Combating the peak summer churn

Combating the peak summer churn

Tom Weiss, Fri 12 August 2016

The summer viewing slump has been with us since the dawn of broadcasting. Come July and August, the weather is good, more people go on holiday and spend time outside, and viewing dips. It’s not like this globally – in the Middle East, there’s a winter slump – summer is peak viewing time, as 50 degree heat sends Middle Eastern families in search of the comforts of air conditioning and their flatscreen TVs.

What’s interesting is the way that OTT and TV Everywhere services are changing these dynamics. The summer slump has always led to a dogfight in the fall among operators wanting to pick up wavering subscribers around heavily promoted new shows or pieces of content.

What do you do, though, if you’re a global provider, and one not tethered to the schedule? The big sVoD players like Netflix, no longer stick to that traditional production calendar where they keep their best content back for the darker days of the year. Quite apart from anything else, they are a global provider, and as discussed above, there is no global "peak". Netflix launched its Stranger Things original at the height of summer, and critically at least, the show has been one of Netflix’s most successful (it currently boasts a whopping 94% score on Rotten Tomatoes). Netflix presumably had some idea it was on to a winner with Stranger Things, but still chose the height of summer to launch the show.

Unconventional, certainly, but probably smart. OTT providers can experience an even sharper spike in churn in the early summer, precisely because it is so easy cancel and save a couple of months’ subs before signing back on in September – again encouraging a bum fight for the returning souls. Having a hyped new show like Stranger Things helps companies like Netflix hold on to subs in an era of being able to instantly cancel your service.

We think there is an opportunity for MVPDs, too. TV Everywhere has definitely increased summer content consumption – on the beach, in people’s holiday apartments, on the plane, and so on. Services that let subscribers download and take their favourite content with them (Sky Go, BBC iPlayer), are tailor-made for this sort of use case – and for MVPDs, help them mop up some of those who have temporarily dropped their sVoD provider. It of course means having compelling content and promoting it, but also ensuring that it is as easy possible for subscribers to find what they would most enjoy watching at that time.

We all know now that content preferences vary with subscribers’ location, context and device as well as preferences and during summer, especially on holiday, they are looking for escapism. They also have more time on their hands and may be open to suggestions at the edge of their normal interests.

It is also worth noting that people who churn tend to watch less sport than those who do not, reflecting the pull of exclusive premium content in general. They also tend to watch somewhat less drama, but just as much if not more comedy and light entertainment. All these ideas can be combined to offer summer packages at the start of the season in an attempt to pre-empt some of this seasonal churn. It is true there will be a lot of sports viewing this summer in Olympic year, but a lot of that is Free To Air in many markets and the churn factor applies mostly to those who are not interested, as does the battle for eyeballs over the holidays.

The battle then is for subscriber retention in both senses, preventing churn but also attracting as much of their summer leisure time to your channels as possible. The two are after all intimately related. While it may be too late now for operators to make this into a good summer for subscriber retention, we can all start thinking about how we can do better next year.

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