Streaming Into 2022: Key Battle Lines

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Disney Plus racked up more than 118 million paying customers in its first two years. HBO and HBO Max swelled to 73.8 million worldwide as of the end of 2021, beating WarnerMedia’s forecast. Netflix now boasts more than 216 million worldwide.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped lift all boats in the streaming seas. But now the tide isn’t rising nearly as fast: Subscriber numbers are plateauing in mature markets like the U.S. as the streaming wars enter a phase with more gritty hand-to-hand combat.

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“In 2022, churn is the big story,” says Paul Pastor, founder and chief business officer at Firstlight Media, a streaming infrastructure provider. “Services achieved their 2024 targets without trying. Now there’s real competition to keep those customers, which is why Disney and others are investing heavily in content.”

To sustain its momentum, Disney Plus “needs more volume” of programming overall, with a greater mix to hit different demographic segments, outgoing executive chairman Bob Iger acknowledged in a CNBC interview last month.

This year, large global streaming players will look at stealing share and developing new sources of revenue, says John Peters, head of Accenture’s media and entertainment practice. Increasingly, we’ll see a “bifurcation of the industry — those who can charge rent and those who pay rent,” he says.

What he means: There will be a class of video streamers like Netflix, Disney and possibly WarnerMedia coupled with Discovery that have enough scale to serve as the “front door” to a bundle of content. On the platform side, aggregators such as Google, Roku, Apple and Amazon (with both Fire TV and Prime Video) will gain traction.

An Accenture survey of 6,000 adults in the fall of 2021 found that the top consumer frustrations were trying to find content in a fragmented over-the-top landscape and having to pay for multiple individual services. The aggregation trend is “going to pick up speed as smaller streamers fight to get discovered,” Peters predicts.

“There’s been this de-aggregation of linear [TV] content,” says Rob Caruso, director of product management for user experience at Google TV, the internet giant’s streaming interface for Chromecast and other connected-TV devices. “People just want someone to come in and help organize it.”

The industry’s streaming aggregators have an opportunity to bring together multiple content services — not just video but also games, music, social media and more.

Netflix, for one, has taken a step in this direction by adding games to its core service. And on this front, Samsung Electronics is making a new play for gamers on its flagship TVs. Ahead of this year’s CES, the consumer electronics company announced a new gaming hub, set to launch globally later in the year on select 2022 Samsung Smart TV models, with titles from partners including Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Google’s Stadia.

“We think gaming is the next frontier — it’s the last major media entertainment sector to go streaming,” says Sang Kim, Samsung’s senior VP who oversees the software and services teams for smart TVs and Galaxy mobile devices.

Meanwhile, new entrants are still aiming to carve out share in the streaming-video market.

This year will mark a streaming milestone for Univision: The Hispanic broadcast and media giant is gearing up to launch its first standalone subscription VOD service, following the expected close of its acquisition of Mexico’s Televisa. Univision also plans to debut a rebranded free-streaming service, incorporating its existing PrendeTV, which will comprise 40,000-plus hours of on-demand programming and more than 100 live channels.

Univision’s two services, which have yet to be named, will have completely distinct content lineups. Rafael Urbina, GM and executive VP of AVOD streaming at Univision, believes that clean separation will be less confusing than offering multiple tiers at different price points (as Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, Paramount Plus and others do).

Says Urbina: “We are trying to the best of our ability to be that one-stop shop for streaming for Spanish speakers.”

Pictured above: Sebastian Stan (l.) and Anthony Mackie star in Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney Plus

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