From Apple staffing up its original programming team to Facebook building a home for shows to Disney seizing a majority stake in Hulu, 2017 seeded yet another sea change for the digital video industry. Here is how those seeds may sprout in 2018.
Netflix serializes a show
For years Netflix has circled the watercooler. Shows like “Stranger Things” would seize the zeitgeist but in a staggered fashion. People would watch the episodes, eventually, which meant people could talk about them with their friends, eventually. But there wasn’t the urgency imposed by a new episode of “Game of Thrones” or “This Is Us” that would dominate conversation and spawn a spate of articles and podcasts and videos that would overtake popular culture for months. In 2018 Netflix will finally try its hand at airing watercooler content, stringing out a new season of a show over the course of weeks so that interest can build and audiences can catch up.
Hulu gets a new owner
No, not Disney. Disney may have agreed to acquire Fox in part to attain majority ownership of Hulu, but it may also attract the ire of minority owner Comcast and government regulators. Given the antitrust scrutiny likely in store for Disney’s acquisition of Fox — and AT&T’s ongoing struggle to close its Time Warner buy — Disney will be forced to sacrifice Hulu to save its larger deal, and Comcast will swoop in to snatch up the streaming service.
Instagram takes Watch
Facebook has spent the past couple years trying to take on YouTube and more recently Netflix and Hulu through its Watch tab. But to do so Facebook has had to carve out an entertainment environment within its omnibus social network and has already experienced viewership struggles. It might have been easier to attempt the feat within an app that people are more likely to associate with visual entertainment, Instagram. And in 2018 it will. Creators and media companies will be able to string together individual videos and Stories into series that can be found not only within Instagram’s new Story Highlights feature but via its carousel format so that people can watch one episode then swipe to the next. Most importantly, having seen the success of Stories’ fullscreen format, Instagram will finally enable people to enlarge videos, which should expand its video audience.
YouTube sees a different shade of Red
YouTube has been loosening the velvet rope around its original shows, which were originally cordoned off to its subscription tier, YouTube Red. This year it will drop the requirement entirely, making all programming available to all audiences. As for Red, YouTube will keep it as an ad-free option a la Hulu’s ad-free alternative and will add more features beyond offline viewing to appeal to its core audience, such as comment prioritization.
Facebook gets into game shows
It’s hard to think of a more profitable type of programming than the game show. The fixed cost of a single set and a host or two makes it an attractive format for any network — or platform — mindful of making its bucks back. Pressed to push past paying for programming upfront and move toward a revenue-sharing model, Facebook fits the bill. And given its recent popularity, so does video trivia app HQ, which Facebook could acquire and convert into its own communal “Jeopardy.”
Apple finds its “Game of Thrones”
Tentpole television, that’s what matters. A “Sopranos” or “House of Cards” may gain acclaim, but to accrue an audience requires a show on a larger scale. A “Game of Thrones,” a “Stranger Things,” a “Handmaid’s Tale.” Fortunately for Apple, it has hundreds of billions in the bank to finance it and finally the talent to find it. The company’s programming executives also have a wealth of potential programs to explore from a library of fantastic fantasy book series, such as N.K. Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth,” Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” and Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicle” series.
Amazon takes a more linear twist on Twitch
After streaming Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video in 2017, in 2018 Amazon will turn its linear live-streaming attention toward Twitch. The streaming service is best known for creators broadcasting themselves playing video games, but it has been building out the more produced side of live. Late last year Twitch signed deals with Jukin Media, Machinima, IGN, Baeble and ConTV to produce live, linear programming that will air around the clock. Expect that trend to continue and mirror Twitter’s similar move into 24/7 programming via its deal with Bloomberg.
Verizon shuts down Go90
This hardly counts as a prediction because it feels so predestined. In the two years since Verizon tried to stand up its own streaming service, it has remained a money pit without a clear path to profitability and an unclear purpose following Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo and new NFL deal that will air national games on the portal and Verizon’s other properties. As Comcast did with Watchable in 2017, Verizon will put Go90 on life support in 2018. But soon after it will opt to pull the plug and pivot its attention to propping up another ill-fated platform; thankfully its digital division Oath has plenty of those.