The future of streaming is free TV and ad-supported movies
The major streaming services have had a very good run. Companies like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and all the other Pluses have spent the last decade upending the way we make and consume movies and shows and changing the entire business of Hollywood into procedure. For a few (or not so few) dollars a month, more entertainment than ever is now at our fingertips.
Αλλά φαίνεται ότι η επάνάσταση του streaming έχει χτυπήσει λίγο τοίχο. Οι περισσότερες υπηρεσίες αναπτύσσονται πιο αργά τώρα που έχουν προσεγγίσει το μεγαλύτερο μέρος του πιθανού κοινού τους. Τα δεκάδες δισεκατομμύρια που ξοδεύουν σε περιεχόμενο ετησίως φαίνεται να παράγουν μειωμένες αποδόσεις. Οι επενδυτές δεν είναι πλέον σίγουροι ότι το streaming είναι μια εξαιρετική επιχείρηση. Οι streamers αναζητούν απεγνωσμένα νέους τρόπους για να βγάλουν χρήματα. Η χρυσή εποχή του streaming με υψηλές πτήσεις και μεγάλες δαπάνες φαίνεται να έχει τελειώσει.
In its place, there's a new thing that's booming in streaming. Free, ad-supported platforms are the fastest-growing part of the streaming business right now, and services like Tubby, Plutoand The Roku channel αρχίζουν να διεκδικούν τους εαυτούς τους ως ισχυρούς παίκτες από μόνοι τους. Πολλές από αυτές τις πλατφόρμες υπάρχουν εδώ και χρόνια, συγκεντρώνοντας αθόρυβα μεγάλες βιβλιοθήκες περιεχομένου και εκατομμύρια χρήστες. And τώρα, καθώς οι χρήστες αναζητούν φθηνότερους τρόπους για να αποκτήσουν την ψυχαγωγία τους και τα στούντιο αναζητούν καλύτερους τρόπους δημιουργίας εσόδων, αρχίζουν να κάνουν περισσότερο θόρυβο.
Το μέλλον της τηλεvisionς είναι δωρεάν, έχει διαφημίσεις και περιλαμβάνει πολύ σερφάρισμα καναλιών. Μοιάζει πολύ με την τηλεοπτική επιχείρηση του παρελθόντος, πραγματικά. Αυτό είναι πραγματικά το θέμα.
Όταν μιλάμε για δωρεάν υπηρεσίες ροής, μιλάμε πραγματικά για δύο πράγματα. Και οι δύο έχουν ανόητα ακρωνύμια. Το πρώτο είναι το FAST, το οποίο σημαίνει Free Ad-Supported Streaming Television – αυτά είναι προγραμματισμένα κανάλια συνεχούς ροής που τρέχουν 24 ώρες το 24ωρο, 7 ημέρες την εβδομάδα και είναι περίπου ανάλογα με τα κανάλια εκπομπής που έχετε συνηθίσει. Το δεύτερο είναι το AVOD ή το βίντεο κατ ‘απαίτηση βάσει διαφήμισης, το οποίο αναφέρεται σε μια βιβλιοθήκη περιεχομένου που μπορείτε να παρακολουθήσετε όποτε θέλετε. (Το Netflix και το Max και τα παρόμοια είναι SVOD, Subscription Video On Demand.) Για τους σκοπούς μας, πρόκειται απλώς να συνδυάσουμε το FAST και το AVOD σε δωρεάν ροή.
The charm of free streaming is right there in the name: it's free! A growing percentage of streaming subscribers say they're already spending more than they'd like on their services, and a survey by Deloitte last fall found that 44 percent of people had canceled at least one paid service in the past six months. Deloitte also found that 59 percent of users they were happy to watch a few ads an hour in exchange for a cheaper, or even free, subscription.
44% of people canceled at least one paid service in the last six months
That's why you're seeing more and more of the SVOD services starting to get into advertising. Netflix has already found that it makes more money per user on its ad-supported plan — $6.99 a month with a few ads an hour — than it does on pure subscriptions. Disney Plus also has an ad-supported program now. So does the new Max service, Peacock, and increasingly, the rest of the industry. Ads are the future of the entire streaming market, it seems.
However, there is something uniquely powerful about a truly free streaming service. Because free streamers don't have to try to get you to part with $8 or $10 or even $20 every month, they're free to think differently about their product. And in many cases, they land somewhere better. Companies like Tubi and Pluto make money every time you watch something, so they only have one job: get you to watch as much stuff as possible.
"The number one job for me is engagement," says Adam Lewinson, head of content at Tubi. “Since we are ad-supported, we don't have a double revenue stream. We don't take credit cards, we never will – we make money when viewers consume content." Scott Reich, SVP of content at Pluto TV, says as much. “I don't have to pay anything – if I don't like it, I can just move on. So it's our job as a service to give you that reason to come back.”
This changes the way free movies work in some great ways. First, since these platforms have a huge incentive to get you watching something as quickly as possible, they eliminate many of the user interface problems you see in most streaming apps. No need to log in, no need to scroll through all the big banners showing new shows you don't care about. You just hit play. Pluto takes this to a really nice extreme: when you load the app, it automatically starts playing the last FAST channel you watched. It's the way turning on the TV used to work – you turn it on and something is already playing.
Free streamers also need their content to be found, which means they tend to play along with aggregators and search engines that aim to help users make sense of the streaming world. Whether you use JustWatch or Reelgood or just Google “how to stream” and your favorite new show, free services are usually well represented. And if the title you're looking for is broadcast on one of them? You don't need to start a free trial or enter a password to start tracking. Just press play. Yes, you sacrifice some of your on-demand selectivity and you'll have to see ads. But it is much faster.
Personalization tends to be important for these platforms as well. They don't care what you're watching as long as you're watching, so it sends you down an infinite Gordon Ramsay rabbit hole or hooks you into all 11 million episodes of Project corridor it's a fairly easy choice. Plus, Lewinson says, it's a way to attract viewers who aren't looking for the same kinds of Pop Culture shows you see everywhere. "Part of our job, through algorithms and merchandising, is to bring the right piece of content to the right viewer, learn about what they're interested in, and then serve them better." He's not thinking about how to reach the entire audience, but, rather, how to convince each person to keep watching.
For Pluto, Reich says that big shows and movies tend to draw people in, but that's not why they stay. "What drives a lot of our airtime is individual series or franchise channels," he says. "The Star Trek of the world, CSI, Three's company. This leads to a lot of viewing time. And what people come back for is a lot of classic TV and a bit more of the niche channels – your food, your home, your lifestyle channels.
Curating it all, Reich says, is where Pluto can really shine. Think of the way Spotify approaches playlists: it has the same set of songs as everyone else, but remixes and presents them in new and better ways to keep users engaged. So it is with Pluto and the channels. "We have a team of 50 different developers who curate those channels and curate the guides for those channels," he says. "And the audience doesn't necessarily know that, but they feel it."
Playing the hits
However, there's another side to this strategy: free streaming services aren't exactly creating huge hits. Sure, spending a fortune on Succession just to have a few million people tweet about it every week might not be good business in itself, but it brings huge cachet and brand awareness to HBO, which brings more creators with more good ideas, which brings some more subscribers… Follow it long enough and there is a real business there.
The other thing that big hits do is increase brand loyalty. Viewers will now sit down and turn on Netflix or HBO just to see what's new. no one really comes to The Roku Channel to see what hit original series just dropped. To some extent, all free services are interchangeable commodities, as good as the size of their library and whether they have the specific title you're looking for. There are hundreds of FAST channels available, many of which are accessible from multiple platforms. Free streamers have many users, but not so many fans.
To some extent, all free services are interchangeable commodities, only as good as the size of their library
Δεν κυνηγούν όλοι οι δωρεάν streamer επιτυχίες. Ο Reich λέει ότι ο Πλούτωνας παίζει ένα διαφορετικό παιχνίδι – εν μέρει επειδή ανήκει στη Viacom, η οποία κατέχει επίσης το Paramount Plus, το οποίο κάνει αρκετό κυνήγι χτυπημάτων από μόνο του. “Έχουμε ένα στούντιο gazillion και ένα κανάλι gazillion που κάνουν πρωτότυπο πρόγραμμα κάθε μέρα”, λέει. “Και επειδή είμαστε σε θέση να αξιοποιήσουμε αυτό, μπορούμε να καταλάβουμε πώς παίζουμε ο ένας τον άλλον – πώς μπορείτε να φτάσετε τον Πλούτωνα και στη συνέχεια να επιστρέψουμε στο Paramount Plus ή σε ένα από τα γραμμικά δίκτυα”.
But for Tubi, which is Fox Entertainment's flagship streaming service, the hits may be coming. "My purchasing power five years ago was much less than it is today," says Lewinson. It rings some of Tubi's recent prototypes: The stepmother, about a killer mom. dead hot, starring Vanessa Hudgens. and a series of documentaries from Vice which just started with an episode about Elon Musk. Is there any Emmy or Oscar bait out there? Probably not. But Lewinson says it's a clear leap in ambition for the service, and there's more to come.
And on Amazon freevee, free streaming's first real cultural moment already seems to be taking shape. It's a show called Jury duty, a mockumentary-style show about a court case in which everyone but the main character knows the whole thing is fake. The show became a hit and a TikTok sensation, and sparked huge conversation online – as well as plenty of “what in the world is Freevee and how do I watch it” stories. "Almost [every] studio and network passed," producer Lee Eisenberg He said The Daily Beast. "The only place that went up was Freevee... There's something really nice about everyone going through something that has then turned into something so special."
It's hard to know exactly how much Jury duty will change Freevee's fortunes, but it certainly helped put the service on the map. In the weekend after the first episodes of the series dropped, Google users searched for “Freevee” twice more than ever before, including when Freevee first launched as an IMDb TV rebrand. Freevee also cracked the top 75 on the iOS App Store that same weekend, App Annie data shows, when a week earlier it wasn't even in the top 200.
Hits help, no doubt about it. But even without it Jury duty hit, the free flow flywheel seems to spin faster all the time. More people than ever are ditching cable and looking for new things to watch, while also looking for ways to spend less money on all of those things. Most of TV's business has always been advertising, and that advertising is starting to shift to digital platforms. A recent report from research firm Omdia found that FAST channel revenue grew nearly 20-fold between 2019 and 2022 – and is set to triple again before 2027, when it will be a $12 billion annual business.
This is still only a fraction of the overall movie and show business, but free streamers are able to take more of it over time. They don't need to convince you to pay for their content. They don't even have to convince you to sign up. They just need to give you something to watch, sell ads against it, and keep you tuned in. This has been the TV business for most of the century and it's coming back in a big way.