2018 Preview: ESPN, Verizon and others will lead streaming proliferation

2018 is going to be another full year of OTT and streaming proliferation along with continued growth from the major players.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our 2018 Preview feature, which looks at the big topics facing the industry next year. Click here for the 2018 preview in wireless, click here for the 2018 preview in cable and video, and click here for the 2018 preview in the wireline industry.

After a huge 2016 for streaming services, including the launch of DirecTV Now, 2017 upped the ante. It brought two more high-profile virtual MVPDs to market while other services like Seeso and Fullscreen bowed out.

Looking ahead to 2018, it’s going to be another full year of OTT and streaming proliferation along with continued growth from the major players.

ESPN+, the network’s upcoming direct-to-consumer streaming service, is still set to launch in early 2018 and could be the blockbuster for the first half of the year. Disney’s proposed $52 billion deal for 21st Century Fox assets—including 22 regional sports networks—looked like it could have provided a boost for ESPN’s digital strategy, but Disney CEO Bob Iger said those channels won’t be of much value to the DTC launch, though he left the door open for the future.

“If there’s an opportunity to bring their product more in the direct-to-consumer vein, we’ll take full advantage of that,” Iger said.

With or without that Fox Sports content on board, I’ll be watching that launch closely and the impact it might have for ESPN, which has long been suffering through the decline of linear TV.

Another early contender in 2018 for disruptive streaming service is Verizon’s long-delayed virtual MVPD. After a series of fits and starts, Verizon could finally be ready to uncork its own vMVPD in spring 2018 and see about taking on AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Dish Network’s Sling and all the other vMVPDs with big head starts.

Of course, it won’t just be new streaming services making noise in 2018. Netflix is gearing up to spend an eye-popping $8 billion—or roughly the entire 2017 GDP of Haiti—on original content. That includes producing 80 feature films, so perhaps 2018 will be the year that Netflix puts to rest the debate of whether Netflix’s films are on par with movies that get the full theatrical release treatment.

Amazon will likely keep spending as it seeks a global hit series, and Hulu will inch closer to having a majority owner—through the Disney-Fox deal—and with it more agility to react to the market. Surely many other current or soon-to-launch streaming services will impact the industry this year too. I’ll be watching and covering it all. — Ben | @fierce_video