Recent events have helped subscription video on demand (SVOD) services boost customers numbers, but even before lockdown research carried out by Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting and telecoms regulator, showed that more than half of us (53%) subscribed to at least one of Netflix, Prime Video or Now TV with significant numbers subscribing to at least two SVOD services.
That’s in addition to our watching of free catch-up services such as iPlayer and All4 and traditional linear broadcast channels.
The arrival of Disney+ and Britbox in the past 12 months, plus the growth of advertising funded services from the likes of Rakuten TV, means we’re now confronted by a huge range of streaming TV services which are designed to cater for all budgets and tastes.
And while broadcast channels remain the way audiences watch most of their favourite content, there’s been a substantial shift in viewing habits which is in turn driving big changes in the whole TV industry and opening new business opportunities.
For example, in the space of a few years Universal Search – the ability to search content in multiple apps at once – moved rapidly from being an exciting cutting-edge technology to a basic feature expected in all Smart set top boxes and TVs.
And the wealth of content providers has given rise to various aggregation and content discovery services aimed at helping customers keep track of their favourite shows as well as finding new things to watch.
But some of the potentially most far-reaching changes are only just getting underway – in recent weeks both Disney and ITV have announced big changes to the way they’ll manage their businesses and content in the future.
Under a revised structure announced last month, Disney is separating its content production and distribution functions, a move CEO Bob Chapek says will allow the firm to be “more effective and nimble in making the content consumers want most, delivered in the way they prefer to consume it.”
The restructure means more new content is as likely to be made available via Disney+, Disney’s US streaming service Hulu, and its recently announced international streaming service Star, rather than on Disney’s traditional TV channels or even in cinemas.
And just a week after Disney’s announcement, ITV – which runs ITV Hub, its ad free subscription-based sibling Hub+, and the day-to-day operations of BritBox UK – confirmed it too was restructuring “to better reflect and serve changing viewing habits.”
A new on-demand division will “grow ITV’s online offering by providing new content that appeals to audiences who already do most or all of their viewing on demand and will serve it to them in whatever way they want to access it.”
While CEO Carolyn McCall stressed that “linear channels will be around and be profitable for many years,” she added that the new on-demand business “will increasingly be the focus of our new investments in content and technology and which will be our growth engine attracting younger and more targeted audiences to ITV.”
Since that announcement ITV has experimented with using its flagship broadcast channel as a promo for BritBox’s Spitting Image by airing the first part of a US election double bill and then directing viewers online if they wanted to watch the second half.
That two such longstanding content makers and broadcasters are making SVOD so central to their future growth and audience engagement feels like a major moment.