Sign in to the streaming wars

July 15, 2020
The industry has seen a COVID-19 driven uptick in interest for solutions to the identity and access management complexity of hundreds of channels, available through hundreds of distributors, accessed across multiple devices.

COVID-19 may well be the tipping point for streaming video services. According to Nielsen, the week of March 23, 2020 saw a 121% increase in minutes of content streaming versus the previous year. Meanwhile, L.E.K. Consulting reports that the average U.S. household now subscribes to approximately 2.8 subscription video-on-demand services, and there are over 100 different streaming services to choose from, by cable operators, content owners, equipment providers and startups.

Peacock, HBO Max and Quibi are joining the fray, in the middle of a pandemic-induced rise in viewership and interruption in content production. The market has grown and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. This is especially true if you are looking to shift share from the Nielsen-reported 70% of streaming minutes represented by Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Hulu, and hold on to your trial subscribers as the economy re-opens. 

Clearly, content availability and production constraints are top-of-mind for many video executives as they make their strategic plans. But in the here-and-now of a consumer’s foray into a streaming service, convenience and instant gratification are as vital as a flagship show. And that may be why, at Synacor, we have seen a COVID-19 driven uptick in interest for solutions to the identity and access management complexity of hundreds of channels, available through hundreds of distributors, accessed across multiple device platforms and viewed by millions of households.

Said Tina Fey in her recent SNL-at-home sketch, “I'm getting to spend so much time with my passwords... Apple ID, Hulu, Nintendo, Slack, Zoom, Google Hangout, Spectrum cable, Amazon, that other stupid Amazon app for watching things—all my passwords are a little bit different and beautiful in their own way, and I see that now.”

And in this fine balance between trial and adoption, revenue and convenience, subscription and advertising, humor and cynicism, is the humble sign-in process. Whether a cable operator providing TV Everywhere or expanding into streaming to enhance broadband services or a pure-bred digital streaming play, your identity platform shouldn’t just grant access to content but help support market differentiation, deliver better overall customer experiences and build sustainable advantage. During this moment of surging viewership and hyper-competition, make sure that your identity platform is able to help you:

  1. Scale quickly for surges in traffic or accelerated growth in subscribers. No business plan committed 50 million subscribers within five months at Disney+, or 19 million viewers watching the final episode of Game of Thrones on a Sunday evening on HBO. And yet, the expectation is that your platform, in that critical moment, will easily scale – process thousands of authentications every second and deliver millions of HD streams. When sports events finally return to serve fans desperately missing the thrill of watching their favorite teams play, will services be ready?
  2. Work glitch-free across ever-increasing device modalities. TVs, tablets, laptops, phones, smart-speakers. Apple TV, Android TV, Fire TV, Roku, Tivo, Chromecast, cable set-tops. Chrome, Safari, Android, iOS. ‘Nuff said?
  3. Accelerate speed-to-market and reduce distraction. “Buy” has an edge over “build” if you are rushing to take advantage of a market window. “Not invented here” ignores market innovation and reliability. Instead, develop the right technology partnerships so that you can stay focused on those select things that will uniquely allow your service to stand a little taller in the crowd.
  4. Quickly enable distributor partnerships. Many services generate most of their subscribers through distributors such as Apple App Store, Amazon Channels, Play Store or Roku. The quality of the identity handshake determines the click-through-rate of the buy-flow and the ongoing access to usage data critical to subscriber acquisition.
  5. Support the promotions marketing is conjuring. Quibi is offering a 90-day free trial. Others have extended free trials from a week to a month. Sling TV launched a free tier of breaking news, live events and kids’ content. Content windowing is getting more complex as “in-theater” titles such as Frozen 2 and Onward get fast-tracked to Disney+. The availability, variety and creativity of promotions is increasing, reflected in each authorization and critical for customer lifecycle management.
  6. Maintain data-privacy and persist security policies. Protecting user data is paramount even while business rules evolve. Some services are laissez-faire about revenue-leakage from password-sharing, others less flexible. Some content providers enforce strict concurrency policies, but stream limits vary. So many norms exist for persisting a single sign-on session.

Too often the seemingly innocuous sign-in screen is underappreciated. The flurry of activity that unfolds after a subscriber enters log-in info – requests to directories, billing systems, rights management systems, CRM platforms, third party servers and middleware technologies – is the heartbeat of a video service that is delivering today and growing subscribers for the future. No weak sign-ins authorized.

Himesh Bhise is CEO of Synacor, a cloud-based software and services company serving global video, internet and communications providers; device manufacturers; governments; and enterprises.