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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

2 Key lessons international streamers can learn from the U.S.

March 27, 2023 | By Christy Tanner, Founder – Coraly Partners and Senior Advisor Oaklins DeSilva & Phillips @christytanner

For nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of helping lead media’s evolution, first as an executive at two U.S.-based companies that were early to market with streaming video products, and now as a digital transformation consultant working with a variety of international media companies.

Many of the global execs I meet these days are worried that they are behind when it comes to streaming—playing catch up with the U.S. But is playing catch up such a bad thing? I say it’s not. In fact, by “playing catch up,” late movers have an opportunity to learn two key lessons from the U.S. streaming market and thus serve viewers more effectively.

1. Streaming is a long-term investment

After several decades in which the basic methods of creation and distribution were relatively stable, digital technology came along and changed the game. Unfortunately, in the early days of digital, many U.S. media companies took a short-term approach to this massive shift.

Instead of undertaking streaming development as an opportunity to fundamentally transform viewer relationships, most U.S. media companies viewed streaming as an experiment or side project. This led to short cuts in product development. That resulted in dozens of copycat streaming interfaces that today all more or less look just like Netflix, for better or worse. This short-term approach also led to a lack of standards development. That resulted in dozens of measurement methodologies and little to no transparency in companies’ stated metrics for success.

Those who are late to market can take advantage of the learnings from this short-term thinking by setting expectations internally and externally about how long their transition will take. Investing long-term in more thoughtful products will strengthen viewer loyalty. Investing long-term in shared metrics standards will strengthen relationships with partners and investors.

Streaming video is a long-term investment in innovation. It is an ongoing commitment to continuous change. Executed successfully, streaming video should mean more value for viewers—increased options and the convenience of on-demand. And that will result in more loyalty for media brands and more value for investors.

2. Do what you do best

The U.S. is a singular entertainment market. It’s large, geographically and demographically diverse, and relatively affluent. The most game-changing media company from the past two decades of U.S. innovation—Netflix—was actually a unique by-product that arose from the proximity of Hollywood and Silicon Valley and the relatively early widespread adoption of broadband in the U.S. market. If your country is not the U.S., don’t assume your non-US-based media company should follow the same strategies as the U.S.-based giants. Your company doesn’t need to be the next Netflix. Nobody wants or expects that.

The U.S. has too many streaming services that are practically indistinguishable from one another from the viewer perspective. Many are stuck managing churn on mediocre products as opposed to building loyalty via truly excellent offerings.

Unfortunately, this came about because the media companies that launched these streaming services incorrectly thought they had to compete head-to-head with Netflix in a winner-take-all Hunger Games. Recognizing that there is room for many strategies and many types of streaming services in the U.S. would have saved many media companies from over-investing in the wrong places.

The lesson here is to chart your own path. You should know your core viewers and the nuances of your market better than anyone—and you should take advantage of that. Not having to compete amid the complexities and pressures of the U.S. market is an advantage for media companies in other regions. Latecomers can avoid the churn management Hunger Games by doing what they do best, focusing on what differentiates their brand rather than copycatting the struggling strategies of other media companies.

Similarly, while there is room for international brands in most markets, there are nuances to local cultures that can allow for native media companies to truly own their markets. This is also the best way to super-serve your audience: build out from your core identity while embracing new streaming technologies and models.

The bottom line

Let’s get one thing straight: streaming is not a war. The “streaming wars” are a narrative concept, convenient for headlines but ultimately an overly simplistic way to frame the latest evolution of the media industry. In fact, there are and will be many successful players, and as streaming further evolves, it will continually present new opportunities for media companies everywhere to entertain, inform, and engage.

The models might differ from company to company, but all should be investing in an ability to execute continuous evolution. Smart media executives can double down on a long-term investment in their core brands and on super-serving their audiences for continued success in their own markets and beyond.

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