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Explaining the “Streaming Wars” (Netflix vs Disney Plus) and why should consumers care

Streaming services are a staple of how we consume entertainment now, with shows like Squid Game, Stranger Things and The Mandalorian capturing the pop cultural zeitgeist. Netflix is a subscription streaming service and production company based in the United States.Prior to Covid, the platform was synonymous with the phrase “streaming service”, and in 2018, it had 139.25 million paid customers on its platform, cementing its position as the Champion of Streaming Services. 

Since then, legacy entertainment companies have unveiled their own streaming services such as Peacock (NBC Universal, responsible for the Despicable Me and Jurassic Park franchise), HBO Max (Warner Bros – Harry Potter, DC), Paramount Plus (Mission Impossible – Transformers), and Disney Plus (Disney – Marvel, Star Wars and Toy Story to name a few) in an effort to capitalise on the future of entertainment. 

However, after a decade of exponential growth, streaming providers are experiencing a drastically sluggish upward trend and increased rivalry, driving an unsustainable content war just as customers cut back on entertainment services. As a result, the importance of this “conflict” is that it affects users, investors, and the industry’s future.

Recently, you may have heard about Netflix’s historic stock drop, losing 50 billion dollars in market value, despite Netflix having 221 million suscribers as of 2022. This article will explore Netflix’s historic drop along with a brief discussion on other services,their prospects and one of the biggest casualties of the “streaming war”, Quibi. By analysing, these streaming services, we get to understands models much better and demystify the brands that we consume daily, that we don’t give much thought to.

Exploring The Reasons Behind Netflix’s Fall

How the mighty have fallen. Despite fierce competition with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, Netflix remained the unchallenged champion of the video streaming business. However, their reign came to an end in 2022 when their stock dropped 38.64% on Wednesday (20th of April 2022), its lowest level since 2004 (as of writing). This isn’t the first time their share price has dropped this year. In January, when Netflix announced that it anticipated adding a considerably fewer number of users than the previous year, their stock dropped by more than 20%. Year to date, the stock has lost 60% of its value.

Source: Netflix, Inc. (NFLX) Interactive Stock Chart – Yahoo Finance

Furthermore, investors who had originally expected the company to add new users in the quarter were shocked to learn that the company disclosed losing 200,000 additional subscribers in the first quarter; and were expecting to lose another two million in the second quarter of 2022. This was possibly due to the increase in user subscription price in the U.S with their basic plan now being $9.99 a month from its original price of $8.99. Standard plans now cost $15.49 per month, an increase from $13.99, while premium plans have inched up to $19.99 a month.

The recent decline of stocks can be attributed to rising interest rates as well. When interest rates rise, “growth stocks” (stocks that are more likely to increase in capital value than to produce substantial income) have a less favourable outlook due to the increased borrowing costs.

Source: Netflix Stock Price Drops 35%, Posting Biggest Fall Since 2004 – WSJ

In terms of subscriber loss, a recent Nielsen study found that over half of consumers in the U.S felt overwhelmed by the diversity of streaming options available. As it became increasingly difficult to access specific titles in a specific location,  customers grew increasingly dissatisfied. Hence, viewers were more likely to select services most vital to them when new providers enter the market.

As an example,  during the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, NBCUniversal was able to successfully leverage its various consumer endpoints, including Peacock and NBC Sports. Following consumer feedback that indicated that the streaming experience during the 2021 Summer Olympics was confusing, NBCUniversal changed its strategy. During the 2022 Winter Olympics, the revised streaming strategy significantly simplified consumers’ ability to search for the content they desired.

Source: State of Play – Nielsen

A quote from senior strategy analyst Julia Alexander perfectly describes Netflix’s current position in this war; 

“At the centre of it is Netflix, this large company with the biggest streaming service, that is now facing a wave of competition that, while they were prepared for it, is hitting them all at once and eating into their market share.”

Therefore, with fierce competition from other services, Netflix’s market share and stock price have seen a dwindle.

Source: Parrot Analytics: Who Is Leading the OTT Race? – TTV News (todotvnews.com)

Source: Parrot Data: New Platforms Gaining Demand Share at Expense of Netflix – Media Play News

Quibi, or 2 Billion Down the Drain

Quibi was an American short-form streaming platform that produced content targeted for mobile device viewing. Its objective was to reach viewers in a fast-paced environment with its unique short-form videos that were claimed to be ideal for a clandestine watch everywhere (the brand name itself was a portmanteau of “quick bites”). In 2018, Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman sought and received $1 billion in seed funding from every major Hollywood studio, as well as venture capital firm Madrone Capital Partners, major banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase & Co, and John Malone’s Liberty Global. Quibi would later close a second round of funding, bringing its total investment to $1.75 billion, just a month before the service launched to the public in April of 2020. There seemed to be much hope for Quibi’s success.

Yet, hopes were dashed when  it shut down only six months after its launch. According to The Motley Fool (a private financial and investment consulting firm based in Alexandria, Virginia), here are some of the reasons why.

Timing

Quibi, which was released in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, was never going to be used in offices or on public transportation. Everyone was forced to stay home, binge-watching shows more than ever, just as Quibi came with its easy on-the-go streaming options. It can be seen that Quibi’s unique functionality proved completely inappropriate for the context of its release.

Platform support

Initially, Quibi appeared to be unduly invested in its campaign. The most prominent example of this was Quibi’s lack of platform support. Quibi did not support any other significant home entertainment platforms. Even Alphabet’s Chromecast devices, which are designed to simplify casting mobile device streams to TVs, were not supported at first. Quibi eventually added Chromecast, as well as support for Apple’s Airplay casting protocol.

Content

It’s hardly quantitative analysis to say that Quibi’s shows were “poor” in quality. The entire premise of Quibi was its brand-new format, which mandated the creation of all-new content. As a result, majority of the content of Quibi (i.e Nikki Fre$h, Punk’d, Singled Out etc) was universally panned by reviewers and regular viewers alike. 

Final Takeaways

What can we take away from Quibi? The most straightforward takeaway from Quibi’s downfall is that foundations still matter. If the basics are overlooked, such as comprehensive platform support and substantial content investments, a creative content strategy will inevitably fall short. Other streaming services must hence address these flaws should they want to avoid their share of the streaming market to vanish as soon as Quibi’s.

Who will likely win?

While Netflix was the undisputed king of streaming services, many newcomers are now vying for the top spot. Given that, we’ll investigate which streaming service is most likely to survive this war by examining their revenue, content quality and quantity.

Disney+

Disney+ presently has 118.1 million subscribers, noting an increase of 11.7 million over the previous quarter (as of February 2022). Hulu and ESPN+, Disney’s secondary products, also performed well with both gaining subscribers. Hulu SVOD has 40.9 million customers (up 1.2 million from the previous quarter) and ESPN+ has 21.3 million subscribers (up 4.2 million from last quarter).

Source: Disney’s 2021 Annual Report FY21

For this quarter, direct-to-consumer revenues climbed 34% from 3.51 billion to $4.7 billion, but operating losses increased 27% from 0.47 billion to $0.6 billion. Higher losses at Disney+ and, to a lesser extent, ESPN+ contributed to the increase in operating loss which was largely offset by stronger profits at Hulu.

Higher programming, production, marketing, and technological expenditures were partially counterbalanced by a rise in subscriber income at Disney+, resulting in lower returns. Subscriber growth and retail pricing hikes also contributed to higher subscription revenue. Essentially, cost and subscriber increases reflected expansion into new markets and, to a lesser extent, growth in existing markets.

Source: Disney’s 2021 Annual Report FY21

Domestic Disney+ Average Monthly Revenue Per Paid Subscriber (ARPS) climbed due to greater retail pricing and a reduced share of wholesale customers, whereas foreign Disney+ (excluding Disney+ Hotstar) ARPS increased due to higher retail pricing. While Disney+ Hotstar grew as a result of new areas of users from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia with higher average rates, it was compensated in part by a higher percentage of wholesale subscribers.

In my personal view, Disney+ is a wonderful membership option for a full family’s viewing pleasure. This is because it features Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic, Star Wars, and, of course, Disney’s iconic properties. It provides a big — and increasing — library of high-quality TV shows (over 7,500 titles) and movies (over 1,000) in a stylish, feature-rich package (ESPN+ and Hulu) that is simple to use. To put things in perspective, Quibi spent over $1 billion in its first year commissioning original content, totalling 8,500 short-form episodes and over 175 series. Overall, Disney+ is a formidable challenger in the streaming wars since it overcomes the challenge of accessing certain titles in specific locations. 

However, Disney+ is yet to have the same depth of content as Netflix or Amazon. Certainly, family-friendly programming may not be as appealing to viewers who do not have children or are not fans of animated media. Therefore, Disney+ is currently best enjoyed as part of a larger collection of streaming services.

Paramount +

Paramount+ subscriber numbers were released recently for the first time, revealing 56 million global streaming subscribers.

 With the reveal of its current subscriber numbers, Paramount also projected itself to have 100 million global subscribers by the end of 2024. This was a large increase from the previous year’s forecast of 65-75 million subscribers.

The following table presents Paramount+ and Pluto TV’s (a subsidiary of Paramount) Direct to Consumer product offerings.

Source: PARAMOUNT REPORTS Q1 2022 EARNINGS RESULTS

Based on these financials, DTC revenue is currently up 82% year on year.  It should be noted that their subscription revenue increased by 95% year over year, owing to paid subscriber growth on Paramount+.  Advertising revenue increased by 59% year over year, driven by increased pricing and impressions on both Pluto TV and Paramount+. Adjusted OIBDA (a financial performance indicator used by businesses to show profitability in their core operations) fell $307 million year on year, reflecting increased investment in streaming services.

Diverse content on Paramount+ with shows like Halo, Star Trek Picard and live events (not offered on streaming service) were what likely drove increased subscriptions. Reality shows such as Acapulco Shore, was also a big hit with Latin audiences.

 Something other streaming services do not cater to.

Aside from the greater variety of content and reduced cost, Paramount+ offers additional features such as the opportunity to download shows to personal devices and no commercials on a la carte television. Whether you’re a Trekkie, a nostalgia junkie, a sports fan, a parent, or someone else, Paramount+ has something for everyone at a price that’s similar to what many of its most popular shows were when they initially aired. This, however, may be their undoing, as rival providers provide more original, new TV and movies. To compare again with Quibi, Paramount+ has 75 original programmes and 36 original films, as well as 92 upcoming shows and 30 upcoming pictures. Quibi, on the other hand, commissioned 8,500 short-form episodes and over 175 series in its first year.

What can they learn?

The thing that both platforms have in common is that their content caters to specific audience demographics with little content for the regular viewer who may not be interested in consuming niche-specific content. As a result, I believe these platforms can learn from Quibi by investing more of their revenue in creating different genres of original content, as Netflix, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime do, in order to better satisfy a diverse range of audiences and retain subscribers.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve explored the various streaming services that exist in the market; Peacock, HBO Max, Paramount Plus and Disney Plus. We’ve seen the rise of one in particular (Netflix), who after years of exponential gain in their stock price, has seen their momentum stalled, resulting in investors sending their share price plummeting. 

The streaming industry has been particularly exciting over the years, with new entrants like Disney and Paramount Plus shaking up the game. With that, consumers have more choice and a variety of content. But there have been some spectacular failures, such as Quibi which famously cost 2 billion dollars. 

What will determine the streaming war winner in the future will be the consumers – and one can hope that when the winner emerges, they do not engage in exploitative practices. 

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Researcher: Darryl Yeow

Reviewers: Muhammad Bahari, Mindy Liew

Editor: Mindy Liew

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