Commentary

Pandemic Behind, Weather Ahead Make Mixed Bag For VOD Providers

(Editor's note: Nina Lentini is filling in for Karlene Lukovitz, who is on vacation this week.)

Recently, I poked around on my iPad for a movie I had been watching the evening before, wanting to take up where I'd left off. It was a movie I'd seen before. I regularly hearken back to old movies in order to regain a sense of equilibrium. That is, anything before the 1990s, when cellphones and the Internet arrived.

I love to remember how people lived without either of those things, although I would be fairly lost without them now (she types on her iPad as she glances at her phone to see what the latest notification tone reveals. "Alexa, what is the temperature in New Haven, Connecticut?").

In any case, I couldn't find that movie. I started with Starz, for which I'd signed up specifically to see "Gaslit," which was fantastic. I never cared much for Julia Roberts but she was perfect for the role of Martha Mitchell. And Sean Penn as John Mitchell? I couldn't find Sean's face in all that makeup, but he was excellent as well. That movie cost me $2.99 and I'll be extinguishing Starz as soon as my month is up.

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Well, my movie (I'm too embarrassed to reveal the title) was not on Starz. So I tried Hulu, where I learned I could watch it with a subscription to live TV. Never mind that I don't even have a Hulu subscription (I piggy-back on my sister's). Next up was HBOMax (again, thanks to sissy) and it wasn't available there. 

On to Amazon Prime for which I pay some ginormous amount of money mostly for the shopping and share with my two kids. The movie was offered for rent there at $3.99 and for purchase at $14.99. No, thanks. Peacock? I occasionally turn to this ad-supported streaming provider but my movie was available only with a premium subscription for $4.99 a month.

What about Kanopy, which I get for free through, I think, my local library. There were several similar-sounding titles -- but no dice.

Gone. My movie had disappeared into the ether. But it was July 1, so perhaps it had been available only through June. Who knows. Now I was stuck inside on a blisteringly hot summer day, looking for alternative video entertainment. Apparently, I have a lot of company.

Subscription-based video-on-demand providers such as the ones I perused are hoping this summer repeats itself. After all, 2021 saw average daily playtime up over 5% from the same time in 2020, the height of indoor activity due to Covid.

But now that gatherings large and small are taking place like it's 2019, and now that the economy is edging closer and closer to the tank, can those companies count on another boost or even staying even?

Here's what happened last year: Of these regions -- Asia, Europe, Pacific, Middle East, Latin America and North America -- all except the Pacific reported higher VOD consumption in the third quarter over the earlier quarter. In fact, while that latter region was down 7.5%, according to NPAW's 2021 Video Streaming Industry Report, in the summer of 2021 from the previous year, it went way up in the third quarter, by 15.9% -- the only region with higher consumption during the winter compared with the summer.

Engagement during that summer was up highest in the Middle East, by 10.4%; by 8.6% in Europe, by 7.8% in Asia, 6.2% in Latin America and 5.2% in North America. But by the third quarter, those five regions saw a big drop (over 11% in the Middle East and North America, for example.)

What's ahead? The weather seems to play a big part in these numbers. As climate change continues its stranglehold on the globe, we can expect a hotter summer this year with record-high temperatures, many of which have occurred already, and people will head indoors to watch videos, new and old.

Yet, the loosening of COVID restrictions and a return to events and travel, as well as a sour economic climate, could portend a reduction in streaming consumption as well as subscription cancellations. It's a mixed bag.

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