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An Uncomfortable Truth: OTT operators invading traditional pay-TV’s exclusive domain – live sports

By Shaun Lim

With populations around the globe continuing to adapt and adjust to a new way of living, work-from-home (WFH) is becoming the New Normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic … and it seems that more and more are now reluctant to work a five-day week in the office.

With more people staying at home, however, the face of home entertainment is also continuing to be reshaped, as people seek solace and a form of escape from the pressures and stress brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this constantly evolving entertainment-from-home (EFH) scenario, the popularity of video streaming has arguably never been higher. According to market research firm Technavio, the global online streaming services market is expected to grow by US$149.96 billion, at a CAGR of over 18% during the four-year period 2020-2024.

In Asia, the pandemic has perhaps merely served to highlight and hasten the uncontrolled growth of the content-hungry Asian viewers. SpotX, a global video advertising and monetisation platform, reported through their OTT is for Everyone APAC research report, that more than 400 million people now use OTT video streaming services across the Asia-Pacific region, with over 69% of video viewers in the region watching streaming video at least once a week.

Unsurprisingly, the surge in video streaming in the region is being led by SVoD (subscription video-on-demand) platforms such as Netflix and Disney+. With 26.85 million subscribers, Asia remains one of Netflix’s fastest growing markets, while Disney+’s aggressive foray into Asia has seen their subscriber base expected to surge beyond that of Netflix before 2021 runs its course.

As smartphone penetration and internet connectivity continue to improve across the region, the appeal of online streaming services will continue to grow. 5G, for instance, can improve not only video latency, but potentially create a more immersive viewing experience by enabling 4K, VR and 360 live streaming on more connected personal devices. 

While the old adage of “Content is king” will continue to hold true, there is another perhaps a more fundamental reason, why the likes of Netflix and Disney+ are streaming ahead of more traditional pay-TV operators – COST!

For subscribers of Netflix and Disney+ who continue to be enthralled by original progamming such as Loki and The Queen’s Gambit, these titles are but part of an almost inexhaustible list of compelling content that is available to them at any time, at a fraction of the cost of signing up for a bundled pay-TV package that, while offering hundred of channels, ignores the fact that many of these traditional channels simply do not appeal, or are not watched by their subscribers.

The likes of Netflix and Disney+, are also not the only video streaming services that are continuing to draw eyeballs away from more traditional service providers. TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing social networking platform, has grown to be both a social and cultural phenomenon in recent years, offering an expanding catalogue of user-created short-form videos shared by an estimated one billion monthly active users – without any charge. 

In response, the company recently announced that it will be rolling out the option to create videos of up to three minutes in length; previously, TikTok videos could be 60 seconds in length, after initially expanding from 15-second clips.

Drew Kirchhoff, Product Manager at TikTok, remarked, “With longer videos, creators will have the canvas to create new or expanded types of content on TikTok, with the flexibility of a bit more space.” 

With an exponentially growing global audience, many of whom are content creators themselves, what is there to stop TikTok from eventually venturing into long-form content, and introducing a paid premium service based around episodic content?

Netflix, after all, started out as a DVD rental service provider before morphing into one of the largest media entertainment and content producing companies in the world.

Sports will further disrupt video streaming

As suggested earlier in this article, many operators in Asia are still offering, for all intents and purposes, “restrictive” bundled pay-TV packages that centre around one key caveat – live sports. 

To subscribe to live sports coverage, some consumers are still compelled to sign up for expensive packages that offer a large number of channels that the subscriber is not interested in. The pertinent question is: How long can such a business model last?

“If sports were not on TV, people would have cut the cord in much bigger numbers a long time ago,” was the blunt assessment of Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst of digital media at Frost & Sullivan, while speaking to The Ringer, a sports and pop culture website and podcast network.

Rayburn’s assessment is a timely reminder of an uncomfortable truth – live sports’ status as an exclusive domain for pay-TV model is being eroded irretrievably. 

Amazon, having already broadcast 20 games from the 2020/21 English Premier Season, will broadcast a similar number of selected games from the 2021/2022 season, which will commence on 14 August 2021.

Moreover, Amazon has also announced that it has secured exclusive rights to broadcast 15 National Hockey League (NHL) Thursday Night Football games as part of its Prime Video service for the next decade, starting with the 2023 season. Not to be outdone, ESPN+ and Hulu, which are both owned by Disney, will stream 75 regular-season NHL games.

There are several more pertinent examples. Peacock, owned by NBCUniversal, was launched in April 2020 with a focus on delivering content to sports fans all around the globe, including coverage of the English Premier League, which enjoys a fanatical following in the Asia-Pacific region.

It is surely a question of when, and not if, sports fans in Asia are offered more choices to stream their favourite sports content on their choice devices — and this is reflective of a wider trend of streaming services gaining mass popularity in Asia. 

Driven by affordable and compelling content that is increasingly being catered to niche audiences and individual interests, video streaming’s position as the platform of choice continues to be strengthened as content consumption patterns continue to evolve.

Question: What do you think of the surge in video streaming in Asia-Pacific and will SVoD platforms such as  Netflix, Disney+ and  Amazon slowly but surely erode the traditional pay-TV business models? Your comments are most welcome … please send them to maven@editecintl.com

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