2021 is off to a busy start. We’ve seen senior content execs depart in North America, global streamers hiking their prices in Europe to pay for new shows, and IP-owning behemoths such as Disney further proving their immense clout. Here are seven stories from this week that point to what we can expect in the coming months.
Disney powers up Star
In the battle of the streamers, popular IP is the most valuable ammunition of all, and after Disney spent much of the last quarter shifting its laser-focus to its SVODs, this new year has seen the Mouse House wasting no time in leveraging the value of its extensive content library.
Earlier this week, Disney unveiled some of the highlights headed to its new Star brand on Disney+. While ABC thriller Big Sky and Hulu’s romantic comedy Love, Victor were named as the first two Star ‘originals’, it is perennial favourites such as action-drama 24, mystery-thriller Lost, comedy How I Met Your Mother and supernatural thriller The X-Files – among many others – that Disney will no doubt be banking on to draw in new subscribers.
The additional content will also more than double the offering on the rapidly growing streamer when Star lands next month – more than justifying its upcoming price hike.
Netflix needs more cash
Netflix, meanwhile, is also raising its subscription fees in the UK next month as it seeks to cover its increasing content budget, neatly underlining a different reality at the world’s biggest streamer.
The SVOD powerhouse explained the move by saying that it is planning to spend “over $1bn in the UK on new, locally-made films, series and documentaries” this year, pointing to shows such as The Crown, Sex Education and Top Boy.
However, unlike Disney+, this price hike will not be heralding a sudden boom in its carried content and will no doubt come as unwelcome news to consumers just as the UK enters another economically taxing lockdown due to the pandemic.
Further subscription fee increases elsewhere should not be unexpected as Netflix turns to producing more of its own content, with US studios in particular increasingly launching and furnishing their own DTC services.
Ramification of restructuring
Much of Disney’s restructuring – like most of its US studio counterparts – took place last year but the ramifications have continued into 2021.
Disney+ and Hulu content chief Ricky Strauss had initially emerged relatively unscathed from the Mouse House’s corporate musical chairs that put streaming at the centre of the company’s operations, but after nearly a decade with the firm and “much contemplation over the past several months”, he decided that his new-look role did not provide him “with the opportunity to do the kind of work I love to do.”
Expect similar moves from others as they transition to new roles in radically evolved structures, while the flurry of senior execs already departed will no doubt turn their attention to their own ventures, as seen with the launch of SVOD aggregator Struum this week.
Bell tolls in Canada
While we became sadly accustomed to swathes of management being slashed in the US last year as part of the move to streaming, the depth of the cuts at Canada’s Bell Media earlier this week came as a shock.
Content chief Mike Cosentino, SVP of original programming Corrie Coe, distribution & pay president Tracey Pearce and Bell Media Studios VP Nanci MacLean all departed, as new Bell Media president Wade Oosterman – who replaced Randy Lennox last year – made his “streamlining” move.
The hope is that the experience of the execs, many of whom had been with the company for decades and had shepherded shows such as Orphan Black, Letterkenny and Cardinal, will not be required as Bell focuses is attention on – you guessed it – streaming proposition Crave TV. Expect more “streamlining” at regional operators around the world as businesses bet the house on OTT.
Middle East streams to the world
India was being touted as the country to watch last year as global streamers vied with regional and local operators for its millions of consumers, and there is little doubt that the Asian giant will continue to attract huge interest in 2021 too.
But international execs also point to the Middle East as a key region to watch and this week duly brought news of Rashash from Saudi Arabian streamer Shahid VIP, which the company said would be the “biggest production” to date for a regional streamer.
Life On Mars and Hustle creator Tony Jordan is onboard the “multi-million dollar” production, which is being filmed in Saudi Arabic with English subtitles and marks the latest move from Shahid to make its mark globally.
Regime change at Sky
Late last year, long-standing Sky exec Gary Davey revealed he was stepping down from his position as CEO at production division Sky Studios. Several weeks later in 2021, it was the turn of his boss Jeremy Darroch to confirm he was stepping aside as CEO of the European pay-TV giant.
Both men had been key players during the reign of Rupert Murdoch, but new owner Comcast has now installed its own woman in the hot seat in the form of Dana Strong, president of consumer services at Comcast Cable in the US.
Other US conglomerates have already made changes across their international divisions and it seems continued reshuffles at the very top will be likely as companies install new execs to oversee this new era.
New chairman and renewed purpose for BBC
The pandemic has been a defining era for pubcasters across the world, serving as a source of information, education and entertainment during a difficult year.
In the UK this week, the BBC demonstrated its commitment to its educational remit in the face of the country’s third national lockdown, by announcing programming blocks across multiple channels and its VOD service iPlayer, designed to support children suddenly unable to attend school.
From curriculum-based programming to film adaptations of literary classics, the BBC is to offer hours of content each weekday so that even children without access to the internet can continue their studies.
This gesture cannot hurt the BBC’s cause as this week also heralded confirmation that ex-Goldman Sachs banker Richard Sharp is in line to be the next chairman of the corporation – with a negotiation with the UK government about the publicly-funded licence fee likely top of his list when he takes over the role next month.
Sharp will work closely with BBC director general Tim Davie and arrives at a time when the corporation faces growing competition from its commercial rivals. How the BBC will navigate these challenges will be seen over the coming months.