A magnifying glass and a small TV

Which changes brought on by the pandemic are temporary, and which will have permanent ramifications across the TV industry?
Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin

By Kelsey Sutton

12 hours ago

December is a month of reflection, and as part of Adweek’s Year in Review coverage, we’ve asked the industry’s key movers and shakers to look back on what this year has meant for themselves and for the industry. Television’s top execs overseeing broadcast, cable and streaming have weighed in, as have TV ad sales chiefs and buyers.

We talked with several television and entertainment media analysts about some of the biggest shifts they expect to see in the coming year, how they will be evaluating some of the biggest reorganizations that took place across the media industry and the biggest question on the industry’s mind: which changes brought on by the pandemic are temporary, and which will have permanent ramifications across the industry.

Here’s what they had to share.

How do you anticipate the streaming and TV ecosystem will continue to evolve in 2021?

Steve Nason, research director, Parks Associates: From a consumer standpoint, I think we will finally start to see a tipping point in the number of OTT subscriptions that consumers have in their service stack. I had predicted that 2020 would be that year, but Covid-19 has only accelerated the trend, which has coincided with the launches or further integration into the market of services such as Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock and an expanded CBS All Access. If the Covid-19 economic impacts continue to linger into the new year, consumers will be further tightening the purse strings and looking with greater scrutiny at their stack to streamline and keep only those they deem essential and foundational. The economic realities will further accelerate the adoption and use of free, ad-supported OTT services, who will play an even larger role in a consumer’s video portfolio into 2021.

On the industry side, I will be closely tracking several trends, including the continued dismantling of the traditional content windowing process and its associated beneficial impact on the subscription and transactional OTT space, especially in light of the recent Warner Bros./HBO Max and Disney announcements about new theatrical releases. That trend has so many interesting angles to it from the studio perspective to talent/production (directors, actors, crew) to theaters to VOD platforms to service providers, to consumers. I will also continue to track how many services are eschewing full partnerships with aggregation partners like Amazon and Roku to keep as much as revenue and user data in house as possible as HBO Max and Peacock have done recently. The push and pull of these types of arrangements are fascinating to watch and where they go from here will be really interesting in 2021, even among mid-size and smaller services.

Joe McCormack, media and telecom analyst, Third Bridge: Churn will be a key theme to watch both on the legacy and streaming side of things. Cord-cutting seems likely to persist with industry executives we have spoken to over the last several months pointing toward U.S. pay-TV households falling as low as 50 million over the longer term. Churn will also be important to measure for new streaming platforms as they pass their one-year anniversaries. It seems restarts in content production will be a key driver for churn minimization as some execs we’ve talked to believe consumers will expect one to two new pieces a content a month to justify continuing payment for services. 

Dan Rayburn, principal analyst, Frost & Sullivan, conference chairman, NAB Show Streaming Summit: The changes we are seeing in the market with regards to how movies and TV shows are being packaged, windowed and distributed on TV, across theaters and via streaming services, will continue to change due to the pandemic. But movie theaters will come back, and people will still want to experience movies in person with others. Streaming and DTC services will continue to grow, but pay TV is not going to be replaced by streaming, nor is the movie theater experience. We have a lot of choice as consumers as to where to get our video fix, but we also have a lot of fragmentation and consumers will need to get three to five services to get all the content they are most interested in. There won’t be one winner, but rather many winners, depending on the type of content and business model.