Why the MGM+ and Lionsgate+ rebrands are less than positive for streaming branding
Last week two US streamers rebranded to include a ‘+’ in their branding on the same day – Epix became MGM+ and Starz became Lionsgate+. But with the VOD market already flooded with a homogeny of ‘+’ services, The Drum asks if streaming has a branding problem.
What’s with the +?
Lionsgate+ and MGM+ now join the likes of Disney+, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Discovery+, ESNP+, BET+, AMC+, We TV+, Documentary+, Daily Wire+, Samsung TV Plus, CNN+, LG Channel Plus, Motortrend+ and Moviestar+.
When Disney+ unveiled its streamer in 2019, there were debates as to whether the market needed any more plus-named services. So why in 2022 would two major media empires choose to rebrand their streamers with a plus?
Dionysis Livanis, creative director of branding agency Redhouse, says: “It’s always interesting to see big brands, which promise to be leaders in their fields, fail in such a way and go for the easy shortcut of following someone else’s lead.”
Matt Boffey, chief strategy and innovation officer at Superunion, says that the plus is less of a branding exercise and more of a “descriptor” communicating that it’s a paid-for service. Livanis adds: “‘Plus’ means more, an enhanced experience, better content, a premium service. This meaning has already become established in the minds of consumers, so it’s an easy shortcut for big brands that want to launch a subscription service.”
The plus first took off when traditional media companies were all competing to replicate Netflix’s ad-free premium subscription model. But the streaming market in 2022 has seen consumers canceling subscriptions in their droves (1.6 million Brits cut their services in Q2) and Netflix and Disney+ introducing ads. Now most streamers have at least two or three price tiers.
“The + suffix is already losing its originality. It is on the way to becoming just a symbol for a paid service – which, during a cost of living crisis, doesn’t seem like a smart move,” Livanis says.
As consumers look to trade down their services, Boffey says: “The real naming challenge is to develop a new descriptor for lower-cost streaming tiers.” Boffey says streamers should start looking outside their industry for inspiration. He jokes: “Netflix Value, Netflix Everyday or Netflix Essentials anyone?”
Paramount+, for example, has two main plans – premium Paramount+ and essential Paramount+ – under the same ‘plus’ banner. More confusingly, Peacock has a premium plan and then a Peacock premium plus plan. There are still question marks as to how Netflix and Disney+ will package up their ad tiers.
Bolting ‘+’ to the end does make some logical sense, but Livanis warns it will eventually become meaningless. He likened it to when Apple first introduced the ‘i’ prefix and it started appearing on all sorts of products and online services, from big corporations to corner shops. “At the end, it kind of lost its meaning and it’s now seen as an uninspired, meaningless naming convention,” Livanis says.
Emma Harris, chief executive officer at Glow London, says the plus has a few pitfalls. “For Disney+, there’s a fight there to reposition the brand to encompass more than ‘children.’ Disney+ is home to brands of similar strength in their own right such as Marvel and Star Wars, but the average consumer might not immediately pick that up from the name,” she says. “In contrast, Netflix built itself without too many consumer preconceptions, and so it can be defined by the content actually on the platform.”
Harris argues, however, that the ultimate battle for consumer cash won’t be won by the name. “It will be the brand that can close the gap between content, customer experience and consumer-controlled UX. With most brands now copying Netflix’s UX design – I’m looking at you Amazon Prime – it’s clear to see that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters.”