Over the course of 2017, the ever-changing industry of media and entertainment certainly did not disappoint. We are only four months into 2018 and we’ve already seen some fireworks.
As Acquia’s media and entertainment vertical lead, I’m in a favorable position that I get to work with Acquia’s customers, partners, prospective business organizations, and industry analysts. Together, we approach various business models and determine how technology can support an organization’s tall task of differentiating themselves in their market by leveraging digital. Throughout this blog post you’ll get my agnostic take on the state of media and entertainment, and key trends within the ecosystem.
Consolidation is on the Rise
The first trend I’d like to discuss is the obvious – consolidation. Even outside of M&E, 2017 was a year of large acquisitions highlighted by Amazon acquiring Whole Foods and CVS purchasing Aetna. Within the media industry, we saw the giants take a step forward:
- Disney intending to purchase select assets from 21st Century Fox
- AT&T's looming acquisition of Time Warner
- Rodale’s notable lifestyle publications now adding to Hearst’s roster
- Discovery successfully acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive to better position their distributed cable programming channels.
What about the once-dominant publisher Time Inc. selling off all properties to the Koch Brothers’ media entity, Meredith Corp? They wasted no time ripping down the Time logo from 225 Liberty St.
What does this all mean? Is the goal to diversify revenue streams? Acquire unique IP for a more compelling offering? Prove to shareholders to “expect the unexpected”? Diversify the content offerings to address a larger target market? Aggregate data at a large scale to start presenting a more targeted investment strategy? Whatever the intention is, it’s clear that it does not seem to be slowing down as National Amusements took a trip down memory lane and recently announced CBS has offered to acquire Viacom, after splitting the two apart nearly 12 years ago.
Perhaps these are strategic moves to compete with the uber-successful MVPD conglomerates Comcast and Verizon, both of which have essentially entirely vertically integrated their supply chain through an extremely complex model. On the competitive media front, Comcast has the ability to rely on industry-leading NBC to deliver a widely popular year-round content model highlighted by the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.
Verizon’s bet to acquire two formally popular brands, AOL and Yahoo!, transformed into Oath and they are leading the charge in pure-play digital channels such as tumblr, Tech Crunch, and flickr, with a potential attempt to leverage their data to take on Google and Facebook. After all, having data on 1 billion users is nothing to glance over. The question is now how will Oath/Verizon leverage that robust data to drive a more personalized experience with content that cannot be ignored.
Original Content and Diversified Distribution
Another key trend we’ve seen recently is the investment in two major content models: original content and dedicated distribution channels. Let’s first look at the push in original content.
Original content (OC), simply put, is content that is produced and distributed through the same entity: think Netflix’s hit original series “Stranger Things” and “House of Cards.” Amazon has announced they invested a whopping $4.5 billion in OC, proudly creating an Oscar-nominated film “The Big Sick.” Money-burning Hulu has spent an equally lucrative $2.5 billion in OC while hedging their bet with Hulu Live, thanks to their parent companies. Apple announced its plans at SXSW to invest heavily in quality-focused original content integrated directly to their stable iTunes and AppleTV platforms.
The clear shift we are seeing is that users no longer rely on two avenues of digesting their premium content via linear cable and proprietary apps housing the box-office productions. To gain a competitive edge over the alternatives, original content is a way to increase brand loyalty and keep users hopeful for the “next best.” It’s worth noting there are three vertically aligned players that hold a unique advantage over others:
- Apple > Apple TV > iTunes & Apple OC
- Google > Google Chromecast > YouTube Red & YouTube TV
- Amazon > Amazon Fire TV > Amazon Prime Video
- An evolution of that trend leads to where and how users are accessing their content.
OTT (over-the-top) has taken off towards the end of 2017 and early 2018 with huge announcements of individual broadcasters, networks, and technology companies that are dedicating their own channels for users. An estimated 55 percent of the U.S. population will leverage a connected device at least once a month. Netflix pioneered this movement and has strategically partnered with all streaming hubs e.g. AppleTV and Roku to get the attention of the early adopters, but it’s clear with their announcement of embedding Netflix directly into Comcast’s X1 linear subscription that traditional cable still has a demand.
The last year has revealed a race to market with the following notables having their dedicated subscription OTT apps: ESPN+ (parent Disney should be following soon) CBS, HBO, Showtime, Bleacher Report (Turner), with Viacom and Lionsgate hinting at a release later this year. With this trend, organizations need to be agile with their content model and determine the best path for user engagement for consistent revenue streams.
Investment in Digital is Now a Necessity
A final trend worth noting is the struggling publishing and local broadcasting industries and how a once-unstoppable, stand-alone sub-vertical is turning to digital investment to stay relevant.
Over the past few years we’ve seen brands ship around to the big players. Tribune split publishing from broadcasting to form Tronc, a name that never caught on, and was recently sold after a tumultuous Ferro-reign. Gannett similarly split the business to form broadcasting division TEGNA, while bankrupt GateHouse (New Media) has been on a shopping spree over the years including labels such as Morris, Dispatch, Akron, and Halifax. CHNI merged with Raycom, Sinclair purchased Tribune Media, the list goes on. Essentially this divide is a result of a struggling print industry, and one would argue an equally struggling local broadcasting industry - but there remains a chance to reinvent the broadcasting division.
In the online publishing industry right now, the clear leading debate is the optimal revenue model. For sake of debate the two options are 1. carry a paywall and stress quality content only accessible for members, or 2. create large quantities of content with no membership required and rely on ads to cover the revenue stream.
A few months ago I posted on my LinkedIn to get the thoughts from my network and it seemed there was a clear divide with a slight favor towards free content given the vast amount of content out there, one would pigeonhole themselves to one source of content. The New York Times has been leading the charge with progressive offerings such as early access to new podcasts and personalized content throughout the Olympics using proprietary algorithms to drive a 1:1 experience. Others such as ESPN and Quartz launched fresh UI’s user interfaces to drive a more aesthetically appealing UX/CX.
I’m excited to see how 2018 takes these three trends to the next level as the competition becomes more intense, and potentially more consolidated.