Who Wants More TV Shows?
The launch of new TV streaming services will not lead to higher levels of media consumption, regardless of the aspirations of these newly formed platforms.
Technology executives seem to be under the impression that because we spend a lot of time watching TV, we’ll be more than happy to subscribe to another platform to consume even more.
However, I would consider most people’s thoughts on more streaming options to be far less enthusiastic. The fragmentation we’re beginning to see, with the launch of HBO Max, Peacock, Britbox (in the UK) and Discovery/BBC (in the US), is leading people to question why they’re paying for channels they barely watch…sound familiar?
At least with the aforementioned services, they have a large catalog to entice people in. I’m sure Netflix was bummed when it heard Friends, The Office and Blue Planet were leaving, as they’re excellent subscription retention tools.
For Quibi and Apple TV+, the future looks bleaker. Both are aiming to make waves with original programming, but neither have shown inventive social outreach (as shown by Quibi’s lack of screencast functionality), which is one of the primary devices for TV shows entering into the online zeitgeist.
Add to that both seem to appeal to an older generation, while Netflix and Prime Video feel universalist. I don’t know anyone under 25 who is excited by either platform; most Quibi supporters appear more fans of the tech side than TV watchers.
Luckily for both, they have billions of dollars backing them. Quibi raised $2 billion before it even launched, and Apple is already spending hundreds of millions to acquire films and TV series with well-known actors.
That will keep them going for a while, although I suspect both will be plagued by high churn and moderate subscription figures. How long will it take for Quibi’s investors to worry they’ve made a wrong bet? How many TV shows will it take for Apple to take a step back and stop spending?
The fragmentation was bound to happen as Netflix’s stock price skyrocketed, with TV executives eager to get a hold of a new market. However, not all streaming services can succeed. And I suspect that the services attempting to break into the market with original content will be the first to fall.
That’s not because the content is bad (although Apple’s shows are boring and Quibi’s are rejected TV ideas) but because most people don’t have the time or energy to devote to new services and shows.
There’s a reason people re-watch Friends and The Office, and The Walking Dead is on its 256 season. It’s easy. They know what they’re getting. In a world of almost unlimited choice, people go for the stuff they know they’re going to like, rather than watch an hour’s worth of something new they may not enjoy.
To make a video game analogy, I’ve replayed Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, and The Witcher 3 multiple times, despite having hundreds of games in my Steam library, because I know those hours spent will be fun.
No service is going to replace Netflix; there will not another industry behemoth that towers above all. Through fragmentation, Netflix may lose market share, although I still expect it to be a leader for a while.
That means all Apple TV+ and Quibi can hope for is a niche audience, possibly drawing one to two percent of all TV viewing time.
It’s unlikely that either will come up with a TV show so magnificent it draws in millions, unless it acquires a highly successful series from a cable network or renews an old, popular series, although the past 10 years have been filled with remakes which haven’t succeeded.
Will being a niche player be enough? It’s unclear. Quibi has said it’s launch was underwhelming, but we don’t know what its projections are for two to five years after launch.
For Apple, I expect they want to compete with the most popular services. Apple doesn’t continue spending big on moderately successful products, although a relatively successful service may induce more people to buy or upgrade their iPhone, so that might be something.
Either way, don’t expect the lavish spending we’recurrently witnessing continue if subscriptions don’t meet expectations.