Is the future of video streaming a more curated experience?

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The author Chris Anderson wrote many years ago in The Long Tail: “If the 20th century entertainment industry was about hits, the 21st will be equally about misses.” Anderson correctly predicted that “unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it” from the service industry and providers. What many of us want is, as Anderson puts it, to “wander further from the beaten path”.

So what does this mean for streaming in a 2020 post-Covid world? Well, many people are looking for entertainment and streaming video platforms more than ever to escape and to explore their own tastes, and to find stories from around the world and find a connection with a world that has been turned on its head. We are moving into a time when the long tail of video streaming is starting to show its strength.

Netflix still dominates the landscape, even here in the UK where more than 40% of UK households now subscribing – although it was reported in February that Amazon Prime Video had used its streaming of Premier League football games to drive a greater rate of growth than Netflix. It would be wrong to say that the future doesn’t look bright for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and others. Just how many successful streaming services we can have, however, is up for debate.

With cinemas closed during lockdown, and even now with restrictions easing, there is a fear that many will not rush back to their local multiplex with the same desire as before. Instead, people have increasingly been looking to streaming platforms to fill their love of cinema. Reported projections suggest that SVOD (streaming video on demand) subscriber numbers will more than double in the next four years (from 22.4 million to 44.6 million in 2024). Clearly, there is a huge opportunity for cinema streaming platforms.

The likes of BFI Player, Mubi and Curzon Home Cinema in the UK have all seen a huge increase in user numbers and watch times during lockdown. These players are well positioned to take advantage of the fans’ desires for more film choices. The deeply curated Mubi reports that subscribers have doubled since the beginning of the year and overall films watched by subscribers has tripled year-on-year.

What does this tell us about viewing habits?

For starters, it says that we are looking for choice beyond our traditional platforms. Many are sick of scrolling for hours through their selected Netflix list and would rather have a curated selection of high-quality film choices, as Mubi in particular provides. This high-quality offering attracts a growing audience of what Hulu calls ‘curated streamers’ who, according to its recent ’Generation Stream’ report, watch film and TV in the hope of entering cultural conversations with other people of similar interests. With this growing audience, there’s a huge opportunity to drive conversation around films and social media, as 35% of those surveyed said they watch streaming services for social reasons (ie to talk with friends or join conversations online afterwards).

Mubi is looking to make the most of this with its ’specials’ range that showcases the best of art house cinema from across the world. The platform boasts a new film every day and wants to showcase “both the world of fiction and of documentary, from up-and-coming voices as well as established masters”.

It seems that film lovers can still get that cinema experience; it may even be closer to home then they had first realised.

Tom Jarvis is the founder and managing director of Wilderness.

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