Anytime, anywhere, any way you want it: streaming services allow us to have different types of media at our fingertips by carrying only one device. They provide extensive opportunities for personalized user experiences as well as new pricing models and business designs, and often make it easier for new creators to make their work available for consumers all over the world. For many, one of the main advantages of streaming and online media is the independence from physical products which means no risk of breakage for companies and consumers, less logistics to figure out and travel friendliness. Gone are the days of having no option but to sacrifice your flight’s baggage weight on books to read at the beach!
Now, media companies also have the chance to collect data about their customers’ preferences and consumption habits, and can adapt their products, marketing, and pricing to that. Streaming is usually based on subscription plans which means it can be much more affordable for many users than having to pay for each product separately, especially if they tend to consume large amounts of that product. Think about an avid reader or someone who listens to many different artists: buying several books or CDs a month can quickly leave you with, yes, a lot of happiness, but unfortunately a very hurt bank account as well. So, if they subscribe to a streaming service they will probably save a lot of money and have less items to find some space for in their room.
But, there obviously aren’t only advantages to the shift towards streaming media: Industries now need to figure out how to build and survive on these new pricing systems and many are worried about the future of record, video, bookstores, and cinemas as more people now prefer digital formats. Creators in media industries now also depend on each and every time somebody consumes their song, book or movie instead of “only” needing to sell as many physical items as possible without having to care about the amount of times it will be consumed.
Since the structures of different media industries vary, let’s have a brief look at how streaming might work differently for them and how it is affecting them. Starting with books, we already touched upon travel friendliness of ebooks and the option to save money. Typically, ebooks are either available as part of a subscription or for sale like a normal book but they will usually be cheaper since less materials and other resources are needed for their production and distribution. Subscription services like KindleUnlimited or Scribd can be compared to Netflix or Amazon Prime: you pay a monthly subscription fee and in return get access to books for no or a very small extra charge. You can also compare that system to conventional libraries with a member fee. The main difference is that a book in a library was bought, meaning that the author received money from that initial purchase but doesn’t earn any more money even if their book is borrowed from the library by many people. For ebook subscriptions, the author will miss out on the money from the purchase but will get a smaller amount for each time somebody opens their ebook instead. Whether that is an advantage or disadvantage obviously depends on the author and the performance of their work. Overall, streaming/subscription models for books are gaining a lot of attention from consumers, so companies are starting to adapt by releasing their own ebook tablets, apps, and platforms and making use of opportunities to revolutionize the user experience by letting them change fonts and sizes, incorporating dictionaries and note sections, making recommendations and allowing them to save their favourite lines right on their device. All of that allows readers to personalize their experience to fit their own needs not just financially, which certainly is a huge boost for ebooks and especially ebook subscriptions. But, being available as digital files, books become vulnerable to piracy issues and controlling those will be a difficult task to manage in the future. And lastly, bookstores are faced with the question of how to be more attractive for their customers than ebook retailers.
Theatres, TV channels and video stores are facing similar issues with a growing number of people preferring Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services over buying DVDs or a ticket to the movies. The pandemic also added another huge blow to theaters by being the reason why they were forced to stay closed for months in a row with no real opportunity to make up for at least some of the money loss. This caused some theaters to no longer be able to operate due to missing financial resources. The main challenge is to make the customers’ experience extra special now by either emphasizing the “traditional going-to-the-movies-experience” they provide and that you can’t recreate by streaming movies at home (let’s be real, I think that popcorn always tastes best at the movies) or by using advanced and high-quality sound and picture equipment that makes the movie more enjoyable. It also seems like most movies that performed well in box office sales in the last year often were sequels or prequels like the new Avatar and Top Gun movies, meaning they already had some sort of fanbase or viewership, and not movies with completely unknown storylines and characters which can be a sign that theaters and companies are betting mostly on “safer options” in order to ensure good box office performances, meanwhile more unknown movies often tend to be available for streaming right away. This shows how there are now two ways a movie can premiere: a traditional theater release, or they can be exclusively available on a streaming platform(s), which focuses on boosting subscriber and streaming numbers there. In order to choose the most suitable option, companies need to understand the needs and preferences of the audience that the specific movie targets. While theatres might not be the biggest fans of them, smaller creators could be because streaming platforms tend to offer more opportunities for them to release their work, which provides a more diverse selection for users as well with more niche groups getting a voice besides popular shows and movies.
Lastly, the music industry is another big media field affected by the rise of streaming services. While it’s also easier for artists to release their music here, the platforms usually pay them a rather small average rate per user (often referred to as ARPU). Like with the other industries mentioned, streaming provides advantages for many consumers, but it is both a blessing and a curse for the business side that has to make a living from it. Digital formats provide multimedia options such as canvases on Spotify that listeners can unlock by playing the record, which boosts streaming numbers and therefore revenue. There’s animated cover artwork that can be more eye-catching, and artists can connect their platform and social media profiles to stay connected with their fans and be on their new listeners’ radar to improve their music’s performance. Social media and the data collected by the streaming services also allow them to understand how popular each of their songs are over time and make music that caters to those preferences. Smaller artists can also benefit from playlist sharing and platforms’ underlying the algorithms (learn more about Spotify’s algorithm here) and grow a fanbase without really needing a record deal. This means that once they do want to be signed with a record company, they have more to bring to the table and a better chance at negotiating a good deal. But once again, it can be very difficult to earn large amounts of money from streamed music, so in order to earn signifiant amounts of money, artists need to find a way to generate as many streams as possible over a long period of time. This can mean shorter songs to get higher numbers in less time, pre-save campaigns that are planned down to the smallest detail in order to keep prospective listeners from forgetting about the release and kickstart streams on release day, getting people on social media to use their songs for content (for example, encouraging TikTok users to post a certain type of video using the song) and trying to make music that will be placed on public playlists.
In all three media industries, streaming has had, and continues to have a huge impact on what used to be the daily business. Everyone who is making a living from media now needs to figure out how to keep their incomes stable in the face of these new digital formats that often mean a slower flow of money and are competition for physical formats in many aspects. We see bookstores building social media presences, showing that they’re safe and cozy spaces for readers or adding cafés to their business to create a special multifaceted experience. Theaters are betting on advanced sound equipment or a sense of community and tradition that you can’t recreate at home. Musicians feel the need to build their music around listeners’ preferences that are delivered to them through large amounts of data. While it might be more difficult to make large amounts of money in a short time, a huge benefit that streaming platforms allow is their accessibility for both creators and consumers. Hopefully there will be compromises soon that allow both sides to make the most of this new way of business because streaming for sure is here to stay and evolve further for a long time.