney TV in July, and Disney said in November that Hulu would become the streaming home of all existing and future FX content, including some originals under the “FX on Hulu” banner.
As we move into the new year, Disney and Hulu will need to fine-tune their relationship further and determine how they will work together while maintaining and encouraging distinct brand identities. This coming year, we’ll likely see how else the company figures out how to leverage its slate of programming to best suit its portfolio of streaming services. It’ll also be interesting to see how the company will seek to leverage all of its services together. The company already rolled out a bundle of Disney+, ESPN+ and an ad-supported tier of Hulu, but could more bundles—including one with an ad-free tier of Hulu—be coming, too?
NBCUniversal’s entrance into the streaming space
After years of licensing its content to services like Netflix and Hulu, NBCUniversal is finally stepping headlong into streaming in 2020 and plans to take a lot of its own content with it.
The planned service, Peacock, is slated to premiere in April, and while there’s information about the shows that are coming to the service (including hit sitcom The Office), there are still lots of unknowns. NBCUniversal is reportedly deciding on how it will package the service with parent company Comcast’s other services like broadband internet and cable, and the pricing, which would be both ad-and-subscription supported, remains a mystery. The service has reportedly considered making the ad-supported tier of Peacock entirely free, which would be a huge boon for the ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) space.
There are lots of questions about how Peacock will aim to stand out in an already crowded streaming space. What kind of balance will the broadcaster strike between building the Peacock product and investing in its legacy pay-TV business? How fast will Peacock be able to scale up? And how formidable of an opponent will Peacock be to the other streaming services on the market? Luckily, some questions will be answered on Jan. 16, when NBCUniversal has scheduled an investor day to detail its plans for Peacock.
WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max
A month after Peacock premieres, WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service HBO Max will come onto the scene. The service will debut at the same price as a traditional HBO subscription, which HBO brass hopes will allow the company to scale up fast by converting 34 million HBO subscribers into Max customers. The new service already has a slate of high-profile library content, like the sitcom Friends and a litany of planned original series.
But HBO Max’s anticipated streaming debut has left some industry watchers scratching their heads and with plenty of questions.
HBO is one of the most distinct brands in the WarnerMedia portfolio, and Max’s programming includes kids and teens shows, animated series and reality programming, all very different from standard HBO fare. The service will have to decide whether and how to maintain distinct brand identities. Additionally, there are questions of how WarnerMedia will nurture its cable television properties while pursuing streaming. And even though HBO Max’s ad-supported offering won’t arrive until at least 2021, advertisers are wondering what information they will get in the coming year about the offering and their advertising options.
New ad formats and AVOD’s continued growth
If 2019 was the year of ad-supported video-on-demand’s resurgence, 2020 will be a time for companies to fine-tune and finesse the format. Services old and new are betting that customers will supplement their streaming subscriptions with free AVOD streaming options and services from PlutoTV to Tubi will likely spend the year scaling up, building out their services and introducing marketing campaigns to build awareness for their services and attract more viewers.
Whether it’s in the ad-supported or subscription-supported space, new ad formats will also debut in 2020 as the traditional 15- and 30-second ads lose their luster and services look for less interruptive ways to incorporate advertising. Hulu, which introduced pause ads and binge ads on its platform in 2019, has a transactional ad format in the works that is expected to debut. AT&T’s ad and analytics company Xandr rolled out a pause ad option for advertisers across DirecTV and AT&T video properties. NBCUniversal has the opportunity to have new ad formats with Peacock as well. Advertisers are chomping at the bit to get on new platforms and test out new ad formats.
Solving the measurement problem
When it comes to collecting and conveying information about the audiences watching video-on-demand, streaming is still far behind traditional television. While streaming services like Netflix have access to a wealth of internal metrics, they aren’t keen on sharing that detailed information about how successful their programming is or what the viewership habits are on their services. And new entrants in the space like Disney+ have signaled a similar approach, particularly because the service isn’t beholden to advertisers.
But there’s an appetite to make streaming less opaque, and there are plenty of stakeholders trying to crack that nut. Some big firms like Nielsen have already developed solutions to measure SVOD viewership using connected television sets and are working on bringing even more comprehensive measurement options to market in the coming year. That will be particularly crucial with the continued growth in the AVOD space as advertisers demand an understanding of how well their ads perform on these services and how many people their ads reach.