Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime are going to be a godsend to Hollywood’s major studios in the coming years, if projections issued Thursday from RBC Capital Markets are any indication.
Analyst David Bank estimates that the three biggest subscription VOD services will spend a collective $6.8 billion on programming in 2015. Not only does that represents a healthy increase over the $5.2 billion estimated to hit the studios this year, but he expects double-digit year-over-year increases in SVOD syndication spend for “years to come” taking into account the aggressive international expansion of companies like Netflix in particular.
That SVOD spend will still be dwarfed by the expected $18.4 billion projected next year for off-network domestic syndication spending from cable, but the gap between digital and TV dollars may close in the future given cable channels likely aren’t going to grow as dramatically 5-10 years from now.
By Bank’s calculations, SVOD spending already exceeded syndication dollars spent by broadcast stations last year; it will more than double the $3.3 billion projected for 2015. SVOD, broadcast stations and cable combined will bless the studios with $29.5 billion next year.
Of the $6.8 billion Bank estimates coming next year, $3.3 billion will come from Netflix, $1.7 billion from Amazon and $1.5 from Hulu. For Hulu, that will represents a near doubling of its syndication spend from the this year.
Among the studios, RBC found that CBS Studios has the biggest estimated SVOD syndication backlog, with six different series deals totaling $179 million for 2015. Warner Bros. TV was second with $106 million, followed by Lionsgate ($61 million), Sony Pictures TV ($43 million), 20th Century Fox ($40 million), ABC Studios ($40 million) and Universal TV ($22 million).
While Universal may have come in last, that $22 million is estimated to have come entirely from its recent deal with “The Blacklist,” which Bank pegged as the most expensive individual syndication deal in SVOD.
Additional seasons of the shows covered under the SVOD deals also help pad the bottom line considerably. For CBS Studios, for instance, one more season of its six different series amounts to an extra $143 million.
What could also bode well for the studios is if still more SVOD market entrants emerge, despite the recent closure of a highly anticipated joint venture between Redbox and Verizon. “Yahoo’s purchase of exclusive rights to prior seasons of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and its order for a sixth original season of ‘Community’ could be a harbinger of things to come,” Bank noted.
Part of the SVOD expenditure is being lavished on content before it even aired on TV, as was the case with the deals between Warner Bros. and Netflix for “Gotham” (pictured above) and CBS Prods. and Amazon Prime for “Extant” and Zoo.”
“This model, on some level, has enabled the major studios to make more of the ‘hit risk’ out of producing premium broadcast content,” Bank wrote.
The RBC research notes that while the increasing sophistication of SVOD’s Big Data approach has disincentivized the bulk library deals that were common several years ago, that hasn’t really impacted spending at the studios because the cost of Netflix/Amazon/Hulu bidding against each other to nail big-ticket shows like “Gotham” and “Blacklist” makes the price tag on individual shows comparable to previous catalog-deep pacts.
He also doesn’t envision the SVOD services’ growing interest in original programming as curbing their interest in syndie content anytime soon.
“While much has been made of the potential for original programming to lower demand for acquired off- network programming, we think such concerns are overstated,” wrote Bank. “The average linear cable channel or SVOD platform alike has to program 24 hours per day of viewer demand. This demand cannot be satisfied by a slate of six or so original shows.”
What’s more, Bank is even optimistic for the receptivity of off-network cable content at the cable networks, where many rapidly maturing brands from TNT to FX have focused even more intensely on originals. Regardless, he cites a growing breed of second-tier nets like WGN and FXX replacing their cable ancestors as new buyers.