The 2020s: VOD predictions for the coming decade
James R | On 09, Jan 2020
At the start of a new decade, it’s impossible not to look back over the last 10 years and marvel at just how much entertainment, and the way we consume it, has changed since 2010. Since Netflix’s launch in the UK, our relationship with our screens and remotes has drastically transformed, with binge-viewing a common occurrence, box set releases now expected by audiences, and creative control increasingly standard for talent working with a streaming service – not to mention audience control over content through interactive, choose-your-own story tech.
What, then, do the next 10 years of streaming have in store? As watching things on-demand and direct-to-consumer platforms become entrenched in our home entertainment habits, we jot down some possibilities for the coming decade…
With 4K an established concept, it’s only a matter of time until TV manufacturers start to step up the fledgling notion of 8K to keep people upgrading their hardware. (Remember when they tried to make 3D a thing?)
Ads make a comeback
With streaming services now competing for audience’s attention more than ever, don’t be surprised if some subscription platforms consider doing what YouTube Premium now does: offer their library of content either for free or for a reduced monthly fee, but including some adverts, then pushing people to pay the premium subscription rate to have no ads at all. That way, they can recruit eyeballs without suffering from audience subscription fatigue – and make money at the same time. With addressable TV ads increasingly supported, advertisers will also be keener than ever to reach precisely targeted audiences.
Things are more personalised
Personalisation will continue to improve, as each platform moves to keep users engaged by tempting them with things that match their tastes. On the plus side, personalised home screens and notifications will be more useful and satisfying. Ratings will also become less important, as platforms measure the success of a programme based on its performance with a specific, niche audience. On the downside, creating echo chambers and bubbles around each person’s taste will make it easier for smaller shows to slip past audiences and get missed.
Music plays a part
While Netflix isn’t about to start a music streaming service, the relationship between music and video streaming is going to get closer and more important. YouTube has already doubled down on this, announcing a new Justin Bieber docuseries and one about the 20th anniversary of Coachella. Netflix and other broadcasters, such as BBC One, are also dabbling in podcasts to accompany their shows.
Things get shorter
With the launch of mobile-dedicated platform Quibi, regardless of whether it’s a success or not, expect more original content to be shorter, or episode runtimes to depart from the old-school 60 minutes, as platforms try to cater to modern attention spans and creators think more about what best suits their stories. One factor in this will also be the gradual introduction of a 5G mobile network, which will one day do away with the need for a wired broadband connection and free people up to watch things on the move or anywhere.
With a growing need to stand out from the pack, streaming services will begin to offer (or highlight their existing) special features, a la DVDs and Blu-ray. Netflix is already starting to toy with this, as it releases behind-the-scenes featurettes on YouTube, but something more like a DVD or iTunes menu may become standard – not least because of that growing focus on producing in-house podcasts to go with each major show.
Loyalty is less important
The streaming landscape is only going to get more fragmented, but while some viewers will suffer fatigue or frustration, audiences will also shift their viewing behaviours once again to shake off the notion of being loyal to one chosen subscription service. Chopping and changing will become more commonplace, as people watch everything they want from one platform in a couple of months, then wander off to another for the next few. The possible introduction of tiered memberships, with or without ads, would encourage that behaviour.
On-demand goes linear
Linear TV will feel increasingly old-fashioned, but to avoid viewers becoming overwhelmed by indecision, subscription services will also begin to offer their own linear TV “channels”. Not unlike Sky Cinema, these would stream things from their catalogue 24/7 with a schedule that stops audiences from freaking out about what to watch next. MUBI and Shudder have already introduced this feature, so expect others to follow their lead.
Something’s gotta give
In a fragmented and increasingly competitive business, it’s inevitable that something will have to give somewhere. Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Sky’s NOW are likely too big to fail, but the newer US services trying to muscle in on living rooms – NBC’s Peacock, CBS All-Access and HBO Max – will face a challenge to carve out a long-term audience without a major shake-up of the whole US TV system. Thanks to ongoing deals with Sky, though, these streaming services will likely never launch in the UK, keeping things easier to manage for British viewers. But with growth and change come casualties as well as newcomers and rising stars…
Bundles are a thing
As the streaming market matures, bundles could become a prominent way to subscribe to entertainment. Skinny, cord-cutting bundles without contracts are already, to a degree, a thing (especially in the USA), but bundling platforms and channels together into customised, hassle-free collections could prove a way to keep audiences happy. Amazon’s Prime Video Channels platform is well placed to host a number of other subscription offerings, and could well start to curate them into themed collections (such as sports) at discounted rates. Apple TV and Roku could also do the same.
Cinemas and streaming get along
After lots of negotiations and conflict, exhibitors and streaming platforms are likely to bury the hatchet and find a way to co-exist for the benefit of everyone. Whether that’s Netflix and Amazon both buying their own cinema(s) in the US, Premium VOD emerging at an affordable and accessible price-point for consumers, streaming companies abiding by the traditional theatrical window, or a shorter window being agreed with some kind of compromise on the former, however, is anyone’s guess…
Something unexpected happens
Interactive TV has been one of the most interesting new avenues to open up in the past decade, but what will be the surprising development of the next 10 years? Will it be the combination of that and VR to make new immersive narratives that blur the line between game and TV/film? Or will it be experimentation with AR – or multi-device storytelling – to make the most of the two-screen manner in which many people now consume entertainment? Or something else entirely?
Share your predictions for the coming decade below!