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Four ways streaming services can weather the entertainment wars

How consumers are entertained via television sets and devices is about to be radically transformed over the next 12 months as a plethora of new streaming and gaming players enter the fray. The battle for our attention and valuable subscription dollars will lead to a savage marketing war, and not all platforms will survive intact.

The industry has already undergone a series of upheavals, first with Netflix and then Amazon disrupting cable and broadcast incumbents, giving rise to a generation of cord-cutters. We are now on the cusp of the second transformation wave with established players like Apple, NBC, and HBO Max all fighting for a piece of the streaming pie, not to mention emerging platforms like Walmart’s Vudu, targeting middle America, or Quibi, which is reimagining short-form content for mobile-first viewers. Recently, Netflix showed the first signs of concern about Disney+ taking a swing at its subscriber base on the heels of a mixed earnings report pointing to slowed growth and announced its plan to raise another $2bn to fund new content.

In an increasingly cluttered, competitive and ever-evolving space, these entertainment platforms will need to reimagine their own marketing and branding efforts in order to stay ahead of the pack and compete for consumer and advertising dollars. As such, it will be vital for brands to consider the following in order to maintain their relevance:

Set clear engagement objectives

Every player in this space has slightly different objectives. While Amazon and Apple may be using video to drive sales and engagement on their own platforms, other ad-based video on demand (AVOD) and subscription video on demand (SVOD) services will be focused on subscribers and/or advertising dollars through traditional ads and branded content.  But beyond targeting, it’s important for services to clearly identify their vision. Take for example Amazon’s about-face on launching its much anticipated “The Aeronauts” in IMAX theaters, then pulling the plan in favor of a quick release on Amazon Prime Video. The absence of realistic and actionable objectives can not only lead to stakeholder confusion, but a leg up for competitors who are firm on what they stand for.

Data is key, but it isn’t everything

Data is what you measure your objectives against, but more than that as Netflix has shown us, this information guides both marketing and programming investment. Netflix fuses together data and intuition to make creative decisions. This is a skill they have honed over time and baked into their culture. Platforms must also showcase a cultural understanding of subsects to engage viewers with both expected and unexpected programming options. In order to do this, they must move beyond established preference algorithms and push boundaries to create new ways of connecting with viewers.

Bring your content to life

While programming primarily sells a channel, the days of trailers and traditional campaigns are behind us. Services must go above and beyond to promote their shows with supporting content and experiences that garner attention -- think HBO’s Cannes Lion Award-winning “choose your own adventure” audio activation, Westworld: The Maze. Netflix just announced it will bypass cinemas and screen its new Scorsese film, The Irishman, at an ornate Broadway theater to elevate the viewing experience before it hits home cinemas. Creating real-world experiences that help audiences interact and bring programming to life in new and exciting ways, such as tailored fan events or targeted social media content, can be a powerful way to generate content, word of mouth and inevitably, fandom. 

Focus on your brand

With cord-cutting consumers falling subject to the old price point of cable as a result of steadily collecting subscription services, no doubt an #unsubscribe effect will soon follow suit for any platform that isn’t maintaining relevance or attention.  While creating and promoting compelling shows is vital, it is the parent brand that must stand for something bigger – and continue to make the connection back to its shows. We all remember how the famous tagline “It's not TV, it's HBO” helped to define HBO, while Apple most recently introduced its “Stories to Believe In”. Notoriety from this year’s Emmy’s even proved that connection drives greater awareness, so precise and consistent brand positioning is a critical component to staying relevant.

If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, you are being targeted with ads promoting the very service that can help you survey your rarely used subscriptions and cut them in half. So, my suggestion? Heed the advice above, or an #unsubscribe could be coming your way.

Patrick Kiss is president of BSSP.

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