• As the cost of living crisis has already inspired many consumers to cancel their Netflix, Disney+ or Prime subscriptions, streaming services are looking for ways to keep their relevance.
  • Our media analysis found that while the debate focuses on price hikes or new ads-based plans, there’s an opportunity for streaming companies to boost their reputation by publicising new value propositions.
  • We also suggest that streaming players should promote hyper-personalised experiences to keep consumers, while using the PR power of brand partnerships.

View a one-page infographic summary of the analysis

Streaming brands are under stress. After record numbers of people signed up for subscription services during Covid, we’ve seen demand drop as restrictions have lessened. Against this backdrop, the ghost of inflation is now looming and people are looking at their monthly budgets and searching for ways to save money. 

Streaming services have been on the chopping block for many. In the first three months of 2022 alone, 1.5 million subscriptions were cancelled, with cancellations outnumbering new sign-ups by 300,000. Amid this fight for consumers, the way that platforms promote themselves has never been so critical to convincing customers why their brand is the one they simply can’t do without. 

Entertainment brands are investing significantly in content and advertising, but how can they use PR to get back on track? To find out, we analysed 890 English-language articles published since 1 January. Here are our top tips:

1. Earn media attention with new value propositions

We found that a large part of the media debate around streaming companies focused on their approach towards dealing with the cost of living crisis. The most widely covered inflation strategy was Price hikes, as many media outlets reported on how streaming provides raised prices to cope with inflation.

Services such as Disney+, Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon’s Prime Video have all brought up their monthly prices by $2 to $3, signalling the end of a honeymoon period when entertainment companies, fully aware of the competitive streaming landscape in front of them, were willing to price their streamers low to attract subscribers. 

Needless to say, streaming brands weren’t covered in a particularly positive light. The biggest of them – Netflix – recently ranked last among streamers for perceived value. And that has already shown to be critical – It lost almost a million subscribers between April and July as more people decided to quit the service. After enjoying a long reign as the king of streaming, Netflix faces a tough fight to keep its crown.

Against this backdrop, the New value propositions had the smallest share of voice – meaning not many streaming companies managed to feature in the media as offering a good value to deal with the loss of consumers. A company that managed to create an image for value was Walmart, which announced that it had struck a deal with Paramount to include Paramount+ Essentials for free to its Walmart+ subscribers. Walmart+ may not be looking to compete head-to-head with other giants, instead aiming to increase the value proposition of its offering to grow alongside the larger, more established streaming services.

It is clear that value has never been so crucial as consumers try to find ways to save across multiple aspects of their lives. With financial experts urging the public to opt for value brand products to manage household budgets, it’s vital, as PRs, to communicate to the public the value of your company’s brand. The small share of voice of the New value propositions strategy goes to show there’s an unrealised opportunity for streaming brands to be perceived as valuable instead of just the lastest companies to raise prices during inflation.

2. Boost your brand differentiation to win the streaming wars

Well before the latest hikes in inflation and the cost of living, consumers had been taking an increasingly pessimistic view of brands and the enterprises that own them. So as price becomes even more paramount, how do we avoid a race to the bottom’? The answer lies in a deep reappraisal of the fundamental role of brands in our consumer culture.

As the subscription streaming video market tightens, streaming services are upping brand presence and loyalty. New research from Hub Entertainment shows that awareness is almost universal, even for relatively new platforms.

Our research shows that the media debate is also populated by streaming brands, old and new. Netflix is still the most influential streaming player, as it has afforded itself a perception in the market as both the leading disruptor and the leading brand, which is something rarely attained in any sector and is a powerful place to be–Google and Airbnb come to mind.

But while the streaming services’ comms strategy centres around awareness, their real problem is differentiation in the face of an overcrowded market.

In November 2019, Disney debuted Disney+, kicking off the so-called streaming wars and prompting companies across the media world to spend billions of dollars to launch services to take on Netflix. But who’s winning now? According to many commentators, the streaming wars are over because subscriber growth has come to a halt due to the cost of living crisis, and now begins the battle against subscribers’ exodus.

In this battle, nothing is more important than building a recognisable brand – especially in the many cases in which consumers are subscribed to two or three services and are looking to drop one or two.

Streaming platforms need intelligence and sophistication that transcends most other sectors. They need brand architectures that can associate, yet also distinguish between, content authorship and curation. They also need identities that are integrally woven into their platform’s user experience, yet that are also inspiring pieces of content in and of themselves.

Positioning goes beyond the platform, however. Some platforms like Netflix and Hulu have further distinguished themselves by designing a distinctive voice through social media. Netflix’s Twitter username, for example, was “Netflix Is A Joke” for a long period of time – showcasing their brand tone and character. Even characters from shows like Bojack Horseman have their own social media presence on Instagram – humanising the platform while encouraging interaction with fans. 

Streaming platforms are competing for the same space, but the room to accommodate them all is getting smaller. In this context, their investment in PR and comms got to work harder to pay commercial dividends. Focusing on branding to help consumers connect the great content with the service hosting it is critical if streaming services want to weather this inflation storm.  

3. Promote hyper-personalised experiences to keep consumers

According to Twilio’s 2022 State of Personalization Report, 62% of consumers say a brand will lose their loyalty if they deliver an un-personalised experience, up nearly 20% from 2021.

Streaming platforms have enormous content libraries that can overwhelm users looking for new content. Behavioural data is essential to limiting the friction that comes from this choice paralysis. What a user watches, how long they watch for, which shows they browse—all of these are relevant data points that can lead to tailored playlists and recommendations to help users find relevant content.

Streaming platforms are not wont for more data. But to stand out, brands would be wise to capitalise on this data, enabling them to create hyper-personalised experiences, increase engagement, and improve overall positive brand sentiment.

In our media sample, Spotify was often mentioned for creating hyper-personalised experiences based on listening data. It utilises this data to recognise fans, provide recommendations, create new playlists, and even develop original artists. Spotify has also gone a step further and made their wrap-up data easily shareable on social media, which builds a community while allowing users to bring others into their own, personal experience. 

Each December, a global phenomenon reignites: Spotify Wrapped. The extremely successful campaign, launched in over 30 markets this year, has grown year upon year, becoming more interactive and user-oriented than ever. The Wrapped campaign gives Spotify users an in-depth look at their year in music, collating data such as most-streamed artist, song, and recently, even podcast.

Millions of people have shared their Wrapped results on social media, providing the company with a sizable PR boost. After Spotify Wrapped released in 2020, the app’s stock rose 16% in addition to jumping within the App Store rankings.

Interestingly, there may be more to Spotify’s personalisation strategy than meets the eye. Scientific American explains that our brains reward us for talking about and sharing information about ourselves, making personalised, shareable data inherently pleasurable.

4. Justify your inflation thinking

Communications staff should be proactive in positioning the CEO in both national and business media, demonstrating that the leader has a realistic view of the environment in which the company is operating.

Netflix does a good job with that, putting its people at the forefront of the cost of living debate:

For example, Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings had for years resisted the idea of allowing advertising on its service. Netflix hasn’t just been a streaming service without ads — it also practically declared itself an anti-ad TV company intent on finishing the job TiVo started and a tech firm that would stand against the internet industry’s prevailing model. “We want to be the safe respite where you can explore, you can get stimulated, have fun and enjoy, and have none of the controversies around exploiting users with advertising,” Hastings said in 2020. This wasn’t new messaging – HBO also had a similar brand proposition at the time.

But after coming under pressure because of its slowing subscription growth, Hastings said in April that the company was “open” to offering a cheaper option with ads – an announcement which made him the most influential spokesperson in the debate.

Reed Hastings said he was slow to come around to advertising on the streaming platform because he was too focused on digital competition from Facebook and Google. “I didn’t believe in the ad-supported tactic for us. I was wrong about that. Hulu proved you could do that at scale and offer customers lower prices. We did switch on that,” Hastings said at The New York Times’ Dealbook conference. “I wish we had flipped a few years earlier on that, but we’ll catch up.”

By providing perspectives on the current situation, business leaders should create the impression that their companies have a good grasp of what’s going on. The CEO is both an educator, ensuring the public understands the challenge and consequences of the crisis, and a social engineer, overseeing the coordination of the various functions so information flows freely and quickly from every silo.

5. Use the PR power of brand partnerships

Brands who are entering the streaming wars with other streaming services as partners have a competitive edge, which, at first glance, may seem counterintuitive. In reality, consumers are faced with a number of choices, and streaming platforms that make those choices easier will most likely win out. 

For example, Disney+’s package plan with Hulu and ESPN does not require a customer to choose between multiple individual streaming platforms in order to get the same catalogue of programming. Although the brands are technically rivals, their target markets are diverse enough that the services will help one another. The bundle also ensures that Disney+ remains family-friendly while releasing more adult-themed content on Hulu.

Meanwhile, the Netflix PR team used partnerships with other platforms to expand their reach. Their sci-fi show Stranger Things is often praised for its 80s-inspired soundtrack. To capitalise on this ahead of the show’s second series, Netflix worked with music streaming site Spotify to create official playlists with the favourite tunes of the main characters.

Netflix also partnered with UK fashion retailer Topshop to produce an exclusive line of 80s-style clothes and accessories, due to the popularity of the characters’ retro outfits. Fans could even watch two episodes of the new series early at a Stranger Things-themed cinema in Topshop’s Oxford Circus store.

And the partnerships don’t stop at Stranger Things. For drug-cartel-drama Narcos, Netflix joined forces with language-learning app Babel to help fans learn the decidedly non-textbook Spanish of the main characters.

Partnerships like these are great PR, and not just because they make for memorable stunts. When fans engage with shows they love outside of watching videos on a website, they can turn their enjoyment of Stranger Things or Narcos into something concrete that they can share with friends and family.

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