Walt Disney announced exciting plans last week to launch a video on demand (VOD) streaming service in the US, withdrawing their support from Netflix . What’s behind this strategy and will others follow suit? In this blog, I take a look at the effect of over-the-top content (OTT) partnerships on big brands in media.
A 2016 study by Digital Content Next found that 43% of the time, people are unaware of the publisher behind the story they’re reading on social media . After going all-in on Facebook’s Instant Articles in 2015, the Guardian recently withdrew its content from the format, with other big brands reducing their presence too (BBC News, National Geographic and The New York Times to name a few). It’s logical to put content on the platforms your audience use most, but aside from poor financial revenue and access to audience data, it seems this strategy also may have suffered from a lack of brand association.
In radio, efforts to stay relevant in a digital world are not new. In 2014 BBC Radio 1 launched its ‘listen, watch, share’ strategy under the leadership of Ben Cooper, who was quoted in the Guardian as saying “It is wrong to keep thinking about radio and TV stations. You need to start thinking about brands.”  Radio 1’s YouTube channel now has 3.7m subscribers and, unlike the response by publishers, radio brands appear to be sticking with this strategy for now. Perhaps the difference is in the journey consumers follow to reach branded content on YouTube: they actively search for and subscribe to a YouTube ‘channel’, which is not so different from searching the airwaves for their favourite frequency.
Television, until now, has followed a similar route to radio and has been focusing on OTT as part of their channel strategy. From ITV to the BBC to – until last week – Walt Disney; everyone’s been doing content deals with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. However, as OTT services channel audiences to recommended shows via data-driven personalisation engines and genre- or format-based collections, there’s a risk that viewers gradually disconnect with the traditional TV brand. Does that matter to traditional players? Perhaps that really depends on how much value is tied up in a brand.
The case of Walt Disney is an interesting one. With arguably one of the world’s most recognisable brands, their new strategy clearly indicates that they believe it’s an asset worth protecting. Disney’s empire is diverse, ranging far beyond content to theme parks and retail stores, and the brand is the keystone of that wider success. However, do other players in the industry place as much value in a brand, and do they have the clout to go it alone?
For those that don’t, one option that presents itself takes the form of Amazon Channels, which offers the opportunity to subscribe to individual television channels with live and on demand content, such as Eurosport and ITV Hub, on a monthly basis . This could be a good strategy for smaller players who want to ensure customers still follow a journey to their content that facilitates brand awareness and re-enforces brand loyalty.
Ultimately, the strategies that today’s household names pursue in the face of OTT disruption will shape the next-era make up of the consumer-facing media market. Brand or no brand, businesses seeking to define their space in this future would do well to keep sight of the foundation of a strong media value chain, which isn’t brand; it’s great content.