The streaming wars started as a race for subscribers. It's now evolved into a race for ad dollars amid a greater profitability push.
Mark Boidman, partner and global head of media at Solomon Partners, told Yahoo Finance the shift from pure-play subscriber growth to cash generation via ads means the streaming wars are no longer about one platform versus the other. Rather, Boidman described it as "a different type of battle" — a battle against broadcast television and its multibillion dollar ad bucket.
US TV ad spending hit $66.64 billion in 2022, an increase of more than $5 billion compared to the previous year, according to recent data from eMarketer.
Although ad spending is expected to slow over the next five years, Boidman argued capturing ad money from that bucket is "where you're going to see all of these companies create value for shareholders."
Ultimately, Boidman predicted cable will be obsolete in the next 10 years, signaling traditional TV's demise as "a massive opportunity for all of these streaming companies to go after not only those audiences, but those advertising dollars."
"That doesn't mean that you need to have the largest audience [but] the highest quality audience," he explained. "Audiences who can afford a subscription, who can afford to shop in the store. ...That's attractive to brands."
Media giants are already beginning to flex their ability to attract ad buyers.
At Netflix's (NFLX) virtual upfronts presentation earlier this month, the platform revealed its ad-based plan, dubbed "Basic with Ads," has 5 million global monthly active users, or MAUs, a metric that Netflix Worldwide Advertising President Jeremi Gorman said "actually matter[s] to advertisers." The plan debuted in November.
Disney (DIS), meanwhile, said it plans to optimize its pricing model in order to "increase subscriber revenue for the premium ad-free tier and drive growth of subscribers who opt for the lower cost ad-supported option." The company launched its $7.99 ad tier in December of last year.
Additionally, Disney revealed it will be it will soon offer a one-app experience domestically that incorporates Hulu content via Disney+ — a similar play to Paramount's Showtime combination, as well as the integration of HBO Max and Discovery+.
"Bundling is increasingly going to be a theme," Boidman said. "Some of that is to unify the streaming experience, reduce churn and give consumers greater experience and engagement [but] that could also help on the advertising side as putting content under one app brings in more advertisers."