Not your parents’ television
2015 is shaping up to be a seminal year in Australian television with the further fragmentation of services and on-demand viewing. This is not your parents’ television where daily viewing was confined to the offerings from a handful of major networks and the recording of scheduled movies and programs on a VCR for later consumption. In March the U.S. streaming giant Netflix will launch here. Netflix is the world’s largest Subscription Video on Demand “SVOD” service with a market capitalisation of $US20 billion and over 53 million subscribers. The monthly cost in America is fixed at $US8.99 for access to a large TV and movie library and some original production content which can be played on multiple devices. To counter, Australian media companies are launching their own SVOD services including Stan, a joint venture between Nine and Fairfax Media, and Presto, a collaboration between Foxtel and Seven West Media. Ten is currently deliberating but can’t afford to be left out in the cold. It’s rumoured it could actually jump in with Netflix itself and throw its local programming and younger audience appeal into the pot. The media houses clearly do not want to miss out on a stake in this emerging SVOD battleground and new revenue streams. It will be a battle worth watching with some players inevitably likely to fail as scale will be important due to thin margins and with the added pressure of a relatively limited market size. Also, there are some legacy providers such as Apple and Quickflix. These developments continue the realisation of the Long Tail theory written by editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, between 2004 and 2006. In it he described the shift away from a relatively small number of “hits” towards a large number of niches in the new marketplace which is largely driven by digitisation and low storage costs for online retailers and aggregators. Narrowly targeted “niche programming” can be as attractive to stream as the “Hits” (blockbusters) from the big production companies. The sum of all the demand for the niche programming can be very large indeed (the long tail) and where much of the new growth is coming from. We all have a substantial collection of narrow interests as well as an interest in the mainstream. The winner is very clearly the consumer, with large programming libraries from which to choose and a huge variety of special interest programming on demand. No longer are we at the behest of the broadcasters. This will continue to present a challenge of course to marketers and advertisers as the medium changes and fragments. Time will tell in Australia of how SVOD plays out. Content will be crucial; both back catalogue and original production, as well as pricing and delivery. Netflix will be up for the battle with some entrenched and powerful Australian media companies but brings plenty of its own muscle to the fray.