I spent last weekend researching a piece for The Spinoff that advocates the establishment of a publicly funded national video streaming platform in New Zealand. The platform is pitched as an antidote to the global streaming wars. I have faith in Kiwis. I really believe they can do things other people can’t.
The argument for “Platform NZ” was prompted by the mega-mergers happening among the US media giants. The mergers and buyouts, the latest of which are the creation of Warner Bros Discovery and the acquisition of MGM by Amazon, arise through the perceived need to develop a critical mass of content and audience. The prize is global domination of streaming video along the lines of Google in search or Facebook in social.
But is it? Building subscribers is really hard work (see the video streaming leaderboard above). And there is an opportunity here for substantial resistance on a national level because local audiences love local content.
As part of developing my argument for Platform NZ, I compiled a list of the world’s most popular streaming video services. The previous best version I found (at Visual Capitalist) was three months out of date. You could argue that my inclusion of Apple TV+ here is dubious – the majority of subscriptions are free with new Apple devices – but I wanted to flag Apple as a combatant.
Most popular video streaming services, June 2021
You’ll note that Netflix is still winning (with 208 million paying subs) and that compared to globally networked services like search and social, streaming subscribers are meagre in terms of absolute numbers. No billions here. Reading the leaderboard, you need to know that Amazon uses Prime Video as a value-add to its shopping membership, that Apple gives away subs and that YouTube includes music subs in the Premium numbers. But the giants have their toes in the water, which is important when you consider how big they are compared to media companies. Apples’ market cap, the total value of the company, is 137 times that of News Corporation, and close to 7 times times the value of the biggest old-school media company, Disney.
A government-funded national streaming video platform probably makes sense for many countries, but for New Zealand with its history of funding commercial media through NZ On Air, it is particularly well-suited. I think Aotearoa has a chance to leap-frog great services like ABC’s iView by setting up a platform that not only houses publicly funded video, but is also available to domestic producers. It is time for individual media companies to stop wasting money on building platforms and to focus on the thing that gives them a competitive advantage: local content.
News is one of the most localised content forms, and at present highly resistant to global competition. Yes, the New York Times has become a global brand, but without local newsrooms it doesn’t move the needle in terms of reach. In Australia, the only global news outfits that have grown substantial audiences are those with Australian newsrooms and homepages: The Daily Mail and The Guardian. News is naturally geographically “moated”, which may at one time have felt like a weakness – because you can’t export the content – but now feels like a secret power.
A interesting and somewhat disturbing thought experiment: what if news actually became attractive to global platforms, rather than being something they either ignore or tolerate as a democratic hygiene factor? What if Netflix decided there were subscriptions in news?
It’s not happening any time soon – risks are high and returns low – but a global push into national news would make the streaming wars look like a pillow fight.
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