The BBC is bracing for a second wave of video on-demand disruption as the streaming industry begins to mature.
The rise of VOD has vastly changed the face of television, not only in terms of the cinematic scale of prestige projects but also in terms of viewer habits: words such as “binge-watching“, which would have seemed like nonsense 10 years ago are now firmly in our everyday vocabulary. That shift has been largely driven by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and a handful of other non-linear platforms, which have shaped the market and audience appetite into one of monthly subscriptions and no ads.
It has meant a dramatic period of adjustment for many broadcasters, with the BBC and Channel 4 in particularly boosting their on-demand platforms to become more than just catch-up destinations. Sky has also moved quickly to create its a successful contract-free alternative to pay-TV in NOW TV.
Now, though, the TV industry is looking to join the party, with a number of media and online giants lining up their own subscription platforms, from Warner’s HBO Max to Disney’s Disney+ and Apple’s Apple TV+.
BBC chief Tony Hall, in a speech on Wednesday at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge, will say that the BBC is ready for that second wave of disruption, predicting that the impact will mainly be felt by existing VOD players Netflix and Amazon.
“Our industry is about to enter a second wave of disruption,” he will declare.
“The second wave will see a range of new entrants entering an already crowded market. We saw it last week as Apple announced their new subscription service. Disney, Hulu and others are to follow.
“This is, of course, great for audiences. Possibly.”
Indeed, as each organisation pushes its own library of content, the programmes previously licensed out to Netflix and Amazon will revert to their original homes, shrinking the stalwarts’ on-demand catalogues.
“The established streamers will need to fight harder to offer the value they currently give today,” Hall will argue.
The BBC is one of those organisations pulling away its content for its own platform, with BritBox – a joint subscription service with ITV – part of the upcoming second generation of VOD.
“In this market, services that are distinctive and different will stand out,” he will add.
“And two vital things make us different. Firstly, we have a unique mission and purpose, all audiences – young and old – believe in it. Purpose and values matter today more than ever, as people pick and choose services for ethical reasons as much as economic ones.
“Secondly, no one offers the range of content, in so many genres, on so many platforms, as the BBC. We’re not Netflix, we’re not Spotify. We’re not Apple News. We’re so much more than all of them put together.”
The only challenge for the BBC will be balancing its own BBC iPlayer platform (boosted by new extended content windows) with the commercial proposition of BritBox, as it looks to encourage people to subscribe to the latter without hurting the number of people who use the former. The second age of streaming is coming, and the BBC is one of the few players with one foot in each generation.