This article originally appeared in Little Black Book

In the ever-evolving world of streaming, simplicity has been relegated to the back seat as the industry grapples with unprecedented growth and fierce competition. What once held the title as the second simplest industry in 2021 has taken an unexpected tumble, landing the sixth position in the tenth edition of World’s Simplest Brands.

The culprit? An onslaught of over 200 streaming services worldwide has left consumers befuddled by the paradox of choice. What should they subscribe to? Where can they find their coveted content? Respondents have compared the process of researching streaming providers to deciphering a complex medical bill. Selecting what to watch has become as intricate as finalizing the contract for a new car. As distribution agreements continue to fragment, viewers now feel that gaining access to their preferred content requires a degree in streaming studies.

The identity crisis of streaming platforms

So, where do we find a solution?

The challenge confronting most streaming platforms striving to stand out and differentiate themselves lies in their heavy reliance on Hollywood’s tried-and-true marketing playbook, where “content is king.” Considerable resources are allocated to promoting blockbuster shows, often overshadowing efforts to craft a distinct identity for the platforms housing this content. While compelling content can initially draw users in, when their beloved series concludes, viewers are left pondering, “But what exactly am I paying for?” Subscribers are now facing monthly fees ranging from $5 to $16 for a single streaming service, making this question a vital one given the significant financial implications.

One service grappling with this conundrum is Disney+. With its content divided among various sub-brands, like Marvel and Star Wars, Disney+ faces the formidable challenge of creating user value while building equity across all these brands. Rather than simply explaining why users should pay for Disney+, they must do so while simultaneously justifying the worthiness of each sub-brand. The drop in simplicity from the ninth simplest brand to the 77th in the United States underscores that while this approach may have originally succeeded by attracting viewers seeking specific brand content, achieving long-term customer loyalty demands a clearer and more unified platform identity.

On the other hand, services that have either established a brand from the outset or nurtured a distinctive identity have cultivated a deeper rapport with subscribers, helping them weather the industry’s twists and turns. Take Netflix, for instance. Since its inception, the streaming giant has gone beyond promising to “help you find your next favorite story” by delivering on that promise through substantial investments in technology (including their algorithm), user experience (with a focus on user-centric design) and original content. Users know what to expect, and Netflix consistently delivers, earning them the title of the simplest brand in streaming, 11th globally overall. Respondents have praised its straightforward interface, describing their experience as “easy,” “distinctive” and “reliable.” This perception extends beyond content and likely contributes to the surge in subscribers following changes to subscription plans and password-sharing crackdowns.

Untangling the web of complexity

So, what steps can streaming services take to unravel this complexity?

It begins with recognizing that Brand, Marketing and Product teams (and often others) must work together and speak different languages. Their shared goal is customer satisfaction, and to achieve that, the promises made by Marketing and Brand must align seamlessly with the overall user experience orchestrated by Product. Success necessitates these two teams working in harmony, with a mere brand book being insufficient.

For instance, a brand promise crafted by Marketing or Brand may not resonate the same way with the Product team. Consider Hulu, which promises to deliver something extraordinary. The challenge lies in translating this promise into practical platform functionality. Can it be a filter to provide users with an exceptional content discovery experience without overwhelming them with unnecessary features? Moreover, how can the features created by the Product team become meaningful proof points leveraged by Marketing to stand out in a crowded arena?

Our interactions with streaming product teams have uncovered significant creativity and passion. However, the intricacies of distribution agreements, legal contracts and brand guidelines often make it seem as though they are merely ticking off requirements. Engaging them in shaping how the brand manifests in the user experience can lead to the creation of unique and recognisable signature moments cherished by subscribers.

As the industry grapples with challenges (like the historic Hollywood writers’ strike), platform aggregators (such as Roku and Comcast) and the constant addition of new streaming platforms, the hurdles to finding exceptional entertainment appear to be a lasting feature. The volatility in this landscape promises substantial marketing shifts, and while the exact nature of these changes remains uncertain, those who can cut through the clutter and forge meaningful connections with their audience are poised to lead the charge.


Jenna Isken is Group Director, Experience