Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia and just about everyone who can configure a streaming server is getting into the direct-to-consumer (DTC) content business. There are many valid reasons for this, not the least of which is consumer demand.
Everyone says they want a la carte
For years, people have been waxing poetic about the desire for a la carte video content. “Why do I have to endure the Paranormal Mansplaining Channel when all I want is Food Network and some news? If only I could pay for just what I want to watch.”
In a couple of weeks, you’ll have so many options to pay for content a la carte, you won’t really know where to start. And yes, you’ll be paying extra for the inconvenience.
Paying for inconvenience
I never met anyone who had anything nice to say about cable television set-top box interfaces or user experiences (UX). But love them or hate them, all TV-based video content interfaces had one thing in common: convenience.
Every time you pressed the channel button, you got to see content from a different provider. And while each channel had its own business model (ad-supported, subscription or a bit of both), none of that was your concern. You just had one—albeit large—cable bill to pay. Shows were on channels, and all you needed to do was press channel up or down to see them all.
If playing Where’s Waldo? with your programming isn’t annoying enough, wait until you add up your combined broadband, basic cable and DTC bills. In honor of the biggest shift in television distribution since the advent of cable, get out your calculator and let’s see what your a la carte content is going to cost you.
Crazy as it sounds, Apple is the low-cost provider in the SVOD (subscription video on-demand) space. At $4.99 per month (or free if you recently purchased certain Apple devices), you get Apple TV+.
Disney+ is the 900-pound gorilla in the space. The House of Mouse is coming into this game heavy along with Disney-branded content, Marvel, Star Wars, Muppets, Pixar and the rest of the Disney universe. Now bundle it with Hulu and ESPN for a package that is sure to please almost every member of your family.
HBO Max is a bit of a headscratcher. At $14.99 per month, it’s expensive. And while it will feature 10,000 hours of content at launch and includes Friends (leaving Netflix in 2020), The Big Bang Theory and all WB-produced content for The CW (like Batwoman), it may not be a compelling offer.
Perhaps you just want to stick to Netflix. Or maybe you want Hulu. How about Amazon Prime Video?
Further complicating video streaming decisions are all the companies vying for cord-cutters (and cord-nevers). Don’t want to pay Comcast or Fios? Any of several companies from Hulu to Sling to YouTube to DirectTV would be happy to take your money. But when you start adding this up, from SVOD services to livestreaming TV, the numbers get crazy big, crazy fast. You can easily double your existing cable or satellite bill.
Just a few bucks a month
Good marketers will tell you that price is not the issue, especially with a digital product. You simply put your service in market and test until you get an optimal match between consumer demand and the value you are offering. Entertainment industry veterans will tell you that people will pay for entertainment, even in the most economically depressed times. In fact, some of the best years for the entertainment industry have been some of the worst years for the economy in broad economic terms.
Even though there’s no new money in the world and even though the adjusted household income for the average American family has not increased in over a decade, most people believe that consumers will find the cash they need to purchase the entertainment they want.
However, we’ve never had a less convenient or more expensive way to assemble our entertainment. While there opportunities for meta-services, new kinds of curators and packagers and new bundles like cable or satellite, it will likely cost the same (or more) than cable or satellite video packages cost now. But assembling an on-demand, commercial-free, customized world of content will create the consumer experience that about half the population will expect.
It’s a crowded field, and Apple, Disney and WarnerMedia are making big bets. This is going to get very interesting very quickly. As they like to say in the TV business: Stay tuned.