Whilst every new global SVOD and AVOD service competes with thousands of local competitors, it’s interesting to compare what they’re spending and what they’re spending on.
Spending power alone doesn’t guarantee success of course and comparing investments on a like-for-like basis only tells one part of a story. For example, content investments by Disney don’t tell you much about the merchandising/theme park opportunities they might also plan to capitalise on.
But with most of the major global entrants now launched, competition is ramping up. Each service is figuring out its line of attack, choosing which genres, niches and IPs to bet on.
Here’s VideoWeek’s guide to the lay of the land in the streaming wars for the coming year.
Budget: Netflix spent $11.8 billion in cash on content last year according to its most recent filings (though actual spending would be higher, as some content payments are spread across several years).
Markets: Netflix is available everywhere except China, Crimea, North Korea and Syria.
Upcoming Content: Netflix is set to release new seasons of popular shows including Cobra Kai, Stranger Things, The Witcher and Sex Education throughout this year.
In its most recent financial results, Netflix picked out Sky Rojo, a new series from the creators of popular Netflix Original Money Heist; Space Sweepers, a Korean action/sci-fi film; and Yes Day, a family movie starring Jennifer Garner, as some of its biggest upcoming releases.
Content Direction: Netflix is famed for its data-driven approach to content commissioning and acquisition, looking at trends in what’s proving popular with its viewers to guide its strategy.
But Netflix is also consciously pushing into specific new areas and genres, investing more in reality series and anime over the past few years. The streamer is also investing heavily in local content in overseas markets including Germany, France, Japan and Korea.
This content is designed to land with local audiences in those markets, though Netflix said in its most recent letter to investors that it’s also looking for foreign language shows and films which can gain traction overseas. Netflix cited the example of Lupin, a French heist TV series which topped the rankings in markets including Argentina, Germany, Italy and Spain.
And Netflix is betting on quantity as well as quality. The company says it expects to release one new original film every week this year.
Budget: Disney+’s budget is difficult to break down with 100 percent accuracy, since Disney films and TV shows distributed elsewhere can end up on Disney+ without being included in the Disney+ budget. But the company said in a presentation to investors in December that it expects to be spending $8-9 billion on content for Disney+ by 2024.
Markets: Disney+ is available in 54 markets including the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Mexico. The service is expected to rollout in Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and South Korea this year.
Upcoming Content: As well as a new season of hit show The Mandalorian, Disney+ is set to release new shows The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, both set in the Marvel universe, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Star Wars series.
A number of child-focussed TV shows are also in the works, including Zootopia Plus, based on Disney film Zootopia, and a comedy series based on Moana.
Content Strategy: Disney’s content strategy is still largely based on leveraging its hugely popular existing IP, including Star Wars, Marvel, and its various Pixar films and series. Disney announced over 50 new shows and films for Disney+ at the beginning of the year, most of which build on existing properties.
The addition of ‘Star’, a new subsection of Disney+ more geared towards adults, shifts Disney+’s content strategy in a new direction. As well as adding existing shows like Prison Break and Desperate Housewives to the service, Disney has commissioned original content specifically for Star, including detective show Big Sky and adult cartoon Solar Opposites.
Disney+ is also getting a temporary boost during the pandemic as Disney has released films including Soul, Mulan, and Artemis Fowl, directly via the service.
Budget: Amazon has kept fairly quiet about its content budget – the only time it gave any hard data was in the first quarter of 2019, when it spent $1.7 billion on video and music content. This would have given a total budget of around $7 billion if this spending stayed constant throughout the year.
Markets: Available in all markets except mainland China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria.
Upcoming Content: The best known upcoming Amazon Prime Video release is its Lord of the Rings series, believed to have a price tag of up to $1 billion for five seasons.
Other notable commissions include a series based on the Wheel of Time fantasy novel series, supernatural thriller; Citadel, a spy thriller series from Avengers: Infinity War directors Joe and Anthony Russo; and a TV remake of cult sci-fi film Galaxy Quest.
Content Strategy: Amazon executives have rarely spoken openly about the company’s TV and film content strategy, but there have been a few hints at the service’s direction.
The most obvious area of investment is sports, with Amazon picking up rights for the English Premier League, tennis’ ATP Tour, and mixed martial arts competition UFC. Amazon’s VP of global sports video Marie Donoghue suggested at the SportsPro OTT Summit last year that this investment is set to increase.
And like Netflix, Amazon seems to be looking for more international content which can translate well across many markets. Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, told a press conference last year that she plans to rapidly increase the amount of content commissioned outside the US, including in the UK, Germany, India and Japan.
Budget: At launch, Comcast pledged roughly $1 billion per year for four years to get Peacock off the ground, though this covers both content and marketing.
Markets: USA only. Comcast says it plans to launch the service internationally, though there is no timeline for this expansion.
Upcoming Content: Yet-to-release shows on Peacock include a TV remake of teen comedy film Clueless, a dramatic rework of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and a new Battlestar Galactica series.
Content Strategy: Peacock has kept its spending on original content fairly limited since its launch last year. NBCUniversal executives have said the company is taking something of an experimental approach, investing in a limited number of shows and then testing what works well with comedies.
Since launch though, Peacock has skewed towards comedies. NBCU’s head of original content Bill McGoldrick has said the company felt its library of comedy content was particularly strong, leading the business to invest further in the category.
And sports are a big focus for Peacock going forward – though its sports strategy has taken a hit given the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic games. Peacock made a major sports investment last month, signing a deal with professional wrestling brand WWE to secure exclusive access to all content on WWE Network, the WWE’s own direct-to-consumer offering.
Budget: WarnerMedia committed between $1.5 billion – $2 billion for content on HBO Max in its first year, with $1 billion budgeted for each following year.
Markets: USA and Puerto Rico, with plans to launch in Latin American and Europe by the end of this year.
Upcoming Content: Shows planned for HBO Max include a soft reboot of teen drama series Gossip Girl, a spinoff of superhero film Suicide Squad called Peacemaker, and Dune: The Sisterhood, based on the Dune sci-fi novel series.
A one off reunion special of sitcom Friends is also in the works, though this has been delayed multiple times by the pandemic.
Content Strategy: One priority for HBO Max has been to commission and license content geared towards younger audiences. HBO’s strength has traditionally been gritty adult dramas, but WarnerMedia made a number of hires prior to launch designed specifically to help bring kids and families onto the service.
WarnerMedia’s controversial decision to launch films directly on to HBO Max during the pandemic is also set to add a number of high profile releases (though this decision could be reversed, given pushback from the film industry). As it stands, major releases including Dune, The Matrix 4, and Godzilla vs Kong will be released directly via HBO Max.
And WarnerMedia’s acquisition of specialist anime streaming service Crunchyroll could give HBO Max an opportunity try to own a valuable global niche, though no plans have yet been announced to integrate the two services