With the recent launch of Apple TV+, BritBox (the new service that will feature content from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) and the imminent launch of Disney+, is the future of TV about to move online?

UK audiences are about to be faced with even more choice about what they watch, where they watch, and when they watch TV. Over the past five years the appetite for streaming services has been gradually increasing. In 2014, just under 4 million households subscribed to a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, in 2019 that grew to more than 13 million.35

Today, just under half (49%) of us use either Netflix or Amazon Prime Video,36 and almost a quarter of us (23%) use both services.

While these subscription figures outweigh most of the British broadcasters online, with only 24% using ITV Hub and 12% using All4, watching live TV is still the most popular, with 99% of us watching TV or video each week.37

So, with the market fracturing across services and splitting audiences, what can new and existing SVOD services do to capture subscribers, retain audiences, and compete with traditional TV viewing? As the market leader, with around 11.5 million households subscribing, there are some interesting lessons to be learned from Netflix’s success.38

TV is king

Given the continued popularity of the TV set, smart TVs are a valuable opportunity for SVOD providers. With 37% of the British public owning a smart TV,39 it is a clever tactic by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to secure buttons on many remote controls. Their presence on the TV remote engrains their prominence in our minds.

Think local

Audiences respond well to content providers who champion British talent, as well as committing to representing social and regional diversity in the UK. Earlier in 2019, Netflix announced that it would be spending an additional £400 million on UK-made films and TV programmes, in an apparent bid to continue to appeal to UK audiences.

Classics and crowd pleasers

Nostalgia has been a key trend in the west for the last decade and Netflix has been successfully capitalising on it. Rebooting previously popular shows such as Queer Eye and platforming former TV staples such as Friends has seen TV ‘classics’ regain social relevance, pleasing viewers that watched it the first time round and engaging new viewers who are only familiar with the content second-hand.
This may be an area where competitors such as BritBox have an edge, having a large back catalogue of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 programmes to draw from (such as The Office, Gavin and Stacey, and Benidorm). As some of this content currently sits on Netflix, the move to the homegrown service might come as a blow. Not to mention Disney, which has been pulling its Marvel and animated movies from other SVOD services ahead of the launch of Disney+ in November 2020.

Fans and franchises

As streaming services become more common, Netflix has already seen its membership growth slow. Where Disney+ has Star Wars and Marvel as large franchises to commercialise, Netflix is increasingly trying to monetise content such as Stranger Things outside of its platform, with commercial tricks such as the sale of t-shirts in high street retailers, figurines and product placements to boost revenue.


Despite some users finding their tweets ‘creepy’, Netflix’s habit of tweeting interesting facts about its content and viewing figures has helped to drive conversations. When Netflix US tweeted: “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?” at the end of 2017 it encouraged a spike in views for the movie. Similarly, when it released Bird Box in 2018, the memes surrounding the movie were almost as popular as the content itself. Regardless of its critical reception, by creating content that is discussed and dissected on social media, Netflix can harness its user base to drive new subscriptions.

The bottom line? As the number of services increase, we will have even more distraction, even more content to choose from, and we may feel even more overwhelmed by choice in 2020.