Streaming entertainment services like Netflix experienced exponential growth in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. Cloud services will help them continue growing once it’s over.

COVID-19 has made winners of some industries and losers of others. Among the biggest losers, of course, have been restaurants, live music venues, the travel sector and the meetings industry, all of which have had to cease or seriously scale back their operations during the pandemic in the interest of public health. Only now, with multiple vaccines in hand, is relief on the horizon.

Even as some industries floundered, however, others flourished. One of the biggest winners, for instance, has been streaming media – television shows, movies and video games broadcast on-demand to their screens, 24/7.

For more than a year, people all over the world have been sheltering in place with nowhere to go and little to do. For many of them, their only saving grace was their high-speed internet connection and the cloud, which have enabled new ways to access work, friends and entertainment courtesy of streaming video.

With more people than ever using video conferencing to connect with colleagues and loved ones, for example, Zoom has boomed. But that’s just the tip of the streaming-video iceberg. Streaming media services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+, NBC’s Peacock and HBO Max have become a reliable cure for quarantine boredom, while the live streaming platform Twitch has been a godsend for online gamers.In fact, Americans spent 44% more time streaming media in the fourth quarter of 2020 than they did in the fourth quarter of 2019, streaming media intelligence company Conviva reported in its most recent “State of Streaming” report.

“Overall streaming consumption has continued to rocket upwards,” reads the report, whose findings are echoed in companies’ own data. Netflix, for example, said it attracted 15.77 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, up 23% from the same period in 2019. By last year’s end, it had more than 200 million paid members globally, 37 million of whom signed on to the service in 2020 – including 8.51 million in the last quarter alone.

Before the pandemic, there were serious questions about whether streaming entertainment could be competitive against traditional platforms like cable. With numbers so robust, no one has to wonder anywhere: Clearly, it can. The crucial question now is: Will the streaming-video bubble burst?

Post-Pandemic Prospects

While analysts could easily predict the video streaming growth that took place during the pandemic’s peak, no one is sure whether streaming services will continue to grow after the threat of COVID-19 recedes. And with three vaccines approved for use in the United States, more shots of which are going into more arms every day, there is hope that it finally might be.

At least one thing seems certain about the future of video streaming, industry experts say: It’s not going anywhere. Whether you love true crime, romance or reality TV, your favorite shows will continue to stream to the screen of your choice. There just might not be as many of them.

“If and when we return to some type of normal, the economic realities are going to hit these services,” Steve Nason, a research director at consumer technology consultancy Parks Association, told Bloomberg in a May 2020 interview.

When people can finally trade their living rooms for concerts, bars, sporting events, vacations and other entertainment venues, Nason suggests, they’ll have less time to consume content.And when they do consume content, viewers may come to resent the streaming business model itself, the fractured nature of which demands that they spend their monthly subscription dollars across a number of different platforms. As they reduce their viewing time, people may therefore reduce their subscriptions as well.

So predicts Maria Rua Aguete, an analyst at tech research firm Omdia. The four fastest-growing services of 2020, she says, were Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. She thinks those services will see a significant drop in subscribers in 2021 and that Netflix and Amazon will see their smallest growth year since 2015.

Full Stream Ahead

Still, as streaming services built their audience in 2020, they offered the most ambitious slate of programming ever. Audiences won’t suddenly lose their appetite for that.

Indeed, video streaming is expected to constitute 82% of all internet traffic by 2022, according to communication research firm Interdigital, which says the increased accessibility of streaming video will fuel its continued growth. After all, cloud computing has made it easier than ever for viewers to access content from their television, gaming devices, laptops and smartphones.

The cloud services that made streaming possible in the first place will continue to keep it competitive as streaming media companies adapt to their “new, unstable normal,” suggested Dave Bartoletti, vice president at Forrester Research.

“No one knows how far into 2021 we’ll continue to work from home, shop primarily online or avoid air travel—but it’s clear that every enterprise must become more agile, responsive and adaptive than ever before,” he said in a post on Forrester’s blog. “Cloud computing will help companies around the world accelerate pandemic recovery.”

In media and entertainment, that recovery might initially look like a collapse as consumers realign their priorities. Over time, however, the curve will continue to trend upward, management consultancy PwC predicts in its “Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2020–2024.”“As consumers and businesses adapt in parallel, the industry is being reshaped before our eyes,” PwC reported. “Although there will still be challenges for [streaming providers] as we move beyond the pandemic, the digital migration that it has pulled forward will also generate opportunities.”

Consider, for example, the impact on advertising.

“The mass personalization of content experiences at relatively low cost and the resulting explosive growth in choice have altered the balance, perhaps permanently, between consumer spending and advertising,” PwC stated.

“Companies find they can deliver immense choice at a price point that makes sense for both supplier and customer while building powerful direct relationships—all without relying excessively on fickle or intrusive ads … Companies are increasingly in the business of delivering experiences and content directly to consumers, not delivering audiences and eyeballs to advertisers.”

Ultimately, that means more and better programming for streaming subscribers – whether they’re sheltering in place or not.

Jean Thilmany is a freelance writer living in St. Paul who writes about engineering and technology.© 2021 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved. For additional legal information, please go here.

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