Analysis: How the new SVoDs will use original content

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A profile of six new SVoD players launching in the American market from late 2019 to the first half of 2020 has just been published by Ampere Analysis. Four of these new players are studio-led: Disney+, Viacom’s BET+, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCU’s streaming service. Only Apple TV+ and short-form start-up Quibi are new to the streaming market. The report examines their differing content commissioning strategies and looks at the role of original content versus a reliance on back catalogues and acquired content.

How do the six players’ content strategies stack up?

Disney+ leads the way in original productions

The largest player by some margin in terms of originals, Disney+ has 61 upcoming original series and titles, despite its vast back catalogue. The studio is focusing its streaming offer on TV and movies, with TV spin-off The Phineas & Ferb Movie, and a live-action remake of The Lady & the Tramp movie. Over one third of its original content is unscripted.

Quibi plays the advantage of short-form content

The mobile-only platform can compete with Disney+ in terms of number of titles, albeit at a much shorter length of approx. 10 minutes per series episode. Quibi is entirely reliant on the success of its original titles as its short-form nature means there’s no back catalogue and no acquisition targets. The start-up has the highest proportion of unscripted content of the six players at 40 per cent and is targeting it at a youth-skewing audience.

Apple TV+ flashes the cash

Without a studio library to access, Apple TV+ is focusing on extremely high-budget, big name flagship scripted series, such as The Morning Show featuring Jennifer Aniston. 87 per cent of commissions to date are scripted.

HBO Max led by premium scripted content

Buoyed by its existing catalogue, Ampere expects HBO Max to be led by premium scripted content, although it has recently announced its first two unscripted original commissions.

NBCU’s as yet unnamed service

With under five originals, Ampere expects the service to be mainly catalogue-focused. It has just commissioned a third season of high school comedy A.P Bio, previously cancelled at sibling linear network NBC. To date all announced content is scripted.

BET+ bets on its existing catalogue at launch

Just like NBCU, BET+ has less than five originals to its name to date, and so will also rely on its existing catalogue rather than original content. Another similarity with NBCU is that all announced content is scripted.

“Several of the services are setting out to target specific audiences,” advises Fred Black, Analyst at Ampere Analysis. “Disney+ is focused particularly on family content, with nothing higher than a 13-years age rating, with more mature content left to the bundle-able platforms Hulu and ESPN+. Quibi’s mobile-only short-form strategy is designed to target teenagers and young adults in the 16-40 years age bracket, while BET+ will be hoping to target the same African American audience as the successful linear equivalent. WarnerMedia, having decided to use the HBO brand name, will similarly be aiming to convert some of that linear audience to streaming subscribers.”

Reality, documentaries and unscripted content

Three of the six new streamers have announced unscripted content. Disney+ and Apple TV+ have a strong focus on Documentary titles. Disney+ has named National Geographic a core brand and has also announced science history series The World According to Jeff Goldblum. Apple TV+ too has a heavy focus on documentaries, announcing dinosaur doc Prehistoric Planet. In contrast, Quibi’s unscripted slate includes ten reality titles, including motoring challenge show Elba vs Block. The player is the only new service to offer daily News & Current Affairs via partnerships with NBC and BBC.

The search for originals

It’s tempting for the studios to rely on in-house labels and brand recognition, and Ampere’s analysis of upcoming originals by source materials shows the skew to this approach, particularly in the Disney+ service. Two thirds (66 per cent) of the service’s content originates from its existing source material, such as movie brands and literary adaptions, which is more than any of the other three studios in the report. In comparison, 47 per cent of Apple TV+ and 43 per cent of HBO Max’s commissions are original concepts.

Both players have turned to literary adaptions to build prestige, scripted content. For instance, at Apple TV+ there’s Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, and at HBO Max, there’s Alissa Nutting’s Sci-Fi drama Made for Love. In complete contrast, only 24 per cent of Quibi’s commissioning is originals based on source material. They include four literary adaptations and three movie remakes, among them How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. NBCU has yet to commission any original concepts.

Sci-Fi & Fantasy and Crime & Thriller dominate scripted commissions

More than one quarter (27 per cent) of scripted commissions across the six new services are Sci-Fi & Fantasy, followed by Crime & Thriller at 21 per cent. These genres have proved particularly successful for Netflix and Amazon, so it’s not surprising these new competitors have prioritised the genres. HBO Max has Gremlins spin-off Secrets of the Mogwai, while Apple is combining Sci-Fi and Crime with Drama. For Disney+, Children & Family content will dominate alongside Sci-Fi & Fantasy. Disney+ originals are being used to drive early subscriber growth, leveraging well-known brands such as Marvel super-hero titles Loki and The Falcon & the Winter Soldier and Toy Story spin-off Lamp Life.

HBO Max has the highest proportion of female-led content

Forty-three per cent of HBO Max titles with lead characters feature a female lead. HBO Max is the only platform where female-led content is the most prominent category. Disney+’s focus on spin-offs and reboots from older titles has left it with a more male-centric set of commissions, with 39 per cent of titles with lead characters featuring a male lead. Mixed gender group casts are however common at Disney+ (23 per cent), as well among Apple TV+ (29 per cent) and HBO Max (33 per cent) commissions. This contrasts to Quibi, where titles with protagonist groups account for only 4 per cent of commissions. With episodes roughly 10 minutes long, titles by necessity tend to focus more on a specific male or female protagonist.

“Across the six platforms, the two most popular genres for commissioners have been Sci-Fi & Fantasy and Crime & Thriller, showing a willingness from the new players to take on Amazon and Netflix’s original content head-to-head,” notes Black. “This is particularly the case for Quibi, HBO Max and Apple, with the two genres accounting for over half of scripted commissions for each platform. Disney+ is pursuing a more family-centric approach, with nearly half of scripted originals in the Children & Family genre, although a raft of Marvel commissions propels Sci-Fi & Fantasy into second place.”


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