Industry Voices—Groch: Amid COVID-19, streamers get to be the fun uncle…for now

Frozen 2
While AT&T was sending emails promising, “AT&T is here for you,” Disney+ was emailing “Surprise! Frozen 2 is here.” (Disney)
Emily Groch Industry Voices

During the COVID-19 crisis, consumers have been inundated with emails from just about every brand they’ve ever interacted with. Many of these emails looked similar, following the same sorts of formal formats. For example, in the telecom space, early emails featured promises that providers had the infrastructure and manpower to keep customers connected, went on to outline the new precautions put in place to keep technicians and customers safe, and then directed customers to ways they could get customer service online. Later waves of emails and social media posts notified customers of store closures, new equipment installation procedures, and remote troubleshooting for tech issues. In short, telecoms were doing their duty to keep consumers informed, and assured them that COVID-19 would not disrupt their telecom services. In some industries, the communications were sadder than they were somber (e.g., restaurant owners closing and retailers shutting down).

While all these sobering, text-heavy emails were piling up in consumer inboxes, guess which brands got to sit this wave out? That’s right, the streamers.

By their very nature, streaming video services exist online. They are marketed, purchased, and consumed there. Streamers didn’t have to make promises of business continuity: as long as the internet providers kept consumers connected, the streamers would be there. They didn’t have any retail locations to shut down, or service technicians for whom they would need to implement new and changing procedures. So, while so many other brands were busy playing the protective parents (and rightly so), streaming providers got to be the fun uncle.

While Dish was emailing “An Important Message from Dish TV President” and AT&T was sending emails promising, “AT&T is here for you,” Disney+ was emailing “Surprise! Frozen 2 is here” and Netflix was sending “The Boss Baby: Back in Business Season 3 is now on Netflix.” The streaming providers got to skip all the scary and serious bits of this COVID-19 crisis, and just keep focusing on what they do best – entertainment. And, recognizing that consumers needed exactly that – entertainment – more than ever, they took advantage of their time to shine by going above and beyond “business as usual.” Many streamers have looked to surprise and delight customers and prospects during this difficult time with freebies, extended free trials, surprise content drops, and more. Social media efforts have been light and friendly, often focusing on comedic or family-friendly content. Streamers are doing everything they can to make a positive impression right now, in hopes that consumers will stick with them in the future.

And it’s in the future when the COVID-19 effects will really catch up with streaming providers. They aren’t feeling the effects immediately, like many industries, but nevertheless, content production is halted. Consumers looking for season 4 of their favorite show next April or May or June aren’t going to find it. Plus, consumers may experience a time when the last thing they want to do after being cooped up at home is to stay in and watch streaming video, and if this happens, it’s anyone’s guess for how long the sentiment will last.

Given that the effects of the pandemic will catch up with this industry later, what can streamers do to sate consumers’ voracious content appetites and inspire loyalty?

  • Hype the favorites that are already on the platform. Comfort content is undoubtedly important during times of trouble, but it also endures—it will still be important to consumers when the pandemic is over. Engaging with stars from old favorites today can add excitement and reinvigorate interest and can easily be facilitated over social media and grow from there.
  • Spoil fans by providing more behind-the-scenes content from the stars of their favorite shows. This is something streamers are already adept at doing but may need to embrace even more when consumers are disappointed at the delays caused by COVID-19. Actors as influencers will be a vital piece of social media strategy, and new contests, games, or giveaways will be crucial for driving engagement and keeping anticipation high as fans wait.
  • Consider delaying the release of some ready-to-go titles. There may well be an abandoning of online activities following the pandemic, as consumers look to embrace normalcy. This would be a bad time to launch hotly anticipated series or films. Streamers should tread lightly in promising major release dates until they get a sense for how consumers are responding post-crisis.

Consumers are looking to streaming video to help them escape from reality right now, but they will also look to it in the future. Streaming providers are in a unique position to provide this entertainment, even if they’ll have to work a lot harder to keep consumers interested post-COVID-19. Hopefully, the success they are experiencing right now—the memories of the fun uncle—will help them shore up for the challenges ahead.

Emily Groch will dig deeper into the marketing efforts from streamers during COVID-19 and discuss challenges and opportunities in more detail during the upcoming Comperemedia webinar “Streaming Video Marketing in the Time of COVID-19.” Stay tuned for date and time.

Emily Groch is Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She pairs her deep knowledge of marketing within the telecommunications industry with Mintel’s consumer research, trends, and competitive marketing intelligence to build timely, meaningful stories for Mintel and Comperemedia telecom clients. Emily travels throughout the US and Canada to present industry marketing trends and insights to major TV, Internet, and wireless service providers, and their advertising agencies.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.