How Specialized Streaming Services Hold Their Own in a Netflix-Dominated Field

They're letting subscribers go deep instead of being ‘everything for everyone’

The BritBox logo with photos from all of its shows
Small streamers say they’re seeing benefits from the growing interest in streaming television. - Credit by BritBox
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

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BritBox, the streaming service from BBC and ITV that specializes in British films and movies, wants to thank streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The series those hefty OTT offerings feature on their platforms, including The Crown, The Bodyguard and Downton Abbey, helped whet an appetite for British TV shows among U.S. audiences, making business prospects for BritBox—dedicated entirely to streaming British programming—look bright.

“Given that British [TV] has been so popular because of those shows, more people are coming into British [TV],” said Soumya Sriraman, president of BritBox. “While everyone else is trying to be everything for everybody, we wanted to double down and create a focused service.”

As Netflix, Hulu and upcoming streamer HBO Max look to dominate the space by building out massive, wide-ranging content libraries to attract as many people as they can, smaller services are also building their own devoted followings by positioning themselves as inexpensive add-ons and offering up catalogs aimed at satiating specific programming cravings.

“We don’t really think anyone is going to replace a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription with us, and we don’t need them to,” said Craig Engler, general manager of Shudder, the AMC Networks-owned streaming service that specializes in horror programming. “Our customers can find a couple of really great [horror] films on [Netflix or Amazon Prime], but after four or five, you’ve exhausted the top tier of that service.”

Specialized streamers are finding a foothold among viewers that want more specific content catered to their interests. There are more than 300 streaming services in North America, most of which are niche offerings. In the third quarter of 2019, about a quarter of U.S. households were supplementing their subscriptions to Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix with another smaller service, according to marketing research and consulting firm Parks Associates.

A sidebar with the title "How Small Streamers Get Their Views"

“People are cutting the cord, and one of the main reasons besides cost is they just want to get specific content they want to watch,” said Steve Nason, research director at Parks Associates.

Unlike major streaming services, niche streamers have the ability to direct most of their resources to own one genre instead of trying to appeal to the tastes of as many people as possible. But it’s a balancing act. The services want to remain specialized enough that their offering remains distinct and differentiated, but they also have to broaden their offerings enough to attract new subscribers while keeping longtime customers interested.

“We look at how people are consuming the content and what kinds of pockets of audiences develop around different shows, and then we pick shows that deliver to that,” said Matthew Graham, general manager of the AMC Networks-owned British streamer Acorn TV. “But we also pick shows that push things outside that core a little bit. You don’t want to bake the same cake over and over again.”

Since most niche streamers are focused solely on subscription revenue, keeping fans engaged year-round requires careful curation and marketing. Shudder, which doesn’t disclose subscription figures, curates programming offerings around major holidays throughout the year, including Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and a midyear holiday it calls Halfway to Halloween. At Crunchyroll, a WarnerMedia-owned streaming service that specializes in anime and manga and has 2 million global subscribers, the company puts on conventions and sells merchandise to keep fans engaged in shows long after a program’s last episode.

“We try to be everything for someone, not everything for everyone,” said Julia Renda, head of marketing at the service.

Small streamers say they’re seeing benefits from the growing interest in streaming television. Graham, whose service Acorn TV hit 1 million subscribers last year, said investment in streaming and the launches of new services introduce the idea of SVODs to new customers that may otherwise not have known to consider niche services.

“It’s a great moment for us, and because we are focused on the kind of content we offer, it’s relatively easy for us to cut through,” Graham said.

And while specialized services will be lucky to attract just a small fraction of Netflix’s 61 million U.S. subscribers, that’s fine with them.

“We believe people will pick their niches first,” said Sriraman, whose service surpassed 650,000 subscribers last year. “Then they’ll decide between those six other guys.”

This story first appeared in the March 9, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.
Publish date: March 9, 2020 https://dev.adweek.com/tv-video/how-specialized-streaming-services-hold-their-own-in-a-netflix-dominated-field/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT