The Columbia River is the largest river entering the Pacific Ocean from North America and 36th largest river in the world. It drains 285,000 square miles, flows through four mountain ranges and transits seven US states and one Canadian province. It runs for 1,200 miles over 19 dams and forms a good part of the border between Oregon and Washington States. Its size and complexity and the additional fact that it is fed by more than 60 significant tributaries, makes the Columbia River a useful metaphor for the video industry.
Like the constant change in the video industry, nothing, not diverted tributaries or gigantic dams can keep the Columbia River from discharging 265,000 cubic feet of water into the Pacific Ocean – every second. The Columbia River would need only five hours to satisfy a full day of water needs for every household in the United States. Similarly, neither exploding the cable bundle, cutting the cord, streaming on mobile devices, or the TikTokification of attention spans can slow the flow of video over the internet. Over 500 minutes of video are uploaded to YouTube every second and according to Cisco, 82% of all internet traffic is video.
We live in the world of live streaming video and are always looking for better ways to understand the complex and dynamic river that is our industry.
Accordingly, here are three trends we are following:
1. The Reorganization of Sports Broadcast Rights
As discussed in previous blogs (here and here), there are 123 million households in the US and ten years ago 100 million of them subscribed to cable. That number has dropped to 60 million and is expected to continue dropping. Decline leads to more decline, particularly in sports. At one time ESPN drove the cable bundle and got $7 for every household – every month. So ESPN has less money to buy broadcast rights, and will have less content to offer subscribers, and more will exit.
ESPN is trying anything and everything to navigate the transition to streaming, including offering ownership stakes to the sports leagues, and launching their own streaming service, ESPN+. Time will tell ESPN’s fate. Meanwhile, the big streamers including Amazon and Apple are setting records buying broadcasting rights and the NCAA has put their football conferences in the blender. Many of these indicators point to more money for sports that have not always gotten it – like pickleball.
2. New Services are Closing the Technology Gap to YouTube
Today most live streaming on the internet is done on YouTube and Facebook. YouTube and Facebook have made it very easy to connect any camera, or the output of any video production platform, and stream. Their solution is up and running in minutes, literally point and stream. In addition to easy, with enough views, YouTube will attach ads to the stream and return 55% of the ad revenue to the owner.
There are a handful of YouTube fast followers, and then there is a very large technology chasm to the alternative of distributing a live stream natively (on one’s own website). The technological leap is so large that only occasional adventurers attempt to livestream on their own tech stack.
But the gap is closing and at the same time, the streamers are starting to dream of having more control of their fame and fortune.
3. Free, ad supported, streaming TV (FAST) channels are on fire
No one knows how big the FAST business is because new channels are coming from everywhere all at once. We believe there are about 20 brands and maybe 1,000 channels right now. The brands range from NBC’s Peacock (which isn’t actually free) to Chicken Soup for the Soul TV. They are as straightforward as a streamed version of a local broadcast station, or something niche like gameshow reruns, or even more niche like MOB TV, streaming all things gangster, all day.
Some services work like Netflix, where content is streamed on demand. But a surprising amount of FAST channels operate on a schedule. Pick the surfing channel for surfing, the 911 channel for crime, or the church channel for church. These new services are very easy to sign up for and are free to the viewer.
Soprano’s writer and producer Terence Winter created MOB TV because: “America’s fascination with gangsters and mob figures goes back over a hundred years, to early motion pictures with fast-talking gangsters doling out bullets and beatings to anyone who crossed them.” Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, the brand that carries MOB TV, explains that: “The unit economics of a $5 to $10 subscription doesn't make much sense if, on average, you are paying $50 to $75 to acquire a subscriber and they churn out in six to nine months.”
The proliferation of layers upon layers of innovation and specialization can obscure our view of the video industry. Like shifting sediment under the surface changing the path of the Columbia, these changes can be hard to observe. Whether we see the changes or not, the mighty river of video content continues to flow. At Native Frame, we are passionate about building tools that are contributing to the forward progress of the live video streaming industry.