The Streaming Wars

Relevant Differentiation Will Win The Streaming Wars

Streaming entertainment is a crowded, competitive category. Cabin fever and closed movie theaters helped exponentially grow the streaming entertainment business. It is about to undergo yet another alteration. Welcome to the new year of content cull.

To satisfy our growing need for in-home entertainment, Covid-19 opened the door to intense showbiz competition beyond what cable providers could offer. We collectively became part of the global Netflix nation.  Other media mavens saw opportunity.  With dozens of streaming options, New York Magazine pointed out some media heavy hitters are now serious challengers to Netflix. Disney, Apple, Amazon, HBO, CBS and NBC have created content-heavy streaming choices. 

Netflix still owns streaming entertainment. Most calculations put the Netflix global subscriber base at about 208 million. Amazon Prime is slightly behind this with a global subscriber base of 175 million. Reporting in The Wall Street Journal indicates that global streaming reached 1 billion subscribers over the past year. 

But, if we learned anything from the pandemic, it is how easily consumers adopt new behaviors and habits. After more than a year, we are exchanging screens for greener scenes, moving outdoors and away from home.  

With the lock-down veil lifted, many of us are now questioning whether we actually need to subscribe to so many streaming options. We are now examining which brands to keep and which brands to ditch. 

The great content cull is upon us. Portfolio paring is a reality. After all, just how many streaming subscriptions do we really need? Among all of the streaming possibilities, which brands are our favorites?

Brand favorability depends on this: which brand offers a relevant, differentiated trustworthy entertainment promise relative to its costs? Relevant means the brand meets my needs. Differentiated means the brand is unique relative to competition.  Trustworthy means the brand will deliver its promised experience relative to its costs. Costs are price, time and effort.

Winning the streaming wars will require streaming brands to articulate their trustworthy promise of their important and unique valuable brand experience. Without a specific brand promise, a streaming brand will become a nice-to-have but generic choice.

Currently, blockbuster movies along with archived film libraries and new original, made-for-streaming content are the preferred ways brands achieve relevant differentiation.  

For example, Disney+ has its newest films and its evergreen portfolio of classic animated feature films. HBO Max has the established HBO name, its reputation for quality creative and its portfolio of Warner Brothers cinematography, due to AT&T’s 2016 purchase of Time Warner, now WarnerMedia. Newcomer Paramount+ is banking on the recognition of its familiar mountain logo with its extensive, deep library of films, old and new. Formerly CBS All Access, along with its film archives, Paramount+ is home to CBS, nick, Comedy Central, MTV, BET and the Smithsonian Channel.

In the streaming service crowd, only discovery+ offers a desired, unique brand promise that reflects an entertainment-road-not-taken. Rather than tout a film-based library, discovery+, is betting that people want familiar, trustworthy comfort-viewing.  To stand out in the pack of streaming brands, discovery+ provides a streaming brand alternative.

Discovery+ believes its current day-to-day content is as original and compelling as it gets. Discovery+ has the advantage of its unique and sometimes weirdly fascinating programming covering cooking, home improvement, reality TV, travel and animals. Discovery+ has a portfolio including Discovery, HGTV, OWN, TLC, Food Network, HLN, Animal Planet, Science Channel, diy Network, History, A&E and Cooking Channel. Discovery+ is home to the wildly popular”90 Day Fiancé”, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”, and “Fixer Upper”, for example.

In an interview with The New York Times, David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery, parent of discovery+ said, “Almost all of the players in the (streaming) business moved toward scripted series and scripted movies. They went to the big stars and the red carpet. The big shiny object. We’re not so shiny and we don’t have a lot of red carpet.”

The New York Times story highlights discovery+ as the sort of programming people can have on in the background while doing other things. Described as “ambient” or “passive” TV, discovery+ can be a soothing backdrop where you do not have to follow along.  

Mr. Zaslav added, “ When you wake up and put the Today Show on in the background or put on the Food Network, it’s for comfort. You don’t watch ‘The Undoing’ (the highly hyped psychological drama starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant) while you’re cooking dinner. But you do put on Guy Fieri or ‘Super Soul Sunday’ or ‘Fixer Upper’ or ‘How it’s Made’ or ‘Mythbusters.’” These shows are what discovery+ calls “real life” (rather than reality) content.

Using a construct for defining a brand promise, here is how Discovery executives appear to be defining discovery+. This is how the discovery+ brand promise is relevantly differentiating itself from its competitors. 

First, what does discovery+ offer me, and why is that important to me?

  • Discovery+ has: Useful content, Content I know, I can listen without watching, I am able to do other things while listening, Content not requiring complete concentration
  • Discovery+ has: Content I love, Comforting content, Comfortably informative content, I feel safe, I feel at home, Content that is easy on my mind

Second, how does discovery+ reflect my values and what is its attractive brand personality?

  • Discovery + is meaningful for me because: I value entertainment that can make my life easier, I appreciate being comfortably entertained, I value information that can make my home more comfortable
  • Discovery+ attracts my viewership because it is: Down-to-earth, Friendly, Authentic, Interesting, Informative, Has my best interests in mind

How does discovery+ support this relevant differentiated brand promise? Discovery+ streams:

  • 55,000 episodes of favorite shows from my favorite channels
  • Content covering home, family, food, nature, adventure, true crime, relationships, science, technology, paranormal and more
  • Exclusive original programming
  • Greatest real-life entertainment and exclusive originals all in one place
  • Affordable $4.99 per month
  • Olympics and other sports
  • And, finally, how confident am I that discovery+ will deliver its promised experience for these costs (price, time and effort)? 

Discovery+ has a lot of high quality competition. But, these competitors will need to continue creating their own expensive proprietary content to survive. Many of these competitors will only be as good as their last blockbuster or original series, continuing to define themselves by these category’s mainstays. 

Having a specific, non-generic, relevant, differentiated brand promise is key for any brand-business success. Only Disney+, essentially an extension of the Disney brand promise, has a relevant differentiator: to create happiness based on its mission to make a safe, high quality, affordable, magical place appropriate for the whole family. But, Disney+ will need to figure out how to make this promise work through its streaming. Just offering the archives and the new blockbusters may not do the trick.

Discovery+ may be small, but it has something the larger streaming brands do not have: a clear and compelling, relevant, differentiated brand promise. As the media magnates gather in Sun Valley, besides focusing on mergers and acquisitions, it would be beneficial if they focused on just what my media brand stands for in the minds of customers. 

(As a coda, AT&T announced that it will merge its WarnerMedia portfolio with discovery+ to create a media behemoth larger than Netflix but with fewer subscribers. Although there are strategic reasons for this, the exceptional nature of discovery+ adds incredible strength to this soon to be formed streaming service.)