In the rapidly evolving over-the-top video ecosystem, traditional media distribution has been turned on its ear as pay-TV, linear broadcast and packaged media are being supplanted by technology companies entering the media and entertainment space — many with original content.
From subscription streaming video-on-demand pioneers Netflix and Roku to e-commerce behemoth Amazon, consumer tech giant Apple and social media stalwart Google/YouTube, tech companies have forced traditional media companies and studios to reconsider their business models to survive.
And in the midst of COVID-19, recovery from the pandemic disruption will likely dominate operational strategy in the near term, even as companies consider how to address the broader and longer-term transformations in media and entertainment.
New data from consulting giant Deloitte suggests mergers and acquisitions, in addition to content differentiation are keys to surviving media distribution in the coronavirus era.
Since 2014, more than $700 billion in strategic M&A deals occurred across media and entertainment sectors, highlighted by Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets and AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, including Warner Bros., HBO and Turner assets. Just as unprecedented change has forced companies to consider transactions — such as merging with a rival — that would have been unthinkable years before, Deloitte contends ongoing disruption may cause companies look to invest in areas previously ignored or out of their comfort zone.
Globally, M&A activity in the broader telecom, media, and entertainment sector fell by 17% in the first half of 2020 compared to a year earlier, while value is 47% down. In the United States, the sector has been far more resilient, with volume down only 4%. But the 45% decline in deal value suggests that companies are looking at small and midsized deals following the megamergers, albeit with continued pandemic-related uncertainty also hampering valuations. Although the economic outlook will loom large, M&A deal pricing is likely to be influenced by demand for and supply of independent targets.
Differentiated Content is King
At the heart of media consolidation is access and control of content. With the arrival of more streaming services, and the heightened competition for talent and content, costs are skyrocketing. Since 2010, the number of scripted TV shows on domestic networks has more than doubled. And streaming services are now paying up to $20 million per hourlong episode— several times the cost of just a few years ago, according to the report.
With Netflix raising the bar on original content spend almost beyond the reach of most competitors, Deloitte suggests media companies differentiate by targeting niche audiences within their platforms. In Deloitte’s 2019 Digital media trends survey, 40% of paid streaming video users said they subscribed primarily to access original content. And this was up to as high as 57% for millennial consumers.
The report says media companies should focus on excelling in one or more of the following differentiators to remain ahead of the competition:
- Providing differentiated content and programming, either at scale or through dominating a niche;
- Controlling direct access to consumers through owned distribution channels, including direct-to-consumer(DTC)/over-the-top (OTT) alternatives, either at scale or through owning access to a valuable consumer segment;
- Owning the capabilities required to capitalize on increased data and using it to boost profitability, optimizing proprietary data to develop better insights.
Acorn TV generated more than 1 million subscribers (paying $6 per month) while maintaining high customer retention rates based on offering mainly British TV murder mysteries, even as more diverse and more capitalized platforms struggle to achieve half of that subscriber count. AMC Networks acquired Acorn’s parent RLJ Entertainment for $100 million in 2018.
Disney’s streaming-driven acquisition of Fox, including the rights to the X-Men, Avatar, The Simpsons, FX Networks and National Geographic — was a key step to accumulating premium content and expanding its digital presence through Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu.
“A paucity of conventional targets may force companies to think more laterally about how to attain differentiated content,” read the report.
Indeed, news media businesses now view their back catalog of content as monetizable source material for video content, including TV series, documentaries, and even feature films. Similarly, companies have developed podcast programs into premium video content.
“These nontraditional sources of original content could provide targets for M&A in the coming months and years,” Deloitte wrote.