Tag Archive: pandemic

  1. The streaming wars part two: Pandemic

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    Until late 2019, Netflix was the undisputed king of the streaming sector. It had competitors, notably Amazon Prime, but its subscriber base, content catalog and accessibility were almost unrivalled. 2020 heralded the much-anticipated ‘streaming wars’, with many media companies such as Disney, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and AT&T releasing their own streaming services. The competition was always going to be fierce, and then coronavirus came along. The global pandemic forced billions of people indoors for weeks and months, and many turned to the streaming services – old and new – for entertainment. A lack of live sport also drove many fans into the arms of the streaming services.

    Strong Q2 performances

    The streaming platforms’ second-quarter results reflected the millions of new subscriptions, with particularly remarkable performances from Netflix and newcomer Disney+. For the big media companies, streaming performance was a bright spot in balance sheets dominated by bad news in the form of closed movie theaters, canceled sporting events and major advertisers slashing their TV budgets. But as the world slowly transitions into a post-pandemic landscape, can the streaming services maintain their success?

    Let’s start with a round-up of the major players’ performances over the last two quarters.

    Netflix

    Netflix had an incredible Q2, adding 10 million subscribers to end the first half of the year, to a total of 193 million subscribers across the world. That was on top of an unprecedented addition of 15.7 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year. However, Reed Hastings, Netflix’s co-CEO, warned that this kind of growth couldn’t last, suggesting that the pandemic had pulled subscriber growth into the first half of the year. He predicted that the platform would attract just 2.5 million new subscribers in the third quarter, a prediction which caused Netflix’s share price to plummet.

    Disney+

    Many argue that Disney+, The Walt Disney Company’s much-publicized on-demand streaming service, is the big success story of the pandemic. It is the biggest streaming launch on record, with a huge 10 million subscribers in the 24 hours following its launch, and more than 60 million subscribers by early August – four years ahead of their target of 60-90 million subscribers by 2024. This is particularly impressive given that they have yet to complete their global roll-out. Including Hulu and ESPN+, both of which it also owns, The Walt Disney Company’s streaming subscriptions now top 100 million.

    Peacock and HBO Max

    It is still early days for NBCUniversal’s Peacock, which is ad-supported, and AT&T’s HBO Max, which is the premium version of cable channel HBO. Peacock launched in the US in mid-July, and at the time of writing has attracted 10 million subscriptions – a third of its 2024 target. Meanwhile, HBO Max launched in late May and has grown the pool of HBO and HBO Max customers by 1.7 million in the first half of this year, to a total of 36.3 million subscribers. It is helping AT&T to mitigate the effects of cord-cutting, although there are signs that HBO subscribers don’t yet fully grasp what the new service offers, or how and why they should get it.

    Is brand-supported streaming the future?

    It is indubitable that the coronavirus pandemic has created extremely favourable market conditions for the streaming platforms, both new and established. But, as Reed Hastings said, it’s possible that it has simply pulled 2020’s – and possibly 2021’s – entire pool of new subscriptions into the first half of 2020. To date, the streaming companies have focused on the production of high-quality content to lure new subscriptions and maintain revenue. But content by itself isn’t enough – Quibi’s unsuccessful launch is testament to that – and, what’s more, supply far outstrips demand: consumers in the US subscribe to an average of three SVOD services. The streamers will need to find new ways to deliver increasing value to shareholders.

    There has been some concern amongst advertisers about the growth of ad-free streaming, but many industry players now agree that brand support seems almost inevitable. With ad dollars always wanting to follow eyeballs, there are potentially billions of ad dollars up for grabs. What’s more, the consumer data that the streamers own will be of huge value to advertisers, allowing the likes of Netflix and Disney+ to compete with that infamous tech duopoly, Facebook and Google. Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg told AdAge earlier this year, ‘if they [the streaming companies] go that way, if they will be able to allow us to unveil the walled gardens and provide data back, then that’s an enormous competitor to the Facebooks and Googles of the world in terms of the audiences these platforms are going to attract and our ability to engage with them’.

    The big streaming platforms have huge tech capabilities which will allow them to create new ad models, formats and partnerships to drive revenue. However, they will need to prioritise consumer experience – part of the appeal of the streaming platforms is the low ad load, or total lack thereof, particularly for US viewers who often sit through more than 15 minutes of ads per hour on primetime TV. Brand partnerships will need to enhance rather than disrupt the consumer’s experience.

    A key moment in streaming

    While the streaming sector has been one of the few winners of 2020, it is far from certain that this success will continue. As the world continues to emerge from lockdown, the economic ramifications of the pandemic are becoming clear. Many countries, including the US, are in recession and unemployment is rising dramatically. Consumers will be looking for ways to make savings and non-essentials such as streaming subscriptions may well be among the first thing to go, particularly as restrictions on other parts of life ease. Netflix, Disney+ and their competitors will need to work hard to retain consumers and maintain their profit.

    Image: Metamorworks / Shutterstock

  2. Are Big Tech’s Q2 results too good?

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    Across the world, national economies are in deep recession, businesses are folding and unemployment has soared. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc for so many, yet there is a subset of the global economy which demonstrates extraordinary resilience.  

    The tech giants release their Q2 2020 results

    On Thursday last week, amid much anticipation, the Big Tech big four released their second-quarter results. They would have been impressive in the pre-Covid world, but in the current context they were nothing short of astonishing. Facebook reported an 11% growth in revenue year on year, to $18.7 billion, and its profit doubled to $5.18 billion; its number of monthly active users (MAU) rose 12% to 2.7 billion. Amazon posted a record profit of $5.2billion, with sales rising 40% to $88.9 billion, while Apple’s profit rose 12% to $11.25 billion, and its revenue by 10% to $59.69 billion, thanks partly to a 1% increase in iPhone sales. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, reported a profit of $7 billion, which was down on the year, but still above the share price expected by Wall Street ($10.13 a share vs $8.21).  

    A great quarter for Facebook

    Despite the negative publicity that Facebook suffered following the #StopHateForProfit campaign and subsequent boycott of the platform by some of the world’s largest advertisers, the second quarter of 2020 was a great one for the social media giant, from a financial perspective. Revenue growth slowed, but it was still far greater than what analysts on Wall Street predicted. The financial success and growth in both monthly and daily active users signal that people and businesses used Facebook to stay in touch with loved ones and customers in the spring, when much of the world was in lockdown because of the pandemic. Facebook states that 180 million businesses use their tools, and it has 9 million active advertisers; this well-established longtail of smaller advertisers goes a long way to explaining why the July boycott wasn’t financially damaging to the platform, although it was very challenging from a PR perspective. Facebook is strengthening its relationship with its small business advertisers with the launch of two new initiatives, Facebook Shops and in-messenger commerce. 

    Strong performances from Apple, Amazon and Alphabet

    The other three components of the Big Four also enjoyed remarkable success in Q2. While Alphabet’s ad revenue was down, many analysts believe that this was largely because it came from a much larger base than Facebook’s, for example. YouTube’s ad revenue increased by 5.8% to $3.8 billion, which was much slower than its Q1 performance but still impressive given the context, namely many advertisers halting their ad spend. 

    Amazon, possibly unsurprisingly with so many people stuck at home, had a strong second quarterwith a record profit of $5.2 billion and growth of more than 40% in its division that is largely comprised of its ad sales business. The retail giant brought in revenue of more than $7 billion more than expected, despite initially being caught off guard by a sudden spike in demand during the pandemic, as more people chose to shop from the safety of their homes. It says it is currently expanding its fulfilment centres as it prepares for the peak holiday shopping season at the end of the year. 

    Despite store closures and operations disrupted by the pandemic, Apple’s revenue was the highest the company has ever reported in its second quarter, up 11% year on year. This rise is due largely to a 1% increase in iPhone sales, helped by the launch of the lower-cost iPhone SE. 

    Results that good don’t look good

    The tech giants and investors will undoubtedly be pleased with their performance in the second quarter, particularly given the economic context, but there is a fly in the ointment. Results this great, when so much of the world is in a downward spiral, are difficult to justify, and do nothing to quell suspicions that the Big Four are far too powerful, with too large a monopoly on the marketplace. Just the day before the Q2 results were released, the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon appeared before the US Congress’ antitrust hearing, as a culmination of 13 months of investigation by lawmakers into the market power of Big Tech. The key criticism against the four companies is that they have engaged in anti-competitive behaviour, using their power to choke the ability of their smaller rivals to compete with them. The investigation will produce a report after the hearing, which will be released towards the end of the year and will form the basis of new laws to regulate Silicon Valley 

    Each of the CEOs – Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jeff Bezos – tried to downplay the scale of their market leadership to Congress on July 29th. But their efforts were undermined by their huge earnings released just the next day, which not only underscore how reliant people became on Big Tech during the pandemic, but also symbolise how powerful these companies are and their ability to see off smaller competitors.  

    An awareness of perception issues

    Each company was acutely aware of the optics of their Q2 results. Amazon’s press release went out of its way to detail the ways in which it contributes to communities and its employees. Tim Cook said that Apple was conscious that its results contrasted sharply with the fortunes of so many others over the last few months, and that the company doesn’t have a zero-sum approach to prosperity, while Mark Zuckerberg highlighted his belief that Facebook’s products have changed the world for the better and improved people’s lives. Whether these statements will have any bearing on Congress’ conclusions remains to be seen. 

    Is Big Tech on notice?

    It’s very likely that the Big Four’s remarkable Q2 results will feed into Congress’ belief that they are too powerful; indeed, they – along with Microsoft – currently represent more than a fifth of the S&P 500, the first time since the 1980s that the five largest companies have had such a large share of the index. Congress lawmakers will inevitably seek to curtail that power to an extent, as it is in direct contrast with American antitrust laws. It will be fascinating to see what the implications for the Big Four, the tech sector and advertisers will be. 

    Image: Hand Robot / Shutterstock

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