Video on demand: Are we there yet?

OPINION: Quickflix NZ managing director Paddy Buckley on local and international competition in on-demand video services.

Lots has been written about video on demand in the past few months as new services launch locally and competition in the NZ market heats up. But it’s important not forget that we are only at the very beginning of NZ’s streaming revolution and there will be plenty more developments in the coming months and years. But a revolution it most certainly is, so let’s take a look at a few themes and ideas that will be relevant for viewers as this all plays out.

“Television” and the importance of multi-screen
If you’re watching a movie on your iPad, are you still watching “TV”? OK, this is perhaps just semantics, but it raises interesting questions about the changing nature of our viewing habits.

Not long ago, the big screen at home was the only show in town. It still remains the best (when you’re at home), but there is a variety of situations where multi-screen – and mobile viewing in particular – comes into its own.

The on demand services available to Kiwis all let you watch more than one stream at the same time, so you can kick back in front of your main TV like you always have done, but now you can also bring out the iPad, fire up the game console or whatever else is convenient and keep the whole family happy at the same time. So multi-screen capability feels like a significant development.

Many people are now commenting on the the rise of mobile viewing, with some reports suggesting that we’re close to a situation where more online video will be watched on mobile devices than all others combined. A few caveats here: short-form videos (like YouTube clips) work well on your phone but you might not want to watch the latest movie on it, even as smartphone screens get bigger and bigger. But combine your smartphone with a nifty little device like Google’s Chromecast and suddenly you’re able to watch that same movie on the big screen again. Mobile obviously also works well when you’re out and about: in fact, it’s your only option, so some mobile viewing is driven by necessity rather than a desire to watch content on a smaller screen. And like it or not, mobile data isn’t yet where it needs to be for serious long-form streaming on the go.

Nonetheless, what all of this new technology does is enable choice and viewing on your terms, which is something to be excited about.

Fragmentation of content and its implications
So, we’ve established that we are more in control of our viewing than ever before. We can choose when and how we watch. Technology again is the great enabler.

But there’s always a “but” and here it is: the programmes you want aren’t all in the same place. In NZ, each service has different line-ups (as well as being available on different devices) – there’s no one-stop shop. That’s OK though: you wouldn’t expect just one service costing $10-20 per month to take care of all of your viewing needs - you might have favourite shows on different services, or you might want to watch that new release movie as a pay-per-view because it isn’t on any subscription service yet.

Go for it, I say.

Most likely, the next phase in the development of NZ on demand services will see all services becoming available across all devices, so potential consumers are not hindered by not having the right brand of TV at home or the right smartphone or other device: it’ll become easier than ever to subscribe to more than one service, top up with pay-per-view movies, watch catch-up TV and so on.

Data and personalisation
The other point about the SVOD services is that the customer model is particularly user-friendly because they generally operate on month-to-month contracts and you can opt out at any time and try something else. This means that all services are striving to be on top of their games, both in terms of how they present their content but also what content they acquire in the first place.

I’ve always been struck by the way traditional TV ratings are calculated. They seem to me to be unscientific, based on a small pool of users who are supposed to represent the country as a whole. I don’t actually know how well they work but here’s what I do know: streaming services can capture much more granular data so we can make our services better and more personalised. This isn’t spooky, the aim is simply to use the data to deliver the best and service possible. No one has completely cracked it yet, but we’re all working on the same thing. If we can successfully predict what someone will like, and offer it to them, then they will keep watching with us.

The consumer will be the winner
It’s still early days for video streaming in NZ. I haven’t touched on ultra-fast broadband or talked in depth about content rights or distinguished between the different models that are available. One thing we can be clear on is that we’re just getting started and as everything comes together and the streaming services continue to develop their products, the consumer will be the winner.

Paddy Buckley is managing director of Quickflix NZ


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