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Calling in the future of streaming

Updated: 6 days ago

By Leslie Adams, Sales Director at Reach Africa


As first published in the Media Annual.

The other day, my three-year-old came across a landline telephone for the first time while at the paediatrician. This non-functional telephone was part of a “busy board” set-up equipped with locks, dials and other things to fidget with, intended to keep hyperactive toddlers entertained (and distracted) while awaiting their turn to see the doctor.


He asked me what it was, and I told him that it was a phone. “No, he said, quite certainly. “that’s not a phone. That’s a phone,” he explained, pointing instead to my mobile. It occurred to me that he had never before, in his three short years on earth, seen a telephone up close; my wife and I – like most millennials – only have cell phones. No landline to speak of at home, despite it being such an important fixture in our childhood.


We’ve come a long way in a few short decades.


In the early days of telecoms, the battle was between the landline and the mobile phone.

The incumbent was cheaper, already-scaled and government-funded, meaning almost every home had a landline and even rural villages shared a centralised line. So when mobile was introduced at a higher cost –  for both the device and call/SMS charges –  telecoms needed to find a way to drive mass usage, as cellular phones, at that time, belonged predominantly to the business elite. How did they do it? Pay as you go. Slowly, landlines started to become redundant and today are seldom seen, barring office blocks. Cut to 2024, and not only are we seeing parallels between the landline vs cellphone scenario with linear TV vs streaming, we’re also seeing it in the way we’re tuning in to our streaming services.


Consumers now want over the top (OTT) providers that allow for the incremental consumption of content through more flexible payment offerings and hybrid subscription models. We don't want contracts or commitments, we want the “pay as you go” content option in streaming. Telco banks, always one step ahead, have seen this, and are feeding our consumption. You can also forget your password-sharing crackdown, we're finding new ways to side-step and watch as a community.


But let’s take a step back and take a look at where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re heading. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.


Yesterday.

In the beginning, there was live TV, with the news, sports and all your favourite shows that you planned your weeknight dinners around. Then streaming arrived, with a whole lot more content, and grew at a steady pace.


Then in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Not only did digital transformation speed up, but so did our consumption patterns change. The work day shifted with people no longer slaves to the 8 am – 5 pm, and with this, so did “appointment viewing” start to fall away. People wanted to be able to watch what they wanted when they wanted. Live TV viewership declined in direct proportion to the increased eyeballs on streaming services. 

 

Then loadshedding ramped up, and things escalated even further. All of a sudden, people were charging up their devices in power hours, downloading their favourite series from Netflix or Viu, and beginning their binge-athons when the lights went off.

 

Enter the acronyms: OTT/VOD/FAST/SVOD/AVOD/BOD/TVOD…all of these speak to the new chapter in how our broadcast content is consumed. In international markets, the last few years have seen live television replaced with streaming as the primary content delivery mechanism. And locally, we’re not far behind.

 

Today.

Globally, streaming is now well-established, while in South Africa alone, viewers have around 30 streaming services currently at their disposal. With proliferation resulting in more options than ever, the industry is faced with huge amounts of churn, with viewers toggling between subscriptions in search of the content they want to see at any given moment.  In the Age of Curation, platform-switching is the new channel surfing.

 

Moreover, with South Africans facing continued financial strain, we’re extremely cost-conscious and want those platforms that will give us most bang for buck – or rather, most content for cash.

 

It’s an environment that is highly competitive, which has forced streaming providers to explore new ways to monetise their businesses.

 

The streaming landscape, originally known for its walled-off gardens, is now becoming a welcome home for advertisers as platforms look to move their business models to a more ad-friendly environment and unlock new revenue streams. With evolving business models, we have seen subscriber month-to-month models similar to Pay TV introduce ad-funded tiers, much like free-to-air TV.

 

Seen through an African lens, you can expect more of these hybrid subscription video on demand (SVOD) and advertising video on demand (AVOD) models, flexible payment options (subscribe for a day or a week!) and offerings built around community-centric based viewing.

 

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re headed that way.

 

Tomorrow.

As a result of this current status quo, we can expect the streaming industry to soon enter its Consolidation Era. The impending acquisition of MultiChoice; the merger of Discovery and HBO to launch “Max”; the evolution of Disney and ESPN – all of these point to a growing desire for a more centralised, less fractured streaming environment. Smaller players have run out of funds while boards are under growing pressure from shareholders to increase profitability.

 

But for consumers who’ve been struggling with the rising cost of living for some time, these moves may already be too late. We’ve realised that free ad-supported options are not so bad, and are more than happy to watch our favourite shows in exchange for a few ads – in fact, we’ve been doing this with YouTube for years already!

 

Then there’s the murkier side of the coin; dubious third-party sites and many, not-altogether-legal options to get all the content we want without paying for multiple subscriptions.

 

Now enter artificial intelligence.

How it will transform streaming remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt it will. The full realm of possibilities sit well beyond my imagination, but I expect that AI will introduce a whole new level of personalised content, evocative of Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, where viewers can interact with their content and play a role in the outcome.

 

This will allow users to explore many storylines previously unexplored, purely based on the shortage of manpower and budget. From a content perspective, it could lead to people being able to watch each and every show according to how they would like the story to unfold.

 

And for advertisers? It would bring the incredible opportunity to target audiences with highly relevant contextual ads tailored to them as individuals, rather than over-generalised demographical groupings.

 

Streaming is the ultimate merger between digital and traditional advertising. While we see loadshedding eating away at linear TV's reach, the streaming industry, much like the rise of the mobile phone a few decades ago, is now growing at a rapid pace. Ten years later, it is deeply entrenched and a fundamental part of our daily lives.

 

So brands and marketers: you’d be wise to make that call.  

 

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