Written by Shona Smith on Apr 15, 2020. Posted in General Interest

The streaming wars heat up due to coronavirus

Coronavirus is the dominating headline of 2020 for the screen industry, but what has its impact been on what was anticipated to be one of the biggest unfolding stories of the year: the streaming wars?

2020 is the year that the streaming wars heat up as new platforms launch into an already competitive market. New launches including Disney+, mobile friendly short platform Quibi, NBC’s Peacock and Warnermedia’s HBOMax have, or are set to launch in the wake of coronavirus.

In the case of Disney+, which launched in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland and India over the last two weeks the market shifts due to coronavirus seem to have had a positive impact on subscription numbers. The service now has over fifty million subscribers globally, eight million of which are in India. Part of the success of the platform can be attributed to the lockdown status of many of these countries that has closed schools and restricts families to their own homes. A statement released by Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Walt-Disney Direct to-Consumer & International acknowledges that its family friendly content that draws on Pixar, Marvel and Disney back catalogues has worked in its favour in the current climate, "Great storytelling inspires and uplifts, and we are in the fortunate position of being able to deliver a vast array of great entertainment rooted in joy and optimism on Disney+" he said.

Last week mobile-only streaming platform Quibi hit 1.7 million downloads in its first week after launching with a free 90-day trial. Designed to deliver “quick bites” of content for modern consumption habits, episodes on the mobile only platform last under 10 minutes. The original slate of productions include stars such as Chrissy Tiegan, Idris Elba and Liam Hemsworth and LeBron James. The ad supported service had sold over two thirds of its inventory over nine months before its launch as brands bet on its ability connect to hard to reach demographics, but as much of the population are changing daily routines due to coronavirus Quibi's launch may have been dampened. According to Variety, Quibi’s launch was better than third-party estimates but had a “relatively tepid reception in part because of the coronavirus pandemic”. The company is adapting for accelerating plans to allow casting from smartphones to TVs due to widespread stay at home measures.

In comparison, traditional streaming services have seen increased subscriptions and higher viewership figures. Documentary series Tiger King for instance reached thirty-four million viewers in the first ten days of its release in the US competing with some of Netflix's most watched series such as Stranger Things. The streaming platforms which invented binge-watching are well placed to capitalise on the current situation and have tapped into their digital audiences needs with services such as Netflix party, which synchronises viewing and allows groups to chat in real time.

Not only are audiences staying in, but major sporting events such as the premier league, the Olympics Formula One and Wimbledon cancelled. While broadcasters are making up the schedule in innovative ways analysts are predicting that the pandemic may accelerate current cord-cutting habits.

However, streamers have not escaped challenges and implications of coronavirus may impact platforms later down the line. As physical production has come to a halt and a further potential squeeze on production infrastructure, there will be a lag in new content. Platforms that rely on original content, such as Netflix, Apple+ and Quibi may be more affected by this than studios such as Warner Media and Disney that can rely on classic series and films to make up for delays in new content.

Evidently, the streaming wars are still just heating up and coronavirus will contribute to the evolution of the streaming landscape.

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