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OTT Media: Current 2020 Landscape and Where We’re Headed

30 Min Read

Did you know that there were 536 scripted series released in 2019? That’s at least according to a new piece in the New York Times on a report released last week from the TV network FX, which also stated that means for the first time in history, there’s been more than 500 scripted series released in a single year. And get this—that number isn’t even including reality shows, daytime TV dramas or kids content. If it was, the total would be pushing over 1,000 original series of TV released in a single year. 

That’s a lot of content—and it certainly puts this “golden era” of TV into perspective. However, if this article’s headline piqued your interest, you might be wondering what all that has to do with OTT media—or what OTT media even is. We’ll get to both in a minute.   

Actually, this article aims to get you caught up to speed on both what the OTT media landscape looks like in 2020, as well as the role OTT media plays in what TV critics lovingly refer to as the “Streaming Wars” that have been brewing to a boil over the last few years. In short—many OTT media services have entered 2020 – but not all will last the year, let alone the decade. 

So where does Netflix stand against Apple TV+? Is HBO Max out yet? What’s the difference between Disney+ and Hulu if Disney owns both? And what the heck is Peacock?  

Only one way to find out: let’s dive in! 

What is OTT Media?

OTT media, an acronym for “over-the-top” media, is a formal term for what you know to be streaming services. What makes a streaming service OTT instead of regular TV? For something to be considered over-the-top media, it means that you, the viewer, connect to it directly through the internet—not through the traditional distribution channels of cable, broadcast, or satellite TV. This could be through a web browser or an app on a separate device like a Roku, Xbox, or iPad.

For most readers, what streaming services are shouldn’t need much more explaining than that, but when it comes to what streaming services are actually available, breaking it all down in a similarly simple and straightforward way becomes much harder. 

Think about it: for there to be over 500 scripted series and over 1,000 series total, that means many, many sources releasing content. As much as Netflix is spending on producing new shows every week, they can’t be producing that much all on their own! 

That’s one of the most impressive things about how quickly OTT media services have proliferated the home entertainment landscape and taken over the conversation about TV. After all, it was only about six years ago now that Netflix released the first season of House of Cards directly to viewers through their platform back in 2013, which is the moment many industry analysts refer to as the official start of the streaming revolution. 

“Cutting the cord” of the cable box is no longer a trend, but widely considered an inevitability, leading to the largely oversaturated market we know it as today. For example, did you know that over 64% of internet users in the US have at least one OTT subscription? That rounds out to about 182 million people—and that’s just in the United States. Netflix alone has 152 million subscribers, spread throughout hundreds of countries around the world, and if they can keep it up, will surely grow that as more users transition to the OTT model. 

Why is OTT Media So Popular?

For starters, OTT services are relatively easy to set up and use. All that’s required is an internet connection and app on an accompanying device. And the cost is still relatively low compared to comparable traditional cable packages—and cable companies know it, too, which is why they have all made (or are making) their own streaming services! 

However, a recent poll did find two words top of mind when everyday consumers think about streaming: overabundance and fatigue. In fact, if there’s one thing households can agree on at any dinner table across a politically polarized America, it’s this: there are too many streaming services

Or at least, too many for any one person to keep track of. It’s gotten so bad that a new AI-based search engine device called Dabby launched last week in order to help locate what shows are available on what service, sort of like how the TV guide used to work, you know, back when there were both printed books and regular TV stations. 

That said, while the streaming service fatigue has definitely set in from all the overabundance of choices, the freedom to watch your shows whenever you choose is definitely still appealing, and the steady stream of new content keeps viewers engaged and ready to log in next week to watch whatever new show is getting hyped up online.

The Current OTT Media Landscape of 2020

To help you break it down, here’s our breakdown of every OTT streaming platform available (as of January 2020) and why you should be paying attention to them going forward this year. Here is a list of every major streaming platform, what they charge, and how you can access them, starting with… 

The Big Six

The entertainment industry has always had about six major players controlling most of the major content that is released. The world of streaming isn’t much different—though it does feature a much faster-paced rotating roster of players. Here are the big six as of January 2020: 

Netflix ($8.99 – $15.99 / month): The obvious front-runner in the streaming wars, Netflix also has the biggest target on its back with over 158.3 million subscribers globally. Spending tens of billions on content every year to build out their library, Netflix is now one of the biggest producers of original content, though to mixed critical success. However, no other competitor has yet been able to compete with their output or subscriber growth, so even though it’s now only a matter of time before the crown gets taken elsewhere, Netflix still has a long way to fall before they tumble too far out of favor as the current streaming king. 

Amazon Prime Video ($8.99 – $14.99 / month): Amazon is one of the biggest names period, and their streaming platform reflects both their foresight and willingness to change. Plus, because Amazon Prime Video is tied to Amazon Prime, Amazon technically has the largest subscriber base of over 101 million subscribers, though not all of those subscribers are technically Prime Video viewers.  However, because you have the option to both stream content and buy it online through Amazon Prime, as well as add other channels like HBO or Showtime to your library for an additional monthly fee, Amazon is one of the most dynamic OTT platforms.

Hulu ($5.99 – $54.99 / month): Hulu is many things to many people, and as such, features the second largest total subscriber base behind Netflix with 28 million subscribersas well as one of the most expensive monthly costs. But that’s because in addition to their original programming and day-after releases of content from the big broadcast TV network shows, they also offer live TV and sports cable packages for cord-cutters looking for some type of live TV component to their OTT media. Plus, Hulu was just bought out entirely by Disney… but more on that below. 

HBO (For) Now ($14.99 / month): HBO has one of the most segmented streaming services on the market out of all of the top five, with three different versions including HBO GO, HBO Now, and the upcoming HBO Max (hence the pun). HBO’s owner Warner Media is supposedly going to simplify everything under the HBO Max banner, so that should clear up any confusion. Even still, HBO is in the top five because of its 8 million subscribers and admirable content library, with some of the most prestigious, award-winning series of all time under its control. 

Disney+ ($6.99 / month): Disney is obviously the biggest brand name in entertainment, and as such features one of the most impressive content libraries of any streaming service available. While the newest entrant into the competition, they crushed their launch back in November with over 10 million subscribers signing up within the first day. That’s more than some of the top competitors for the sixth spot combined. 

Looking Forward… One of the most compelling things Disney+ and Hulu have going for them going into 2020 is the ability to bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN together for one monthly charge. While Disney+ on its own might not be the Netflix killer many have predicted it would be, the combined Hulu / Disney cable bundle might really shake things up for the other OTT live TV services on this list. 

Fighting It Out for Sixth Place

At this stage, it’s nearly impossible to call which streaming service will take sixth place. That’s because the numbers are pretty evenly split among a lot of different tastes, demographics, and platforms. Here are all the contenders so far (as of January 2020):

CBS All Access ($5.99 / month): CBS All Access, the standalone streaming app for CBS network, is new to the game, but is already pushing between 3-4 million subscribers. That’s partially thanks to the name recognition inherent with CBS, but also due to the new on-demand, in-app content the service offers in addition to their live TV streaming of local CBS networks. CBS All Access is a top contender for sixth place with a strong head start on some of these other services and a competitive price point at $5.99 a month, plus they are looking to grow to about 25 million subscribers between now and 2022 to stay competitive with Hulu.

Showtime ($10.99 / month): Showtime is one of the older streaming services on this list, and as such has gathered a steady stream of 3-4 million subscribers. There are a lot of similarities between Showtime and HBO, both starting out as cable stations, both competing for adult audiences looking for prestige TV content, and both available as add-on channels on Amazon, AppleTV+ and Roku. The only reason Showtime isn’t as strong of a contender as other services on this list is because Showtime leadership has made multiple claims that they plan to stay small and focus on quality over quantity—meaning they aren’t competing for the same market share as larger OTT platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. 

YoutubeTV ($49.99 / month): Youtube is the second largest search engine in the world—which makes it a strong competitor for the sixth spot, even though YoutubeTV has lower subscriber numbers than some of the other contenders vying for Sixth place. So far, YoutubeTV has one million subscribers, but that number is growing fast—mostly due to the sheer reach of its platform and marketing power – in addition to being a huge name itself, it is owned by Google, which doesn’t hurt. However, as of right now, Youtube TV is one of the more expensive OTT streaming services out there, and has far less on-demand content, if any.  

Sling TV ($30 /month): Sling TV was one of the original TV streaming services offering live TV on demand when they launched back in 2015. Since then, they’ve grown to around 2.5 million subscribers, though some reports say they’ve lost a significant portion of that over the last few years as more competition has entered the field. Owned by the DISH Network, Sling offers two different types of content tiers—Blue and Orange, with Sling Orange including channels like ESPN and Disney, and Sling Blue including more channels like NBC and Fox—though since Disney recently bought Fox and full control of Hulu, these packages might change dramatically this year or later—leaving Sling’s future very much up in the air. 

AT&T TV NOW ($30/ month): This one is a bit of a developing story, and quite the confusing one at that. Formerly DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now is one of two TV OTT offerings from AT&T, unless you include HBO Max, which is also owned by AT&T. The other streaming service, launching later this year, is called AT&T TV and is an entirely new streaming service offering both live and on-demand content. This is opposed to the current AT&T TV Now, which has around 1.5 million subscribers and offers a package of cable channels to stream on demand. Both services will be available through an AT&T TV app, but what content you see will depend on which service you subscribe to.

Looking ahead… As far as which of these streaming services will be the most competitive with the big five, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage. There are a few different business models at play here: there’s the live TV bundle angle, the premium content channel as an add-on angle, and the hub for where you go to watch everything else angle, and each of these contenders has some skin in each. Pay special attention to what happens with AT&T TV Now as HBO Max hits the scene and what (if any) consolidation takes place. Showtime and CBS both have promising starts, but how far they can grow depends largely on the shifting tectonic plates of the rest of the industry.

Honorable Mentions

The below services are either niche offers or smaller competitors that still have a lot to grow before reaching the heights of the top five and viable contenders for sixth place. However, keep an eye on these OTT media services, as they could prove to be a dark horse, or offer you something unique you can’t get in one of your main services: 

Playstation Vue ($49.99 – $84.99 / month): While one of the smaller subscriber bases out of all of the top streaming services, around 800,000 subscribers by some counts, Playstation Vue is worth mentioning for those who use Playstation 4 as a distribution channel to access their other OTT streaming services. Like the XBOX One or Nintendo Switch, you can use the Playstation 4 as your hub to access all your streaming services, and if you subscribe to Playstation Vue, you can add LiveTV on top of that. Playstation Vue’s base package comes with about 45 channels that includes Bravo, Disney, and ESPN – and the higher price tiers are for adding more channels on top of those. 

Crunchyroll ($7.99 / month): If you are looking for anime or cartoon content in your streaming services, then Crunchyroll is for you. Despite some impressive numbers in the 2 million subscriber range, Crunchyroll is in the honorable mentions because it is a niche streaming service. However, you get one of the most robust anime content libraries out of any of the streaming services, so it is definitely worth looking into—if you’re into that sort of thing. 

AppleTV+ ($4.99 / month): AppleTV+ is one of the newest streaming services to launch, but it is also one of the most unique because it’s essentially an incentive package to buy Apple TVs. Similar to Amazon, AppleTV+ is aiming to be more of a hub for viewers looking for a home-base to access all their content, as viewers can add additional channels like HBO and Showtime to their AppleTV page. In this way, and because they don’t have an established content library like Disney or Netflix, AppleTV+ is more or less just a shiny new marketing tool for promoting using AppleTVs instead of Roku or Amazon—for now anyway. 

Philo ($20 / month): Philo is unique in that it is a mobile-first streaming service that offers up to 58 live TV channels. More affordable than other live TV OTT services, Philo is a good alternative to pricier packages, but is also missing some channels that other services take for granted, like CNN or TBS. While Philo does have apps for desktop computers and other OTT media boxes like Roku and AppleTV devices, these apps can be slightly less reliable depending on the device, although some reviewers speak highly of the AppleTV version of the app, so that’s worth trying out if you already use an Apple TV. You could even bundle Philo with AppleTV+. Oh, and they have a very low subscriber count – around 50,000 by last reporting.

FuboTV ($44.99 – $49.99 / month): Last on the list of honorable mentions, FuboTV has been around for about five years, but has yet to take off with one of the smallest subscriber base of all these streamers—around 250,000 subscribers as of last count. However, what makes FuboTV unique is its cable package’s focus on soccer and sports-specific channels, with most of its core stations revolving around international sports. However, Fubo has been trying to pivot to offer more variety, and even though their base is small, some analysts have predicted their service growing its subscriber count to 350,000 by this year. 

What to expect in 2020: Some of these players will maintain and build their footing this year, while others might suffer losses or consolidation as they are folded up into another bundle package being offered by one of the larger players in the game. While AppleTV+ is new, you can expect them to stick around for awhile, both because of Apple’s deep pockets of cash and its usefulness to establish Apple TV as a main hub for viewers. Philo and FuboTV seem the most vulnerable to change, but that could mean explosive growth too! 

Not Out Yet

Here’s a list of all the still-to-launch upcoming streaming services that could shake up the landscape when they finally make their debut later this year: 

HBO Max: Since we covered HBO above, I’ll just say this: HBO Max is threatening to offer a whole lot more than the current HBO Now app, and could very well rival the inner circle of the top OTT streaming services once it launches with the full weight of the WarnerMedia library and marketing power of owner AT&T. 

NBCU’s Peacock: With Disney in control of ABC and Fox content under the Hulu streaming platform, and CBS All Access launching and growing steady subscribers, it was only a matter of time before the last of the big four broadcasters got into the streaming wars. With the launch of Peacock, NBC will use its own mighty content library to compete for its slice of the streaming pie. However, because it’s one of the latest offerings to launch, and because there isn’t much in the way of exciting announcements surrounding new original programming, it is going to be a long time before we see Peacock as a viable contender for sixth place, let alone the crown. 

Discovery Streaming: Discovery Channel is looking to launch its own streaming service this year. While this seems like small potatoes compared to some of the bigger names in the streaming game, Discovery actually owns a lot of popular cable TV brands, including the Food Network, HGTV, and TLC. According to a recent announcement from Discovery CEO David Zaslav, the plan is to convert their various networks’ current cable viewers over to the app. 

Quibi: The least-known streaming service launching next year, Quibi has the potential to shake up the current streaming landscape with its groundbreaking 10 minute episode format. While other platforms are experimenting with shorter content lengths, Quibi is built around more short-form content that can be easily digested on your phone and in smaller doses. Quibi could either become a failed experiment or an antidote to the current stream fatigue and overload that bogs down most viewers trying to decide what to watch. 

Bigger Picture and Final Thoughts

OTT media services have grown rapidly over the last six years, and with billions being invested as we speak, they show no signs of stopping anytime soon. While the US is what is considered a “mature market” for streaming, the largest gains will be in global expansion as streaming services content to fight for content consumers around the world. 

As for the US and similarly mature markets, consolidating and packaging traditional live TV, internet, and streaming services into bundles is going to be the way companies stay competitive and grow their userbases (and revenue) without losing customers to the overabundance and fatigue mentioned above. 

Plus, not every OTT content provider is offering the same service. Some, like Apple and Amazon, want their service to be your hub for reaching other shows. Others provide hyper-specialized niche content experiences that you can’t get anywhere else. And others still want to be a smaller, leaner, cheaper version of what you can get elsewhere by packaging it differently. 

The consolidation is coming, however. Whether this means TV networks will fold into streaming services or vice versa remains to be seen. But with over 300 OTT providers in the market (that’s right—we barely scratched the surface of what’s available), there will have to be a change of some kind or another. Not everyone will be able to watch everything, and the average consumer’s monthly entertainment bill definitely has a max.

Plus, the monetization of these services is going to play a big role going forward. Entertainment is an expensive industry, especially if you want to be competitive with the big players in terms of star power, quality, and scaling up of content libraries. While subscription fees are the most common way services pay for themselves, advertising on OTT media platforms will rise in popularity, as will midstream transactions and micropurchases and even co-branded merchandise launches.

Ultimately, what the future of the OTT media landscape will come down to is innovation, creativity, and adaptation. The companies that watch how the waters are changing as more players enter the field and adapt to the ways consumers react will be the most likely to survive, as will those who consistently put out the highest caliber content that viewers actually want to see. There’s a lot of change still to come, but only one thing is certain—there’s no turning back now! 

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