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PERSPECTIVE

Demand economy

By Stephen Arnell 08-09-2017

The news that Netflix has a worldwide subscription base of 100 million customers may have motivated others into unveiling their own SVoD operations.

Recent weeks saw the unveiling of two new services – Dan Snow’s HistoryHit in the UK, launching globally in November, and Hallmark Movies Now a month before in the US. Walter Presents, backed by the UK’s Channel 4, has launched stateside, where it competes with Britbox, supported by the BBC and ITV.

Next year, CBS All Access will begin an international roll-out in Canada, although its new Star Trek series Discovery is already tied up outside the US with Netflix. FX has also thrown its hat in the ring with an ad-free SVoD service in the US, coming off the recent launch of AMC Networks’ SVoD offering.

Disney will also be launching a streaming service in 2019 that takes back content previously on Netflix and that could possibly include Marvel and Lucasfilm. No wonder Netflix sought its own IP in acquiring Mark Millar’s Millarworld, a potential treasure trove of graphic novel properties.

Ditto Amazon Prime, which has hooked up with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman for a two-year deal to develop TV projects exclusively. And let’s not forget Apple’s US$1bn move into originals, spearheaded by the hire of WGN America’s Matt Cherniss to oversee development.

The BBC and ITV have jointly signalled that their VoD services iPlayer and ITV Hub are likely to be turbo-charged with original shows to fight back against the encroachment of Netflix and Amazon.

Dramas such as Taboo have been offered as box sets on BBC iPlayer

For the BBC, the option of ramping up iPlayer is a logical step, reinforced by the perceived success of BBC3 as a purely online channel. The iPlayer has been begun to cast off the previous four-week catch-up period for selected prestige dramas such as Taboo and Apple Tree Yard, giving viewers the chance to watch box sets of shows for the first time.

This may see a dent in BBC Worldwide’s profits, as it will no longer be able to command the same licence fees for these types of shows if they have already lingered on iPlayer. It has also begun to preview shows (such as Peter Kay’s Car Share) before transmission on channels; comedy-drama The Rack Pack was available exclusively on the service a whole year before it went to BBC2.

In recognition of the appetite for binge-viewing, the BBC is also experimenting with the SVoD model in releasing all episodes online simultaneously with the first linear broadcast – the most recent example being the second season of Top of the Lake.

Subscriber figures are not available for Britbox, but BBC and ITV shows are already available in the US via the likes of PBS, BBC America, Seeso and Acorn, so it’s not going to be a walkover – and the US appeal of next/same-day showings of soaps such as EastEnders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale and medical dramas Casualty and Holby City has yet to be gauged.

Star Trek: Discovery will play on CBS All Access,
but Netflix has the rights outside the US

Similarly, Walter Presents, adjudged a success in Britain, faces difficulty cutting through in the US, where viewers have yet to embrace foreign-language drama in the same way we have in the UK.

There also exists an established rival to Walter Presents in the shape of MHZChoice, which may already have cornered the likely audience for such an offering, unless it becomes cannibalised, bringing to mind the Jorge Luis Borges quote about a fight between two bald men over a comb.

There’s also a lesson to be learned from Seeso in the US, which appears to be a victim of corporate meddling from owner NBCUniversal, as the departure of Evan Shapiro and the winding down of the originals strategy portended its demise, recently officially confirmed.

A shame, as some of Seeso’s originals such as Take My Wife, Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and Dan Harmon’s HarmonQuest were enjoying critical praise and positive fan reaction. Some have already found another home on streaming service VRV, while others such as the upcoming Paul Reiser comedy There’s Johnny may eventually end up on Amazon or Netflix.

Just three months after appointing senior staff for its new SVoD service due to launch in 2018, Vimeo unceremoniously pulled the plug in June, with owner IAC said to have been reluctant to part with the serious money needed to compete with the major players.

Presenter Dan Snow is behind HistoryHit

The problem of an overly large parent company thwarting its own start-up SVoD services is one that could face any prospective challenger to Netflix/Amazon in the UK.

When programming can attract high prices on rival services, it takes courage to keep shows back for any fledgling offering – one whose viewership at launch may only number in the thousands.

An originals strategy could also be hampered by TV channel genre executives commissioning SVoD programming alongside their usual duties, rather than having a bespoke unit within the operation.

Unfortunately, some UK commissioners have yet to fully appreciate the differences in ordering shows for SVoD rather for TV channels, with issues including binge-ability, structure and pacing.

At £5.99 (US$7.90) a month, TV presenter/historian Dan Snow’s HistoryHit may be in danger of pricing itself out of the market, since this is around the typical level for more comprehensive services than this purely history-based offering.

One also wonders whether the onscreen experience will match the high production values of Netflix, which has a sizeable library of big-budget history documentaries, as does iPlayer, the latter at no cost to the viewer beyond the TV licence fee.

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today's correspondent

Stephen Arnell Broadcast consultant

Stephen Arnell has over 20 years experience in broadcasting, having held senior roles including channel director (ITV3/ITV4) and head of strategy (ITV Digital Channels). Most recently he has been a broadcast consultant for various broadcasters (covering UK, EMEA and ROW), including strategic/scheduling analysis, channel budgets, acquisitions (film, series and factual), strategic/scheduling analysis, commissioning advice and channel launches (UK , Europe and Middle East).

He works with production partners to develop territory-specific and worldwide franchises and projects in TV drama, film and factual programming. Clients include Viacom International, Viewster, GR Media, Trace TV, Discovery, ITN Consulting, Turner Broadcasting and Tiscali.