Twenty-sixteen was bookended by subscription VOD services taking their limited offers and launching them globally around the world – Netflix shocked the world by switching on in a total of 200 territories in January and Amazon Prime Video ended the year by doing the same (albeit after 12 months of flat-out denials).
The impact for content creators was immediately evident. “No other network has the ability to turn programme brands into worldwide phenomena overnight in the way Netflix can,” says Keshet International’s senior VP, digital and head of business development and acquisitions, Sebastian Burkhardt.
“The rollout of Amazon Prime Video to a wider geographic base will be worth watching in 2017,” adds Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research.
In the one territory neither Netflix or Amazon could launch in – China, which refused to allow the international services in – as seen its own SVOD growth. “The member subscription model is also growing significantly in China, with iQiyi and Youku both announcing astonishing increases, both exceeding 20 million,” says Rebecca Yang, CEO of Chinese prodco IPCN.
“We will see Chinese platforms going global in 2017, eating away at American assets,” predicts Jan Riemens, founder and CEO of Netherlands-based multichannel network Zoomin.TV, who’s company is part of European broadcaster Modern Times Group.
Riemens claims much of Netflix’s bluster has been due to having “the best PR”. “However, as with Uber, the local broadcasters will fight back,” he suggests. “For example, MTG, our parent company, is holding firm in the Nordics.”
Facebook Live and kicking as Grand Tour begins
For Riemens and others, it was, in fact, Facebook Live – which allows users to instaneously broadcast themselves to the world at the click of a button – that was the most innovative new platform in digital distribution in 2016. “Mainstream audiences are tuning in in huge numbers to watch live broadcasts,” says Burkhardt (left below).
“As far as production goes, more and more innovative ways to tell stories harnessing new technology have emerged,” he adds. “From VR and 360ª shoots, second screen applications, Facebook bots to live interactive talk shows, audiences can pick and choose how they want to consume content and when.
“Regarding distribution, the buyer base in the digital space is increasing exponentially, so opportunities for premium content are bigger than they have ever been.”
This year was also a breakthrough for local SVOD services stepping into the originals game. “It’s not all about Netflix and Amazon,” says Murray. “Southeast Asia-based Iflix and South Africa-based Showmax are exploring some interesting projects.”
Jakob Mejlhede, executive VP of programming and content development at MTG, points to the original content push at his firm’s Scandinavia on-demand service Viaplay through series such as the Keanu Reeves-starring Swedish Dicks (below right).
“Original content is a massive step forward for us, and seeing our first series on screen – featuring stars like Peter Stormare and Johan Glans – felt just fantastic.”
“My view is that 2016 was the year when streaming truly came of age – both in terms of usage and content,” he adds. “It’s very interesting to look at the huge volume of scripted series produced this year – more than 500 shows, last time I counted – and then at the increasing rate at which series are tied to streaming services.
“Of course, Netflix is obviously a hugely significant force behind this development. However, Iooking at what will create long-term success for more local players like ourselves, this will lie in the ability to create and meet demand across multiple platforms, not just on one service.”
While Netflix had a pair of huge water cooler hits in the shape of Making a Murderer and Stranger Things, Amazon has easily had the most-talked-about original in the shape of Jeremy Clarkson’s new automotive factual entertainment effort, The Grand Tour.
The show rolled out on a transactional basis in 200 territories weeks before Amazon Prime Video debuted the full SVOD service internationally, and has reported scored records numbers (of course, as Prime Video is an SVOD service there are no hard stats to back up the claim).
“A mainstream non-scripted, global phenomenon being remade in the OTT space seems to signal the rebirth of non-scripted TV on new platforms after several years of scripted shows dominating the headlines,” says Keshet’s Burkhardt.
4K: Okay or no way?
Many of the respondents to our Year in Review survey at the end of 2016 had successfully predicted the coming impact of multichannel networks, YouTube Red, Facebook and even Apple, which ordered original programming throughout the year.
Another common prediction, the proliferation of Ultra HD / 4K television wasn’t quite as successful.
“Many people predicted that 2016 would bring with it the widespread roll-out of UHD channels, and sure enough we have seen strong traction in sports broadcasting in particular, where upgrading to the standard has been considered a significant benefit to the viewing experience and necessary to match the demand of audiences,” says Nick Moreno, head of strategy, satellite and media at Arqiva.
“However, there has been little sign of any kind of significant advancement across other genres in terms of linear channels – and certainly not to the level that many suggested.
“Indeed, all those analyst predictions that were made a few years ago concerning a future of hundreds of UHD channels in 2016 seem to have been quietly forgotten by all.”
The digital future
So what is coming on the digital front in 2017? “More hybrid formats that truly connect TV and digital platforms,” says IPCN’s Yang. “More game IPs and in regards to China, more Japanese 2D animation content for both TV and offline events.”
Simon Murray from Digital TV Research suggests the big upcoming rights war will be in live-sports broadcasting. Traditionally the domain of the pay TV giants, new players are vying to acquire events. “The rights for live-sports streaming are going to be huge in the next couple of years,” he says.
Reports have suggested that Facebook Live, Twitter, Netflix and Amazon are all interested in the space, while some commentators have suggested broadcaster SVOD platforms such as CBS All Access, which are getting into exclusive original content, should consider sports.