Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory

WandaVision is a critically acclaimed original release from Disney Plus.
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The TV streaming market is becoming overcrowded. Gillian Titus looks at how original content is shaping the battle for market share.

Platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Stan, Binge, Apple TV+ and now Paramount+ are all competing for the top spot in the streaming wars.

Although the local Australian content is moderate, original material on each platform has grown immensely to attract and retain new subscribers.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says Australia’s lockdowns and restrictions have “delivered an ‘unprecedented boom’ to Australia’s subscription services”. 

Research by Telsyte indicates at least 43 per cent of Australian households have subscribed to more than one SVOD service and one-third don’t have a limit to the amount of streaming services they are subscribed to. This paves the way for SVOD services to create more original content to entice niche audiences and invite more subscribers. 

Even though the media has labelled the competition among the SVOD services as “streaming wars”, each platform has a different objective.

Here’s the current snapshot of the biggest streaming companies this year and how they’re ranking in the streaming wars by their original content, associated costs, number of Australian subscribers and their strategies in competing with veteran competitors as well as newer additions to the game. 

Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory
Netflix has a big library of original content.

Netflix still No.1

Netflix continues to dominate the streaming wars in Australia. According to Telsyte’s 2021 Australian Entertainment Subscription Study, Netflix has amassed six million subscriptions and is consistent in developing enticing, good quality original content for all ages. 

University of Melbourne’s Andrew Lynch and Alexa Scarlata wrote that Netflix has implemented a “conglomerated niche strategy” as their early and popular dramas such as Stranger Things, The Crown and Orange is the New Black have appealed to audiences due to their “middle entertainment media genres”.

Netflix’s subscribers are worldwide, creating a focus on international productions and content. the streaming service vowed to “spend over $17 billion on content” in 2021, after a decline in new and original content last year because of the pandemic and production delays. “We are back up and producing safely in every major market,” Netflix said in a letter to stakeholders. “We’ll continue to deliver an amazing range of titles for our members with more originals this year than last.”

Variety screenwriter Elaine Low says the first quarter of this year’s most popular TV shows on Netflix included Ginny & Georgia, Cobra Kai, Fate: The Winx Saga, Bridgerton and The Witcher. While the most popular films were Outside the Wire, Yes Day and To All The Boys: Always and Forever, which was the final instalment in the popular To All The Boys trilogy.

However, The New York Times’ Edmund Lee says one major game changer for Netflix this year was the South Korean sleeper hit Squid Game, which “became a global sensation”. It was the most watched series to date on Netflix, while also gaining more subscribers to the platform worldwide. 

It’s clear that Netflix has the resources and the strategies to appeal to newer subscribers as they’re constantly creating original content that’s appealing to audiences.

Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime Video came in second to Netflix with 2.9 million subscriptions in Australia, according to Telsyte. Sergei Klebnikov from Forbes wrote that Amazon planned to spend more than $7 billion on original content last year. 

Prime Video is developing and producing original content that’s niche and appealing to a range of audiences. Amazon Prime Video offers “over 400 Australian titles” according to RMIT and Melbourne University academics Ramon Lobato and Alexa Scarlata in The Conversation. This has a positive impact on the Australian film and television industry. 

Even though Prime Video wasn’t popular when it was released in December 2016, it’s now home to various successful Amazon Prime original and exclusive TV shows such as The Expanse, Homecoming, Modern Love, Jack Ryan, The Boys, Fleabag and American Gods. Lynch and Scarlata from the University of Melbourne say Prime Video got a boost in popularity from “a number of spectacular and award-winning TV series including Transparent and The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel”.

Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory

Disney+

Disney+ is the family favourite streaming platform as it’s had years to establish its credibility to audiences and subscribers. According to Telsyte, Disney+ has 2.6 million Australian subscribers. While Disney+ is popular among families and kids, its almost 100-year-old content is what’s making the platform popular with newer audiences as well. 

Sergei Klebnikov wrote that Disney+ had about “$1.75 billion to spend on content in 2020” as the platform had around “50 million subscribers in just five months” compared to other streaming services. Hit shows such as Marvel’s WandaVision and What If as well as Star Wars’ The Mandalorian are examples of how Disney’s most loved shows have successfully taken over social media as well as pop culture. 

Variety’s Cynthia Littleton wrote that Disney “re-engineered its operating segments and reshuffled its management ranks to prepare for its streaming future”. Chairman and CEO, Bob Iger has been searching for IP that can push Disney+ and its franchises to popularity. Iger also uses content from Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar as the driving force behind the popularity of Disney+ till they acquire 20th Century Fox as part of their conglomerate. 

However, veteran industry analyst Hal Vogel said “it’s going to be years until they [Disney+] start to recover their investment in streaming” as Disney+ wishes to compete with platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+.

With almost a century of original content behind it, Disney+ is the most experienced streaming platform in terms of creating unique and appealing content. 

Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory

The Australians: Stan and Binge

Stan and Binge are similar in what they offer and the fact they’re both Australian-owned. Telsyte reports that Stan has 2.4 million subscriptions as the biggest Australian-owned SVOD service. 

Stan has the highest amount of local content compared to other platforms as at least 9 per cent of titles are Australian, such as Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle and Red Dog In The Conversation

Lynch and Scarlata say Stan uses the “Hollywood + Australian” strategy for acquiring new subscribers. While supporting international content such as Normal People, Gangs of London and Yellowstone, it’s the only platform that invests in and promotes Australian content such as No Activity, Wolf Creek and Bloom

Binge, a sister service of Foxtel, hasn’t had as much time to establish itself in the streaming wars. Game of Thrones, Euphoria, The Flight Attendant, The Undoing and The Walking Dead are all examples of content that boosted the number of Binge subscribers. Binge relies on content from other production companies such as HBO to gain new subscribers and has little to no original content. 

Through this, it’s clear that Stan has supported Australian content as well as international content on the streaming platform, offering Australians a wide range of choices. Binge remains a small player in the streaming wars as it promotes international content rather than creating original content. 

Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory

Newcomers: Apple TV+ and Paramount+

Apple TV+ had a budget of $6 billion when it was launched as it was considered an additional service that Apple wanted to provide with their devices. The small library of shows that are available consists of high profile original content such as Morning Wars, Servant, See, Ted Lasso and Dickinson, featuring high profile celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carrell, Reese Witherspoon, Jason Momoa, Jason Sudeikis and Hailee Steinfeld.

Apple and Disney have shaken things up for veteran streaming platforms such as Netflix, Stan and Prime Video. It’s unclear how big Apple TV+’s impact has been in Australia with so few original titles to offer, but subscriptions have increased. 

The newest addition to the game, Paramount+, has been gaining popularity among new audiences with their original content too. Popular shows on Paramount+ include Two Weeks to Live, iCarly, Five Bedrooms, Spreadsheet, Infinite, Why Women Kill as well as Paramount favourites that are all in one place for subscribers to enjoy. 

Similar to Disney+, Paramount+ already has years of content to offer audiences, which they will promote within their own platform. It’s also predicted that other production companies will follow suit and create their own original content on their streaming platforms.

Swinburne University screen studies academic Jessica Balanzategui wrote in The Conversation that “new platforms mark a new era of flagship original streaming content, which will seek to capture not niche but mass audiences and thus subscribers”, which will make the streaming wars even more interesting in the years to come.

The winners in the streaming wars

Each SVOD service has made a different impact in the streaming wars in Australia.

Choosing a “winner” is almost irrelevant because each streaming service offers something unique to its audiences. So maybe it’s not a “winner takes all” scenario as most platforms are playing their own games. 

Netflix is a rare SVOD service that solely streams video content. Disney wants audiences to buy their merchandise. Apple wants audiences to buy their products and Amazon wants subscribers to buy from their retail website. 

Each service has a different goal in the context of streaming wars and simply uses SVOD platforms to reach some of their goals and engage with their audiences. 

Original content: the streaming giants stake out their territory