Industry Voices—Ring: Five bold streaming video predictions for 2021

Brian Ring Industry Voices

I wouldn’t dare waste your time hashing out the streaming obvious with milquetoast drivel camouflaged as predictions. These here are real predictions for what we might see in 2021.

For more context about where these ideas came from, check out my recap of the year previously published in FierceVideo.

Here are my five real predictions for 2021.

Stakeholder capitalism arrives on planet media’s main stage. With so much great content out there, how can creators and studios punch through the crowd? By sourcing it, of course. For my money, we can tap viewers in much more aggressive ways, whether that’s empowering hosts (Anderson Cooper?) to do more missions-for-good in the world and create great, authentic content at the same time.

Or what about allowing viewers to drive the news agenda? Joshua Johnson of CNN’s “The Week” actively brings viewers into his show. But social TV still feels too rare to me, especially considering the obvious value it brings in an audience economy. Given the events of the past week, month, and year – a “streaming-for-good” content strategy seems like a no-brainer to me, and on trend with the generation we call Z.

Niche finds pricing power and profit, influencers become talent. 2021 will see plenty of mega deals with A-list talent. But I’m increasingly convinced that ‘YouTube talent’ and vast swaths of specialized, niche content can command a huge price in a direct-to-consumer media marketplace, albeit with smaller audiences. It could be personality-driven content, especially in sports, news and entertainment.

It could also be content with deep or sophisticated value, such as the Great Courses and their university-style lectures packaged up in a made-for-TV curriculum plus a few virtual events. Think “super fans,” but for mass sports and entertainment audiences. In my view, and in the long run, connected TV’s long tail will find more pricing power and profit than the internet’s long tail did.

The rise and rise of smart TV. Do I think the market needs another streaming media device? No. But LG’s Web OS, Vizio’s SmartCast and Samsung TV Plus have all proven themselves with consumers. They’re more than usable now and the OEMs have plenty of money and power to deliver quality programming on advanced monetization. There are downsides to consider here, but the risks associated with under-capitalization, manufacturing or distribution of an OTT stick is low. And for households with multiple, differently branded TVs in various rooms, this could serve to unify and improve the whole-home experience. The connected TV game is only in the third inning.

Sports betting explodes, but downsides appear. I’ve worked globally for most of my career and lived abroad for two. A number of friends outside the U.S. have warned me that legalized gambling can irrigate a wide range of cultural streams that can grow into destructive rivers over time. I’m a proponent of sports gambling. I was a proponent of legalized marijuana for years, too.

But within a year of California’s legalization of recreational cannabis, I had an opportunity to visit my childhood home in LA with my 11- and 13-year-old kids in tow. I’ve a strong memory of driving home from Burbank Airport to the Westside, via my beloved and famous Sunset Boulevard, the place of rock ‘n’ roll dreams and Hollywood parties.

Now, literally every single billboard and shingle was selling weed like it was going out of style. It was a real moment for me. I felt a sense of moral regret and sync’d that with the phrase “unintended consequences.”

I’m sure we can do this in the right way but we might not. I think 2021 will bring the first indications of the downside of this path.

Two latencies, two technologies and two use cases. Last year, Apple rolled out a backwards compatible low latency version of HLS. HLS is already the king of adaptive bitrate technology and LL HLS reduces latency to 2 – 8 seconds from more than 20. This may sound obscure to most viewers but it happens to be one of those technologies that’s going to open a huge chest of opportunities in sports gamification, two-screen interactivity and social TV engagement.

Roku – and this is coming from a fanboy – is just a bit behind the eight ball in this domain. I’m hopeful that by April – and if not, then by September – Roku will announce support for this protocol. This will set the foundation for low latency streaming to be broadly adopted. Right now, Apple, HTML5-based TV apps and Android-based players are capable of supporting this protocol. Roku is not.

But there’s another kind of low latency streaming tech called WebRTC. It’s what Zoom and Teams use at the core of their video chat platforms. It’s a peer-to-peer web-based technology that was nowhere near ready for primetime media production, let alone distribution, in February of 2020. But Covid arrived and remote production was critical.

Problems persist, though. Even traditional remote contribution and production video technologies suffer from latency in the realm of 200 –  600 milliseconds. That may sound fast, but it’s not fast enough for a fluid conversation. You’ve probably noticed this in 2020 far more than you ever did pre-Covid. For me, both a video geek and a news junkie, these terribly stilted conversations annoy me greatly.

Indeed, on New Year’s Eve, CNN’s broadcast with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen suffered horribly from such delays. And to be clear, MSNBC, FOX, this delay is happening up and down the dial.

The reason Zoom won 2020? It works. However, it’s not for all genres or use cases, so 2021 is going to see some completely reinvented workflows. I think…

Brian Ring is Principal Analyst at Ring Digital, where he helps clients design and execute winning go-to-market strategies leveraging his deep video tech expertise, proprietary TV consumer research and original, premium content and thought leadership.

Questions? Comments? Disagree? Send him an email: [email protected]

Want more? The Winter 2021 #FutureOfTV Survey is now out and available for free. Download it here:

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.