September 28, 2021 | Authored by: Jesus Luzardo
How media consumption has changed and where subscriptions fit in
December 28, 1895. The first commercial movie screening takes place at the Grand Cafe in Paris, France.
Fast forward to 2021, and new movie screenings are streamed in living rooms all over the world, 24/7, with new releases being exclusively available through certain streaming services, like WW84.
In the early 1800s, newspaper subscriptions cost an average one week’s salary, so only the wealthy elite could afford them. Then the “Penny Press” came along, and anyone could buy a newspaper copy for just one cent. The newspaper industry flourished.
Today? Most newspaper subscriptions are digital, affordable to all, yet publishers have to compete against masses of free online content and find ways to deliver added value to paid subscribers.
How did we get from there to here? Let’s take a quick walk through, all the way to 21st century media consumption.
From talkies to TikTok: How the media industry advanced
“Tablet” – once, it meant a flat slab of stone or wood used to write or inscribe upon. Today, we all know what comes to mind when we think of the word, and it’s not made of stone.
The first movies were silent, then came the “talkies.” For 21st century viewers, movies with dialogue are completely normal. But back then, the first audiences couldn’t stop laughing at the “absurdity” of the non-stop chatter of the actors.
Humans are adaptable creatures, though, and the Golden Age of Hollywood lasted from the 1920s to the 1960s. This was an era of big screens, big starlets, and big studios who controlled the bulk of the industry. With the advent of TV, the screen came into people’s homes, and thus began the rise of the TV networks. Entrepreneurs expanded the availability of broadcasts by tapping into more distant broadcast signals on cable. And eventually, in the early 70s, the first pay-TV network was established: Home Box Office (HBO, today synonymous with “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones” and much more).
As the internet era swept across the globe, digital TV became ubiquitous, and internet-based streaming to the consumer’s screen of choice, a popular alternative. Now, consumers can access more TV and movie content than ever before in history, in the comfort of home, via platforms such as Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and Apple. But something else has changed: the direct-to-consumer channels are also the content producers, aiming to disintermediate the industry and have direct access to the consumer.
HBO started out as a pay-TV network focused on programming. Then about 35 years ago, it began producing content. Similarly, Netflix began as a video rental subscription company, and in 2020, spent over $15 billion in content production. The same is true of Amazon, Apple, and others.
Now let’s take an opposite example: Disney. What began as a film producer and amusement park operator turned into a TV channel in 1983, and today offers Disney+, its streaming app with more than 116 million subscribers. Last year, Disney was the world’s biggest content producer, having spent $28.6 billion.
Subscriptions – then, now, and tomorrow
It is fascinating to note that the subscription model has always been a part of the publishing and media industry landscape, even from the early printed newspapers. It is not difficult to understand why – subscriptions deliver guaranteed recurring income for media companies, and the security of cash flow for ongoing operations and new ventures, while providing consumers the convenience of receiving goods and services in their home, or device at predictable cost and with the possibility to cancel anytime.
However, subscriptions are evolving, and that is thanks to the one thing that has driven all the breakthroughs in media consumption so far: technology.
The possibilities of subscription tech
Look at the features of TikTok and you can get a good understanding of today’s preferred methods of media consumption. It’s fast, interactive, accessible, and entertaining. To grab audience attention, you don’t need to be a big Hollywood studio. Anyone with a smartphone, creative idea, and TikTok account can do it.
But here’s the flip side – of the millions and millions of TikTok videos, only a very few go viral. For media companies, the same is true, and there is far more at stake. Media companies must produce great content, and provide excellent subscription experiences that are easy, accessible, and entertaining to keep customers satisfied. Consumers subscribe to services for the content but stay subscribed because of the experience with the subscription service; and that’s where data-driven subscription tech, like Vindicia’s MarketONE, can help.
The next stage for the film and media industry
So where to next? From silent films to the Star Wars franchise, the industry never sits still, but the subscription model and the experience associated with it always wins. The question is, what will it look like?
Imagine a Hollywood studio cinema subscription where customers can choose to see the latest release at the theater, or via streaming at home, and maybe bundle that with a popcorn subscription from Orville. This is an example of a cross-channel, partnership bundle experience, with a flexible, individual approach that today’s consumers demand. It is up to the industry – the content producers, film studios, networks and streaming services – to collaborate via integrated subscription technology and deliver viewing experiences that can satisfy a 21st century audience.
Watch the trailer for Joel Coen's “The Tragedy of Macbeth” starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, which will be distributed to the general public in theaters, and to Apple TV+ subscribers online.
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