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Stream Wars: A New Hope in the era of COVID-19?

By Carolyn Lok and Nabiha Azaz, Illustration by Bryce Chan

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on drastic changes to our world. With all of us inside the house, home entertainment has skyrocketed –  up 50% year-over-year and two hours more per day per household, according to Comcast. Binge-worthy series, like Netflix’s “Tiger King”, has been one of the ways to help us all stay connected (We’re all in agreement that Carole Baskin fed her husband to the tigers, right?).

Now that customers are unable to attend sporting events or go to the movies, streaming platforms are becoming more important to Americans’ daily lives. According to Recurly Inc, a subscription billing service for companies, paid subscriptions for streaming TV and video jumped 32% the week of March 16. 

But how are new services, like Quibi, holding up against streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu during this crisis?

We’re here to report.

New Kids on the Block

Quibi

Got a few minutes? That’s all you’re going to need. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the new bite-sized streaming service Quibi launched on time on April 6.

Quibi, standing for “quick bites,” was originally envisioned as an entertainment app for users to pull up content on the go. Taking into account Gen-Z’s short attention span, nothing on the service lasts longer than 10 minutes. During its launch week, the company saw 1.7 million downloads.

But is short-form content going to cut it now that we’re no longer commuting or hiding from our co-workers at the office? 

CEO Meg Whitman believes the current pandemic won’t hurt the company, she tells CNBC. “It turns out people have in-between moments at home.” 

In an interview with Hollywood Report, Whitman also said Quibi’s target demographic is 25- to 35-year-olds. This explains why a majority of its staff is either in the millennial or Gen-Z generations. 

“[Quibi is] an incredibly revolutionary concept that in my opinion should change the way consumers choose to view entertainment,” said University of Florida telecommunications management senior Sharan Bhakta. “Short and concise episodes make it easy to watch on the go, but you still have the luxury to watch wherever you please.”

“I see this brand as sort-of the “pioneer” toward the next generation of streaming, but I have a fear that it potentially may have launched early, especially considering this global pandemic crisis, and the world just may not be ready for it yet,” said Bhakta.

Peacock

In walks Peacock, NBCUniversal’s newest streaming platform, to slow the momentum of streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. NBCU plans to launch Peacock in partnership with Comcast Xfinity in two phases: a soft launch that went out on April 15 and a nationwide launch on July 15.

Like Quibi’s CEO, executives at Peacock believe the pandemic is actually helping streaming services at this time. However, the surge in on-demand viewing has brought up questions of whether Comcast plans to speed up the nationwide rollout on July 15.

While the launch will no longer coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the company still plans to follow through with July 15 as its target launch date. Peacock Chairman Matt Strauss even downplayed the effects of COVID-19 on the launch, as the streaming service was able to secure 10 advertising sponsors ahead of its debut. 

Comcast subscribers will receive access to some of NBC’s most beloved shows, including “Parks and Recreation,” “30 Rock,” “Two and a Half Men,” and “The Office.”

Yes, the rumors are true. The Office will be removed from Netflix, so you better get in all your Dwight Schrute moments now before adding yet another streaming platform to your monthly bill.  

Seasoned Streamers

If you ask someone about TV streaming, they’ll probably go on about what they’ve been watching on Netflix or Hulu. Streaming services have been a saving grace for many people throughout quarantine. They act as a hub for conversation for people across the globe – just look at “Tiger King,” which was the #1 watched show on Netflix at the end of March. Services such as YouTube have also been a place for sharing content adapted to the current climate such as John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” on Youtube which has proven to be very popular. 

TV has already been the most talked about topic online, according to Mintel’s COVID-19 and Tech & Media report for March. It’s no question that old favorites like Netflix and Hulu are doing well for themselves in a climate where businesses are trying to adapt to the times just like the rest of us. 

According to Nielsen, Netflix continues to be the most-watched streaming service during the coronavirus pandemic. Nielsen also reports that many states that enacted stay-at-home orders saw dramatic increases in streaming consumption between the weeks of March 2 and March 23. Hulu also reports that binge viewing (watching three or more episodes of a show in succession) has grown more than 25% over the past two weeks vs. the two weeks prior. 

However, according to an AXIOS report, Netflix is growing less than most of its competitors in terms of total streaming. For Netflix, resting on its laurels isn’t an option as the streaming wars continue, especially during COVID-19. 

Move Over, Theaters

People love to talk about the demise of movie theaters, especially with the introduction of streaming. Is this pandemic the final nail in the coffin, or will theaters still be here to stay? 

According to Mintel, box office revenues have hit historic lows. Theater chains such as AMC and Regal have closed their doors until the near future. Financial analysts also think that AMC might face future bankruptcy, and the current pandemic doesn’t make the situation any better. 

Several film releases have been postponed due to the pandemic, such as Mulan and Fast & Furious 9. One studio which has been taking a different approach is Universal. The studio will be releasing some of its upcoming films like The Invisible Man and The Hunt for home rental on their scheduled release day for $20 a night. 

With studios coming up with different ways to promote and release their films, this pandemic offers an interesting future for movie theaters. If audiences like the casual moviegoer are willing to pay $20 to see a new film in the comfort of their own home, then distributors will need to rethink if theaters are the way to go to reach a large and varied audience. 

Streaming services like Amazon and Apple TV already offer rentals, so companies like Amazon or Apple may see this as an opportunity to partner with movie studios to have exclusive access to new films which can create an even larger streaming war.  While the future of home rentals is unknown, this is possibly the time where the film industry should experiment and see how audiences respond to their releases. 

Implications

It seems that society will be at home for the looming future, which makes the inevitable streaming wars all the more exciting. Will Quibi and Peacock take the reigns? Will Netflix and Hulu stand their ground and keep high growth numbers? 

It’ll be interesting to see how media companies respond to this pandemic and what strategies they use to release their content. Film studios may regret postponing the release dates for films or the idea of letting people watch a new film for an inflated rental price. There is a world of opportunity right now as people’s attention is focused on watching entertaining content like movies, shows, and videos. 

The global pandemic also brings into question the future of movie theaters. Will home rentals for new films become the new norm? Will drive-in theaters make their long-awaited comeback as they are in Germany and South Korea, or is it just a fad? Will companies like AMC stay afloat or stay vulnerable?

Guess we’ll just have to stay at home and see.