Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

SVoDs put faith in franchises

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast November 06, 2019

Big brands are essential in helping new players build a subscription base, says Kate Bulkley

As we gear up for Christmas, consumers around the world will soon be filling stockings with subscriptions to new streaming services, whose future success will be defined by their content – specifically how they can create new hits or expand those their parents have already established.

Big drama franchises are like superfoods to on-demand and streaming services. They have known brand awareness and can be binged. Handled properly, franchises that create ‘worlds’ have a life well beyond the first transmission.

But before consumers experience these shows, they have to subscribe to them. Apple TV+ launched globally last week, while Disney+ debuts in several territories this month, and both streamers’ marketing blitzes are well under way.

They offer competitive pricing – Apple, perhaps predictably, is offering a cheap monthly fee at $4.99 (£3.86) and a ‘free’ year’s subscription for anyone buying a new Apple device, while Disney+, priced at a monthly $7 (£5.42), is also giving Verizon US mobile subscribers ‘free’ access for a year.

Even a small percentage of existing customers taking up these offers could add huge numbers to subs figures. Beyond that, it’s all about exclusive content.

“With a slim catalogue, Apple+ needs ‘tentpole’ success from its $6bn (£4.6bn) originals budget”

Apple TV+ has bought some stardust with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell starring in #MeToo generation dramedy The Morning Show, at a reported cost of $240m (£186m) for two series.

With a slim catalogue, Apple+ needs ‘tentpole’ success from its $6bn (£4.6bn) originals budget, which is a third of Netflix’s estimated $15bn (£11.6bn) spend.

Disney+ and the other forthcoming studio-owned streamers are banking on big brands and franchises to help them stand out, with the Mickey Mouse business probably best placed for success. It will be led by $100m+ (£77m+) live-action Star Wars spin-off The Mandalorian and a wealth of franchises from its library of Pixar and Marvel Entertainment content.

Next spring, Comcast’s NBC Universal (NBCU) launches its streamer Peacock with a reliance on catalogue titles such as Cheers and The Office and reboots of Battlestar Galactica, Saved By The Bell and Punky Brewster.

HBO Max will debut around the same time, leveraging titles such as Games Of Thrones, a deep library that includes The Sopranos and The Wire, a rebooted Grease and an original show based on the Dune novel universe.

Interestingly, the latter is still keen on building franchises with friends. In October, Sky and HBO Max parent Warner Media signed a multi-year extension to an output deal that makes HBO content available across Sky’s European markets (and to its 24 million subscribers).

It’s highly unlikely that HBO Max will launch in Sky’s primary markets – the UK, Germany and Italy – in the short term. Instead, Sky and HBO Max will coproduce originals for Sky customers across its European footprint.

In this case, it seems that working together on co-pros such as the multi-Emmy-winning Chernobyl and Patrick Melrose is preferable to going it alone. At least for now.

Those one-off hits are good, but there is true power in a great franchise and the streamers know it, which is why Netflix bought Millarworld in 2017, the home of comics including Reborn and Jupiter’s Legacy, both of which are being turned into films.

It’s also why Amazon bought the rights to turn The Lord Of The Rings into a TV series for an estimated $1bn (£774m).

Sky and Amazon’s first co-pro Britannia is a case in point: it may not have had huge critical acclaim, but it has worked well for Sky on-demand and Amazon aired it in 191 countries.

It’s a show on an epic scale, has superb onscreen talent, including David Morrissey and Mackenzie Crook, and the award-winning Butterworth brothers are writing and showrunning.

In this current market, you don’t throw away the chance of a decent franchise, especially if you have something that might work even half as well as that biggest of global hits, Game Of Thrones.

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