March 23rd. A day we all knew was coming for a while (in the UK). A day at the beginning of a very odd, and long, period that we will all remember for the rest of our lives. It was also the day the internet began to lightly implode with usage, and most importantly, the day Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTV and so many other streaming services awoke wide-eyed and ready to fill the entertainment needs of nearly every person within the United Kingdom (and the world). Then a day later Disney+ launched and was added to that list.
Streaming Services See Superior Stats!
Since lockdowns, worldwide, began all the streaming services have been seeing huge increases in their user bases, and how much content that base is watching (both exclusives/originals and licensed material). Netflix alone added 16 million new users since the beginning of the year, almost double what the previous three months of sign-ups had been (Netflix lockdown sign-ups ramp-up). It was also a pretty lucrative time for Disney+ to launch when the Q2 results come in it is bound to show new records for sign-ups for an online streaming service, even small streamers such as Quibi (1.7 million sign-ups in one week) have had bumper months and launch periods.
Can Infrastructure Keep up?
There are massive positives and negatives to all of this. First of all, it shows the important place creatives and the creative industry as a whole play in times of extreme stress. When times like this hit, escapism and the hug of a childhood film can prove key to someone’s anxiety. It has also been a huge boost for Netflix, a firm that was years in front of all other services but was beginning to show early signs of sign-ups and growth plateauing, at least in the UK (Just 420,000 new US sign-ups in Q4).
There are, of course, huge negatives that align with these. No matter what content we have watched, in the background we have all still been aware of the lives and businesses destroyed by this pandemic. It has been a hugely unsettling period for humanity, and not only does it show some of the key failings of our governments, but also of our technology, such as bandwidths across the EU being decreased to keep up with the number of pressure services (Streamers reduce streaming quality). There’s also the question of what it will mean for the future of the cinema experience.
This raises the question of how streamers can push out more and more content, in more ways and on more devices, when infrastructure may not be able to cope with this all in their first place. I even had to upgrade my home broadband to be able to carry out a Zoom call and watch The Simpsons on Disney+ at the same time.
None of this, however, can hide the fact that the future of content looks ever more based online, and most likely on these new streamers. This is whilst we all appear to be moving away from the TV license and classic media producers of the past. Content is king and streamers are funding new and fresh content from innovative creators across the board, none more so than when you look at the new Quibi. This streaming service has been designed for modern life, to be quick to watch on the train, whilst also being shot in formats made for a smartphone, not a tv or cinema screen. For services, they are going to have to look at ever more interesting techniques and content to gather sign-ups. For me, Netflix continues to be unbeatable in this. Netflix is the only service where you can watch a comedy film, a serial killer documentary and Shrek all in the same day without changing the ‘streaming channel’. Whilst Disney+ looks sensational in its size and past content, you are never going to catch something like Tiger King on it. Whilst Amazon continues to play catch up in original content that gathers word of mouth in the same way as Stranger Things.
Lockdown has led to many people being stuck indoors, but thanks to streamers and their content we can now be transported to a galaxy far, far away, the Upside Down and Hogwarts (thanks NowTV) all at once and all within a few seconds of our broadband catching up.