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Sky: "It's All Digital Now"

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The distinction between pay TV and OTT has blurred even further during since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in various levels of lockdown and shelter-in-place. Executives from Roku, YouTube, Sky Studios, and ViacomCBS agreed that the pandemic had rocketed video streaming habits with no going back.

"This is not a linear versus digital war," said Jane Millichip, chief content officer at Sky Studios, a Comcast company. "It is all digital now."

She was speaking on a Variety-hosted virtual panel, "Succeeding in the Global Streaming Economy" part of the IBC edition of Bitmovin's Bitmovin Live webinar series.

Noting that linear TV viewing was also in high demand the past 6 months, Millichip argued that it will be a hybrid world for some time.

"Sky saw a 240% increase in viewing across the board. Content is still king. During lockdown, news broadcasts and event programming really brought the nation together. On-demand is part of our evolution, but we do need to be mindful of the full viewership of all our customers and get relatable content to them in the most digestible, affordable form."

"We host Netflix, Disney+, Spotify on our platform," she added. "Where we differentiate is we offer a frictionless environment for the consumer. We aggregate great content from multiple sources, and we originate great content too."

ViacomCBS has a slightly different approach to aggregation. "The whole streaming industry was once forced into subscription on-demand but now you see AVOD, AVOD lean-back, free, some paid only," said Olivier Jollet, SVP of emerging business for ViacomCBS EMEA. "There's a variety of business models. We are trying to offer services for all those user cases."

The media giant is expanding its international streaming service into a "super service" streamer to launch in Nordics, Australia and LatAm in 2021. Priced to take on Netflix and Amazon it will combine content from its brands including CBS, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, its Paramount film studio and current SVODs Showtime and CBS All Access.

Google's VP, YouTube and Video Global Solutions, Debbie Weinstein argued that YouTube's notion of primetime is personal. "The focus is on the user and how the user wants to spend time and the data we see is that we're serving content which is just right for them."

She cited music fans turning to the platform to find virtual music venues in lockdown and the huge following that fitness instructor Joe Wicks gained in the UK this summer; plus huge interest in how-to content (such as how to cut your hair).

"Brands are finding it hard to get to the users they want with traditional broadcast," she claimed. "If you're looking for urban demographics in Asia, for example, then marketers are spending more of their time with us alongside their traditional TV investment."

Bitmovin CEO Stefan Lederer claimed that the initial spike in traffic earlier this year put a stress on networks. Governments, he said, required streaming service providers to dial down their bitrates to free up bandwidth.

"We had a customer tasked with streaming live educational classes and this was gaining more impressions in minutes than the biggest U.S. news outlets. Similar examples apply to commercial services. What happened after the initial spike was that numbers [demand] plateaued at higher level than before, and the focus now has to be on making online streaming work from an economic perspective. The clear problem identified by CTOs of media companies that we surveyed is the cost of streaming."

Yulia Poltorak, head of international content distribution, Roku, said, "We anticipated that 2020 was going to be the start of the streaming decade. What we didn't expect was that it would accelerate so much with COVID. We saw 65% growth YoY in Q2. Not only were streaming hours and engagement up, but so was the rise in active accounts being registered. What it signals to us is that there's no reverse."

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