Apparently, 75% of US households (with broadband) have one or more streaming subscriptions, and 46% have two or more. On its own, this fact may not be surprising, but the speed of change is significant: At the end of 2017, just 33% of US homes had two subscriptions or more—13% less than now. So around one in eight broadband households have chosen a second streaming subscription in the last year and a half (roughly). Undeniably fast growth.
But the idea of ‘subscription fatigue’ has now emerged. How many subscriptions will consumers realistically opt into? This is particularly pertinent because we’re in the middle of a run of platform announcements and launches. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock—and that’s without considering many more niche players, or surging growth in sports streaming, enabled by apps like DAZN.
We contributed to a Newsweek article, which suggested that ‘the streaming wars’ could lead to a rise in piracy. The argument was that as exclusive deals tie shows and movies to particular platforms, the content consumers love will become increasingly siloed. And as consumers will have limits on the total amount they’re willing to pay for content, or on the number of platform they’re happy to subscribe to, more people could turn to piracy.
This is certainly possible, but we don’t really think consumers choosing VOD services over traditional cable will do this. Multiple SVOD accounts, with content you actually watch, makes far more sense than 400 cable channels when you only watch three. And if platforms can make it easy for third parties to create apps and indexes (i.e. electronic programme guides), then content should be easier to locate across platforms, reducing the effect of siloing.
However, there is one type of consumer who may be tempted towards piracy. The sort of person who takes the ‘It’s-not-really-hurting-anyone-just-this-once’ approach: the ‘Casual Pirate’. This person could be looking for a free way to watch just one show or movie—something that isn’t available via their platforms of choice, and for which they’d resent paying a new subscription fee. That’s the sort of consumer who may be drawn away from that extra subscription.
The low price of subscriptions (especially when compared with old cable packages) means we may not see a huge impact from this problem in the short term. But we will see it. Many people will happily opt for second, third, and fourth subscriptions, but some will refuse to add more—even if pricing remains competitive.