The Importance of Branding in the Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment Era

Just over a decade ago, cord-cutting was the latest trend disrupting the television entertainment market. People were getting fed up with paying bills for cable bundles that included channels they didn’t watch. Something had to give. 

And it did.

Once a leading source of media and entertainment, cable television lost over 21 million subscribers between 2010 and 2020 alone. In lieu of cable, consumers sought a more cost-effective option that provided greater viewer control over content offerings. Thus, the cord-cutting phenomenon paved the way for relatively cheaper over-the-top (OTT) platforms like Netflix to thrive. 

A new evolution of direct-to-consumer entertainment

But the tides are turning once again. As cord-cutters gave rise to cheaper, centralized platforms with diverse libraries of content, the Netflix era is ushering in a new evolution of direct-to-consumer entertainment. This time, decentralization is the name of the game again.

Instead of depending on content from one or two main streaming platforms as cord-cutters of years past did, American viewers now watch from four streaming platforms on average with 38% subscribing to five or more platforms. As a result, new streaming platforms are cropping up to accommodate changing TV-viewing norms. 

But in an already-saturated market that bred the existence of the now-ubiquitous term “streaming wars,” how can smaller streaming platforms survive? In this blog, we’ll examine the importance of branding to streaming platforms’ survival. 

The next generation of streaming

Streaming conglomerates like Netflix thrive as catch-all platforms with a brand-agnostic approach to content. However, the same approach should not apply to smaller streaming brands.

Instead, leaning into branding is an effective way for these new streaming platforms to attract and retain viewers. A strong, unique brand image helps streaming platforms stand out and communicate the value of their content. Brands like Crunchyroll, a streaming platform providing anime, manga, and dorama content, have found success leaning into a specific audience and brand proposition versus going after all viewers. 

This brand-focused approach, however, is nothing new. Television networks have long relied on their brand reputation for viewership. Viewers tuning into MTV know that they’re going to see music videos or light-hearted reality TV programming. National Geographic viewers know that the channel provides educational content about the planet, history, or culture. When early streaming platforms like Netflix first emerged, the clear brand association of networks past did not apply — because it didn’t need to. 

While an ambiguous identity has worked for Netflix, this model is not likely to work for other streaming brands. New streaming players are more likely to survive in this cut-throat market by drawing on the power of brand association. 

Entertainment industry leaders on the importance of brand

Smaller streaming brands acknowledge the need to behave differently from Netflix. Our recent webinars and interviews with industry experts revealed thoughts about branding in this new age of streaming. 

Entertainment industry marketing veteran Sheri Conn spoke on the importance of branding for streaming platforms during our State of the Entertainment Industry webinar in January 2021. She asks, “What sets you apart from the rest? What do you stand for? [You need to make] sure that that brand, who you’re going after, who you are, are really reflected in your content offering. More than ever before, you need to make that clearly known.”

“What sets you apart from the rest? What do you stand for? [You need to make] sure that that brand, who you’re going after, who you are, are really reflected in your content offering. More than ever before, you need to make that clearly known.” — Sheri Conn

For household name legacy network brands now shifting to streaming their brand is about more than identity and image. It’s a key to survival in a constantly evolving market. 

Ira Rubenstein, Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at PBS, shared his thoughts about the importance of brand during Variety and Invoke’s panel titled State of Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment Marketing. He says, “In this era, the brand is just critical. There are many studies that show that people don’t necessarily affiliate the content that they’re watching on one of these other platforms to the brand itself, and in [the case of PBS], where it’s our mission to get our content everywhere, we want to make sure the brand is tied to it.” 

Branding can communicate your values plus why the viewer should choose to watch on your platform over others. Rubenstein notes, “Right now, everyone has a list. Everyone has their watch list, everyone has that list of shows they heard about from somebody, and as a marketer, when you’re launching something new, you’ve got to elevate yours to the top. And there’s always new stuff coming in, but that’s where leaning on your brand helps to create the quality of content, why it’s worth someone’s time.” 

While the way people watch is in a constant state of flux, entertainment brands that have stayed true to their values and image have remained highly adaptive through decades of change. 

Disney — a poster child for branded streaming platforms 

If we are to talk about the power of branding in the direct-to-consumer entertainment market, we must mention one of the most noteworthy new contenders in the “streaming wars”. Disney+ has quickly climbed its way to the top of the streaming ranks and is even poised to surpass Netflix in subscribers by 2026, according to one estimate

So how did Disney+ grow from a new entrant to 100 million subscribers in just over a year? Their accomplishments can largely be attributed to their nearly century-long heritage as a strong media and entertainment brand. 

Invoke CEO Gigi Wang nods to Disney’s streaming success during the State of Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment Marketing panel saying, “If you look at Disney, they were a relatively recent entrant, just coming into the market in the last year. When we do our research, we see that consumers generally associate them with family-friendly and children-friendly. So there’s immediately a brand association that helps them narrow down that large volume of content into something more specific.”

Webinar Recording: State of Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment Marketing

Webinar Recording: State of the Entertainment Industry

Discovery, Amazon Studios, Showtime, PBS and Invoke executives join Variety’s Todd Spangler to uncover strategies, research tools, and new technologies marketers are adopting to promote programming in the competitive direct-to-consumer entertainment landscape.

Watch Webinar Recording

Stay-at-home orders and the gap in the family-friendly streaming market provided the perfect opportunity for Disney to swoop in. Beyond that, Disney has every element needed to succeed as a streaming service — a vast library of beloved legacy content, the studio equipped to create new favorites and original content, and the already-enthusiastic fanbase to provide initial subscribership. 

The boutique vs. the big box store

So there’s a place for the Disney+s and the Netflixs of the world. But what about smaller streaming brands looking to establish themselves with their own specific audience? Is there a chance for survival for those brands or are they just waiting for their content to be consumed into the massive libraries of streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu? 

Puja Vohra, EVP of Marketing and Strategy at Showtime Networks explains it this way during the State of Direct-to-Consumer Entertainment Marketing panel, “As it relates to Showtime, we pride ourselves on being a boutique. It’s not only about size. When you think about a consumer in any category, there’s always a role for a big box store, and then you have a role for a boutique that may not be bringing you the same level of tonnage as Netflix. But a smaller offering that’s curated for that customer. We are not going after all customers. We are trying to be as focused as possible about going after a customer that wants quality entertainment, wants more quality entertainment. So while we may not be the first choice, that might be Netflix or the second choice, but we will be in that consideration set and have a very clear proposition.” 

“When you even think about a consumer in any category, there’s always a role for a big box store, and then you have a role for a boutique.” — Puja Vohra

A focused offering can provide just as much value to the target consumer as a larger platform does. There’s value in being the second choice, as Vohra puts it. Showtime’s viewers know exactly the kind and quality of the content they’re going to get on Showtime’s platform whereas they may fall victim to the pitfalls of too many choices on a larger, more brand-agnostic platform. 

Rubenstein nods to this during the same panel when he says, “I think people are craving curation. Everyone has that experience of scrolling through Netflix and they turn around 20 minutes later and they haven’t watched anything.”

The “boutique” option gives frustrated scrollers the curation that they crave in the form of a brand promise. In a world of shortening attention spans, that promise holds even more value as time passes. Leaning on focused branding can help smaller streaming platforms stay grounded while attracting new viewers to their platforms. 

Standing out with high-quality, consumer-tested content 

Content undoubtedly helps communicate the value of a brand to viewers. Good content has the power to attract and retain streaming viewers. Luckily for today’s streaming brands, they need not wonder whether their content will be a hit with their audience. Testing content ahead of release with targeted audiences on a market-leading qual/quant platform takes the guesswork out of content success. 

Find out exactly what your viewers think of your filmed content with Invoke. Request a demo today to get started.

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