Nickelodeon is launching an OTT service. Yes, basically it’s like Netflix, but just for Nickelodeon shows. That should be an awesome announcement, right? Well, in theory, yes, it should. However the reality is different. Nickelodeon is a major producer of animation in the US, and by launching an OTT service, it endangers the future of the artform.
The current mania surrounding over the top (OTT) services makes me concerned. We’ve long been told that a la carte cable was not in the best interests of the consumer. The logic was that the most popular channels that everyone subscribed to, subsidised the niche channels that would not be sustainable on their own. Now it would appear that logic is flying out the window, as OTT services aim to replace traditional cable and satellite as the preferred method of broadcasting content. While Nickelodeon is not the first to announce the service, they are the first from a major media conglomerate that is based on a mainstream channel and not, like HBO, one with specialised content on a premium channel.
So why would this be bad for animation? Surely it’s a good thing, no? Isn’t the ability to stream Nick’s shows without purchasing and paying for a cable subscription a move in the right direction? Well yes, it is. However while there are some obvious benefits, there are also some potential pitfalls as well.
For starters, Nickelodeon’s animated shows are available on services such as Amazon Prime and Hulu. These services aggregate their content from multiple providers, and provide massive libraries of content as a result. Now shows can, and do, move between services. For example Netflix lost the rights to Viacom shows but they remained on Amazon.
Where the new OTT service will differ from those is that it will also provide access to new content in addition to library titles. That’s a huge plus, and has been the sore spot for audiences of all ages as long as streaming has been popular. File sharing of older shows has dropped dramatically as access to them has conversely been made easy and affordable.
Now for the bad news. While the OTT service will have many benefits, there is an inherent danger in what is known as creating content ‘silos’. The practise, essentially confines content to one or a few services such that it is ‘siloed’ within them and otherwise unavailable to consumers who are not subscribers.
The practise is already a problem to some extent. While content is roughly equivalent across Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, there are some shows and films that are only available on one of the three. Consequently there is a rising need to subscribe to all three to reduce the likelihood that you cannot access a particular show or film.
Now imagine that such silos exist not just for the largest libraries, but for each network or media company. Want to watch a Viacom show? You need their OTT service. Disney? Check, there’s too. These services claim to charge far below current cable fees, but by the time you cough up even $5 for more than five or six OTT services, you start to get awful close to the cost of basic cable and satellite.
As far as animated content goes, it has the potentially drastic effect of pushing it even further into the niche corners of the entertainment industry that it already occupies. Many consumers discover animated content while channel surfing. With OTTs, they have to actively seek it out instead. There is a reason why anime suddenly exploded in North America, and it’s because it was able to get in front of plenty of cable channel eyeballs that would never have discovered it otherwise.
Imagine a world where animated content has been ‘siloed’ into niche OTT services that are struggling on a dwindling subscriber base. You could argue that platforms such as Crunchyroll are a pseud0-OTT service (with other elements), and while they’re undoubtedly growing today, that may not always be the case.
The bright spot in all of this, is YouTube. Although that site has its own problems, at least access is equal to all the content on the service. What will be interesting to watch is whether younger viewers will make a significant shift to YouTube or whether they are happy to use the individual OTT services.