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TV Streaming: Is Gaming The Key To Success In 2020?

by Tom Walsh

The growth of TV streaming has affected big changes in the way entertainment is consumed. It looks likely that games streaming is heading in the same direction. Will there be some crossover and how can TV streaming services utilise the growing online gaming community to maintain their audience share? As Disney, Google and Amazon are reinventing their offering to a wider audience, it could hurt the likes of Netflix.

The battle royale: Amazon v Netflix

The two biggest streaming services are Netflix, with over 149 million subscribers, and Amazon Prime Video, with 101 million. Netflix, who rely on third-party content to distribute across their subscription channel, will ultimately see licensing costs rise as more competitors like Hulu, Amazon, HBO, WarnerMedia and Disney enter the market. They have already had to increase subscription costs once in the last twelve months, using it to fund big-budget original content. But so far, we haven’t seen any form of gaming.

Amazon, the world’s most valuable public company, do think gaming is the way forward. It bought Twitch in 2014 and the growth of live streaming figures on that platform is incredible. After spending $970 million on the games streaming service, it started slowly. The first two years only raised the number of monthly broadcasters from 1.5 million to 2 million. In the last two years, that figure has mushroomed to over 4.4 million, but this isn’t where Amazon’s interest in games streaming ends. A big influence on Amazon’s apparent change of direction is going to be Disney.

Disney’s streaming service to launch soon

Disney has already taken one giant, cartoon-sized TV ray and pointed it directly at Netflix, Amazon and Apple with the launch of their own TV streaming service. It will offer a family-friendly package of films and content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel and the Star Wars franchise and will begin streaming in November 2019.

Disney already owns big film producing brands and recently purchased 20th Century Fox, making it an ideal time to launch Disney+. Immediately, this move might not affect other streaming services, but when current content deals end, allowing the likes of Netflix and Apple TV to stream titles like Frozen, Moana, Thor: Ragnorak or Guardians of the Galaxy, it will become a more interesting and competitive streaming landscape.

Google builds Stadia while Sony and Microsoft join forces

Google’s response to this has been to secretly develop a new games streaming platform. The Stadia project aims to use powerful computers to run games over the internet in much the same way as HD film streaming does for Netflix and Amazon Prime, but they, of course, have more computing power at their disposal. It will allow gamers to log in and remotely access games, without requiring a console – all on a device of their own choosing.

This puts Google on a direct collision path with both Sony and Microsoft, who themselves have launched a joint cloud gaming service. The decision by Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox to collaborate on joint, cloud-powered games streaming service brings two powerful corporations together. Sony already uses a vast amount of Microsoft electronics and processors and their combined force could even disrupt Nintendo. Their Azure cloud-based venture is likely to strengthen their current stranglehold on the console gaming industry although Google’s entrance must be unsettling.

If streaming games from cloud servers is the future of gaming, then how would this work on a TV streaming service?

The current cloud gaming arena is populated by gaming brands like Steam, Nvidia and Sony. But none of them have yet gotten over the combined requirements of streaming high-resolution data with no buffering from a wide selection of games (not just a select bunch of titles), without the need for some sort of heavy load required by an individual’s own server.

Current games streamers like PlayStation Now, Vortex, Jump, Geforce and Steam Link Anywhere still require pretty significant internet download speeds and some, like Parsec still offer advice to gamers in line with ‘if you want the best gaming experience, consider building your own gaming PC’.

What gaming is really waiting for is for the big tech players like Google, Amazon, Sony and Microsoft to utilise their vast cloud and data infrastructure to stream fast and cost-effectively to gamers and they look like being rewarded soon with all three focusing powerful development into games streaming. In the meantime, TV streaming services could look to get ahead by capturing the audiences of less technologically demanding forms of gaming, like casino gaming, party games and online bingo.

There has been large growth in the popularity of online bingo in recent years, leading to a UK bingo- and casino-playing audience that went from just 50,000 online players in 2008. That figure has increased to over 3.5 million today and it is estimated that there are over 100 million players worldwide. So the audiences are already there and, indeed,the prominent use of bingo cards may be the ticket for a streaming service that wishes to make the most of that: widely used in mainstream culture as teaching aids, drinking games and as a way of keeping older minds sharp, their simple premise of ticking off boxes on a 2D shape requires less intensive graphics than online gaming titles like Rainbow Six. For streaming TV, this could be an ideal compromise position to take, expanding the offering and tapping into the millions of bingo and iGaming fans already seeking out and playing online versions.

Where does this leave Netflix?

Interestingly the first adopter of streaming TV, Netflix, doesn’t have any gaming content or services. But then it also didn’t have any real competition during its first few years of operation either. To put Netflix’s position into context, while it won’t likely be pushed out of the market by the growth of new TV streaming channels and games streaming, it did spend $13 billion on content deals in 2018 and that figure looks like being matched in 2019. It also remains likely that Disney’s new channel will borrow from the Netflix audience. The introduction of new streaming services from tech giants with deep pockets and hefty cloud infrastructures aim to provide a Netflix-like experience to playing online games. It is going to be a cause of concern for Netflix.

Netflix has started looking into streaming some sort of Telltale collaboration with Minecraft, but not on the scale of the live gameplay experience from a console. If streaming TV services like Netflix, Chili or Hulu could tap into the millions of online iGamers and focus on the casino and bingo community it might well prove to be a savvy move. It would be less technically demanding than competing with the likes of Google and Amazon for the gaming market yet still offer an edge over other streaming services. If they don’t, big games streaming channels might have the capacity to swallow up that market too.

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