The news: Over-the-top providers, both subscription and ad-supported, began ramping up original content strategies to the tune of at least 44 new scripted series and movies.
That doesn't count the amped-up number of series produced by traditional broadcast television as it competed head-to-head for the souls (and eyeballs) of the viewing audience this year. An FX Networks report pegged the total number of scripted series in production in 2015 at 409 -- including online video providers, broadcast (with 147 series), pay (or premium) cable with 37 scripted series, and basic cable with 181 series. The company said that's a 174 percent increase compared to 2009.
Why it matters: Original content can be the difference between success and failure for online video providers. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), for example, is banking on long-term savings by investing in more original series and movies: the more content it owns outright, the less it has to pay out in licensing fees to studios and networks. The original content initiative is so important -- content guru Ted Sarandos has set a goal to eventually make 50 percent of the titles on Netflix originals, and will have at least 30 original series on the service by the end of 2016 -- that the company has leased office space in Hollywood in a move to put it geographically closer to the heart of the movie and television production scene.
Attracting viewers is the other side of the original content coin. A new Limelight study found that content availability falls just behind price for consumers thinking about cutting the cord. So an attractively priced subscription service that includes lots of content that viewers are interested in, plus some things they've never seen before but can binge on, remains a priority for SVOD providers in particular.
Hulu has been pursuing the content availability strategy like mad this year: the OTT provider grabbed a number of exclusive deals for series like Seinfeld and South Park, worked out a rapid-fire deal with Epix after the network ended its relationship with Netflix, and partnered with Showtime Anytime to make the new standalone premium service available to Hulu subscribers at a discount.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is also working new angles to keep its Prime Instant Video users happy: in addition to inking its own exclusive content deals, it debuted Streaming Partners, which allows Prime subscribers to sign up for other third-party SVOD services like Showtime and Starz and find them on their unified watchlist.
Smaller, ad-supported OTT providers like Yahoo redoubled their original content efforts this year, producing new scripted series and continuing cancelled but popular broadcast shows like Community in an online format. Results for these providers may have been mixed as AOL, which was pushing its content initiative in the spring, currently isn't putting as much emphasis on original content as it is on its programmatic advertising platform -- and key component of Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) new go90 OTT service.
Original content is likely to remain a cornerstone strategy for OTT for several years to come, but it remains to be seen if the furious pace of production will continue past 2016.