Who Knows Where SVOD Is Going?

My 17-year old son recently told me that many of his friends don’t watch anything on traditional TV anymore, and many do not have DVRs.  They watch TV almost exclusively on Netflix or Hulu, and are more than happy to wait for shows they want to see.

This trend doesn’t have much impact on reported TV ratings for adult demos, since their households still use traditional television, but it does have implications for the future.  Will those viewing habits continue when kids get older, own their own homes, and start their own families?  Who knows?

“The Good Wife” was one of my wife’s (and my) favorite shows.  We recently saw a promo for “The Good Fight,” the spin-off that will air its pilot on CBS this Sunday and then be available only on CBS All Access. My wife turned to me and said, “You mean the only way we can watch this is if we pay for CBS All Access? That’s really annoying.”

Since the vast majority of regular CBS viewers will never get CBS All Access, airing a spin-off of one of its most popular series, and not making it available to most viewers of that show, is risky.  On the other hand, if “The Good Fight” and the upcoming “Star Trek” series manage to add another million or so viewers each, CBS will likely see it as a major success (which it would be), and the service would be well on its way to achieving CBS’s projected subscriber base of 4 million by 2020 (it currently is approaching 1.5 million subscribers).  



Five years ago, I wrote an article titled,“Netflix is the Best Thing Ever.”  Last year I wrote another one called, “Netflix is Still the Best Thing Ever.”  It still is. My wife and I recently binge-watched “The Crown” (10 episodes over three nights). Whenever the networks are in repeats (non-sweeps months), we look to Netflix for a series we haven’t yet watched.  With the service planning about 1,000 hours of original series and movies in 2017, we should continue to have a lot to choose from.

Ads on broadcast networks for “Sneaky Pete,” finally got us to subscribe to Amazon Prime (we already get Hulu as well). It continues to boggle my mind that the broadcast networks stubbornly refuse to advertise on one another, but they’ll accept ads from cable and streaming services.

While streaming services generally do not make their audience data available (average ratings don’t mean anything to them, although reach does), SymphonyAM, a company that tracks cross-platform viewing, claims to measure them. I’m not completely sold on SymphonyAM’s methodology (and Netflix has called it inaccurate), but who knows?

According to Symphony, in 2016, the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” “Stranger Things,” and “Fuller House” got more viewers (within 35 days after their initial release) than such network hits as “Designated Survivor,” “Bull,” “NCIS,” and “This is Us.”  In other data, during 4Q 2016, people spent significantly more time with Netflix than any network on Saturday night (on Friday, only CBS and ABC had more viewers, and on Sunday only ABC had more).  And let’s not forget that almost half the country currently subscribes to Netflix.

According to Nielsen, the average household receives about 200 channels, but watches only 17 (about the same as when the average home received 100 channels).  I suspect that the number of channels viewed on a regular basis is closer to six or seven.  This means, of course, that people are paying for a lot of channels they never watch.  With all the broadcast networks getting into the SVOD game, you can subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Showtime, and all the broadcast entries, for less than many currently pay for cable, telco, or satellite service. Whether this fact will ever overcome viewers' inertia is anyone’s guess.

So, what does all this mean?  Different segments of similar demographic groups are starting to have substantially different access to video content and substantially different usage patterns.  The industry is still too focused on measuring broad groups that are no longer nearly as cohesive as they were just a few years ago.  Research needs to keep up, and research companies need to be more nimble in responding.

1 comment about "Who Knows Where SVOD Is Going?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 15, 2017 at 7:08 p.m.

    Steve, it seems to me that the traditional TV programming types---the broadcast TV networks and some of the larger cable entities--- will soon be moving into the SVOD arena big time, employing the two-revenue stream approach for their major primetime series---SVOD for subscriptions to help reduce the risks of production costs and ad revenues via their "linear" platforms, followed by syndication sales. If CBS stopped being so cautious, it could probably expand its SVOD footprint to 5 million homes rather quickly---but this takes a real programming effort, not just one or two shows every year or so. The other networks, via HULU, are poised to make even bigger inroads once they figure out how to get started and how to compensate their station affiliates for lost ad revenues. So SVOD is likely to become increasingly competitive and I doubt that Netflix will retain the lock it once had in this category.

    As regards the number of channels "we" view, Nielsen's weekly reach tallies present a very misleading picture and the arbitrary time frame is one of the reasons. Actually, the average adult---not household---uses about 14 channels per week and this rises to 20-22 in a month and continues to expand as the months go by. Moreover, heavy viewers---20% of the population that does 50% of all 'linear TV " viewing----use many more channels than the averages suggest. While not every one of the 200 odd channels that are available are sampled per viewer, many people discover potentially interesting channels by a combination of word-of-mouth recommendations and sampling. Often, the appeal of a particular item of content is the lure. Were we to "unbundle" as many theorists keep hoping for, the most likely result would be the demise of most of the selectively programmed cable channels, leaving us with the "usual subjects"---ABC/CBS/NBC/ CNN/ Fox/ Turner, Discovery, ESPN, etc firmly in control, garnering higher much higher ratings than now and charging subscribers, not the $2 per month fees that the surveys tell us they desire, but five times or more that amount. That's hardly the dreamy scenario that is being predicted, you know---the "emancipated viewer" at last getting to pick only those 15 channels that he/she "wants".

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