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US streaming video market tops $29 billion, but plenty of challenges remain

The business of OTT streaming video continued to blossom in 2021 after a breakout 2020, but faces moderating growth over the next five years in the United States, by far the sector’s biggest global market, according to PwC’s Global Entertainment & Media Outlook.

That has big implications for investors, whose enthusiasm has for the sector has cooled dramatically since Netflix reported in April its first drop in subscriber numbers in a decade. The world’s largest streaming service since has announced layoffs, spending reductions, production cancellations, and new ventures such as an ad-supported tier.

Though most major Netflix competitors continued to add subscribers in 2022’s first quarter, analysts have pulled back on Total Addressable Market projections, especially in an increasingly saturated U.S. market. They also have raised concerns that the new Hollywood business won’t be quite as lucrative as previously believed, or nor even as remunerative as its former pay-TV and theatrical businesses were for decades.

PwC’s 59-page annual outlook, which examines the five-year growth prospects for numerous sectors from book publishing to Internet service providers to trade shows, details the increasing competition for online video customers, spin-off impacts on related industries, and even suggests the eroding cable bundle may make a comeback, albeit in an evolved form.

The report says that OTT video jumped 22.8% in 2021, to $79.1 billion in revenues. Going forward, that growth rate will moderate to 7.6%. The big driver of opportunity will be a near-industrywide shift to hybrid streaming models that feature purely ad-supported FAST/AVOD services, combined with subscription services that provide tiers with and without ads.

“In the medium term, shifts towards hybrid monetization methods, connected TV and free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels will cement video’s role as the main driver of revenue between 2021 and 2026,” the report says.

But the way forward is far more complex than in recent years, for both customers and the companies trying to serve them. That may pave a path for the return of the cable-TV bundle in a substantially new form after years of cord-cutting, the report suggests.

“Our insights and forecasts suggest evolved packages that center around a broader definition of entertainment are in the future,” PwC’s C.J. Bangah, consulting principal on TMT Customer Transformation, wrote in an email interview from the Cannes Lions conference. “How we get from where we are today to that future is still being written. The pace at which new pricing models and packages are delivered are likely going to correlate to a few factors, including the broader economic environment.”

At the core will be the broadband connectivity that has been a major growth opportunity for cable operators in recent years. Indeed, companies such as Comcast serve more broadband than traditional TV bundle subscribers. Having that minimal relationship allows the company a chance to upsell, especially for premium channels, live sports, 24-hour news providers and similar content.

The broadband customer relationship thus creates a beachhead that is “important because it allows cable to weather the storm of cable-cutting and cord-trimming as users move to using more stand-alone TV providers. Retaining these now lower-paying subs means that as the re-bundling of third-party services occurs, cable TV will be able to recoup these losses. Additionally, this strategy preserves the ability for cable to cater to premium subscribers who are using more expensive services like access to sports content.”

Consumers are increasingly chafing at the challenges and rising cost of managing multiple streaming bundles, with different billing and sign-on, and the difficulty of finding where a specific show may be available. Done right, the report suggests, cable providers could help solve some of those headaches with new kinds of integrated offerings that the report says are “increasingly likely.”

It could be a boon for the services too, because navigating between so many competing offerings “takes its toll on the performance of all of them. In order to grow revenue across all of these competing companies, it is necessary for a neutral aggregator to play the role of the consumer gatekeeper.”

The new bundles also will offer access to new kinds of services, especially cloud-based video games that can be played with standard Bluetooth-compatible controllers or mobile phones.

Apple, for instance, has offered access to 200 games that can be played on its Apple TV streaming device as part of the Arcade service. More recently, Netflix began offering some mobile games tied to big franchises such as Stranger Things, and Amazon launched its Luna cloud-gaming service about six months.

But none of this will be easy, for the cable providers or their multiplying competitors/partners, Bangah cautioned.

“There is no clear market-dominant winner for the future of entertainment and media,” Bangah writes. “We see fault lines and innovation opportunities across most segments, and while for traditional TV players there are strengths they can use to help protect and drive market share – there are also very strong headwinds they must compete against.” Forbes

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