How Coronavirus Is Upending the OTT Streaming-Video Business (WATCH VIDEO)

With millions of people under lockdown orders because of COVID-19, streaming-media usage has seen stratospheric increases. But while the pandemic has introduced opportunities to super-serve consumers, it also has created new challenges for all companies in the space.

The topic was covered in “COVID-19 and Its Impact on OTT Video,” an April 15 webinar presented by Variety and Bitmovin, as part of Bitmovin’s NAB interactive event series.

The webinar’s panel of expert speakers comprised Brian Fuhrer, SVP product strategy at Nielsen; Janet Balis, global advisory leader, media and entertainment at EY; Iván Markman, chief business officer at Verizon Media; and Stefan Lederer, CEO of Bitmovin. The webinar was moderated by Variety NY Digital Editor Todd Spangler.

Watch the full replay of the “COVID-19 and Its Impact on OTT Video” webinar at this link.

Here are 10 takeaways from the event:

  • Streaming to TVs has more than doubled during the pandemic. For example, on April 4, Americans watched 27 billion minutes of streaming content on TV — 50,000 years of content in just one day — versus about 70 billion per week a year ago, Nielsen’s Fuhrer said. Overall, the disruption from the coronavirus crisis has been unprecedented, he said: “In my career at Nielsen, I’ve never seen such a rapid change impacting everything that we’re doing.”
  • Consumers are seeking new entertainment options while stuck as home, and distributors and content owners are looking to tap into that trend. “We’re seeing free premium content, we’re seeing acceleration of some of the content schedules that were out there to really bring attention into this space,” EY’s Balis said.

  • What do OTT businesses need to pay attention to right now? EY’s Balis outlined three factors: economic uncertainty with unemployment rates at all-time highs; increased competition for attention; and impact to content production pipelines. On the last point, she said, “How do you compete on the strength of your existing library and extract more value from that, and/or potentially think differently about content-acquisition strategy?”
  • Walled-garden vs. open (free-to-consumer) business models: The different monetization strategies require different considerations across the entire lifecycle of production, distribution and measurement, Balis said. “We’re going to continue to see a lot of strategic tension between open and closed models on pretty much every dimension,” Balis said.
  • “Every day is like Mother’s Day” in terms of usage on Verizon’s networks, Markman said, quoting CEO Hans Vestberg. Verizon Media specifically is seeing 200 billion daily data signals from nearly 1 billion global users across content and commerce, Markman said.
  • The lack of live sports is pushing up consumption in other areas on Verizon Media properties, with 54% month-over-month growth in news, 60% increase in gaming and 134% increase in entertainment content, according to Markman.
  • The combination of more video usage and longer viewing session times has resulted in “a massive increase in data traffic” — up 380% in March, Bitmovin’s Lederer said: “That’s a big, big challenge for ISPs and network providers.” At the same time, there’s only been a 15% decrease in average download speeds over the same time period, indicating they’re managing the congestion relatively well.
  • There’s been a lot of innovation in video-compression technologies among content providers to gain efficiencies and lower bandwidth consumption in the last few years, and that’s become even more critical now during the COVID-19 crisis, said Lederer. And some of the shifts in streaming behavior certainly will continue post-pandemic, representing an inflection point in use cases, he added. Streaming-video providers should invest in opex optimizations to lay the foundation “for a bigger shift from linear broadcast [television] to OTT going forward,” Lederer said.
  • OTT streaming businesses are in triage moment but they still must set the groundwork for the future, EY’s Balis noted. “Don’t be too short-term in your perspective,” she said.
  • The audience for Netflix’s “Tiger King” built relatively slowly after its March 20 premiere, according to Nielsen’s data, but became a quarantine hit with 34.3 million viewers in its first 10 days (more than “Stranger Things 2”). Fuhrer said the most popular program among “Tiger King” fans on linear TV was CNN. “It really was that dichotomy of escapism… and real reality at the same time,” he said.