(Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Among the more notable changes being brought about by the massive shifts in the television industry is the fact that the business is going global.
As in all of the new “Flixes”, the multibillion dollar streaming services that are being launched by Apple, Disney, AT&T and NBCU share the global ambitions of Netflix, which is currently available in all but three countries. (Those global ambitions extend to existing players like Hulu, Amazon and VCBS as well.)
The danger in this rapid global expansion is that it’s far too easy for American companies to attribute American viewing habits to overseas audiences. One area where the differences are particularly sharp is around mobile viewing.
The Mobile Conundrum
While mobile viewing is on the rise in the U.S., it is not nearly as prominent here as it is in much of the rest of the world, where cable service is both expensive and not widespread, smart TVs are expensive, and many viewers still rely on over the air signals.
That leaves mobile is a key means of watching TV, particularly since most people have smart phones, from which they can subscribe to a wide range of TV apps—subscription, ad-supported and hybrid.
That then leads to another issue: mobile service in many countries can be spotty at best, and mobile plans can be expensive (unlimited data plans are not widely available outside the US.)
With all that in mind, it’s no wonder that downloading is very popular in other countries, as seen in a recent Penthera study on mobile downloads in Latin America.
The study looked at viewers in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia and found that the majority (96%) of the population is watching streaming video on their mobile devices, 88% of them once a week or more, and 65% of them on a daily basis.
These numbers were unsurprisingly highest at the younger end of the demographic spectrum, though even 39% of respondents over the age of 40 reported that they watched mobile video on a daily basis.
That said, viewers are still experiencing what Penthera calls “streaming frustrations” including videos that seemingly take forever to start up, videos that stall and rebuffer in the middle of a show and a rapid increase in monthly data costs thanks to the amount of bandwidth streaming video eats up.
In one of the key takeaways from the survey, Latin American mobile video viewers have discovered that there’s an easy way to bypass all the hassles around buffering and slow-starting videos: downloading.
The ability to download video is seen as a huge plus in all four Latin American countries, as it is offers a way to avoid the multiple frustrations inherent in streaming mobile video, while still being able to provide a simple and easy viewing experience.
Downloading is already becoming commonplace, with 20% of respondents saying they downloaded mobile video on a daily basis, almost double the number who took advantage of daily downloads in 2018. Reasons ranged from being able to watch whenever and wherever they wanted (e.g., on public transportation on the way to work) and to avoid having to use public wifi, which can still be painfully slow in many countries.
Downloading Gives Netflix More Than Just A First Mover Advantage
One of the more interesting takeaways from the Penthera survey was that a whopping 83% of respondents said they expected streaming services to include the ability to download content. That’s a particularly high number for a region where many of the leading providers don’t provide that feature at all.
Even more interesting was the fact that 82% of the viewers polled said they would gladly pay a premium for the ability to download, anywhere from $1 to over $5 per month. Given that Netflix, which is very competitively priced in the region, offers unlimited downloads, competitors will need to match that option or wind up at a serious disadvantage. (And sure enough, the survey results said that two-thirds of respondents indicated they’d be more likely to subscribe to a service if downloading was included.)
The Battle For Latin America
The ability to download content is going to prove critical in the streaming wars, especially in places like Latin America, where the new streaming giants are going to try to capture a sizable share of a rapidly growing and very loyal audience.
Netflix has been savvy enough to launch first, and other than some smaller local players, they are often the first global streaming service in these overseas markets. That said, they’ve also been very savvy as to how they are rolling out their service, producing series like Narcos and movies like the award-winning Roma, that feature Latin American actors and directors and are shot mostly in Spanish. The fact that subscribers can download these shows on their mobile devices only serves to make Netflix more indispensable.
Newcomers will have a tougher road to hoe. Disney has a leg up in that its shows and characters are popular worldwide, and HBO has had a presence in Latin America for some time.
But right now HBO does not allow downloads, at least not on its U.S. service. If HBO Max rolls out internationally without the ability to download, that’s going to prove to be a serious impediment to widespread adoption. The same goes for Peacock, the new service from NBCU.
While the growth of 5G and investments in mobile infrastructure will alleviate some of the issues around streaming (the “streaming frustrations”) it will still take many years for those frustrations to disappear completely, and the new Flixes don’t have many years to establish themselves. That’s why giving subscribers the ability to download seems like it’s now become table stakes in the streaming wars, especially in regions where much of the viewing will actually take on mobile devices.