IT IS safe to say that the word of 2020 is “social distancing.” While social distancing has been detrimental to the economy in general, one industry seems to be thriving more than ever: Over-the-top (OTT) platforms. OTTs are media platforms that use the Internet as a means to deliver television contents. Their numbers and value have grown exponentially since the 2000s, with the bankruptcy of the video rental chain Blockbuster and Netflix’s subsequent replacement marking the ascent of OTTs. While the surge of OTT platforms can be positive in terms of creating other options for customers, it is nevertheless time-consuming for viewers to ponder on the pros and cons of each platform. Do not fret. This article has compiled a list of four major OTTs, aiding your quest to find your perfect match.
Netflix: The trailblazer of OTTs
Since its establishment in 1997, Netflix has gradually grown into the leading OTT platform it is today with approximately 167 million subscribers*. This is not only because of its convenient streaming service, but also because of its exclusive contents. Original shows like Stranger Things and Black Mirror have contributed extensively to the company’s growth. Netflix’s original contents are not only profitable, they are also acclaimed in various prestigious awards. Just last year, The Irishman and The Marriage Story were nominated for the Oscars and the Golden Globes. What makes Netflix more attractive to subscribers is that it provides customized original contents to users by collaborating with local producers. For instance, the series Kingdom, a horror thriller drama set in the Joseon dynasty period, has taken viewers by storm and is one of the trendiest TV series in Korea.
Nevertheless, Netflix’s original contents are not always good for business. Netflix original episodes are released all at once, and thus it is difficult to predict its success. Because of this, many shows are a hit or a miss. Take Marco Polo, Netflix’s $ten billion project. Despite the investment Netflix poured into this historical drama, it was a huge flop and was cancelled after just two seasons. It is not just their original series that share this fate. Many of their movies have been mocked for being cheesy rip-offs. For instance, the Netflix original movie The Silence (2019) was criticized for being a bland copy of The Quiet Place. There are numerous other examples that portray Netflix’s “quantity over quality” mindset. Unlike box office movies, Netflix producers have a safety net of audiences who have practically pre-paid for the contents. So, Netflix tends to churn out as many series and movies as possible, hoping that at least some of them will satisfy subscribers’ needs.
Watcha Play: The platform for cinephiles
Watcha Play is a Korean OTT service that boasts over six million contents. It is focused on offering a variety of films and TV shows, including small-scale independent movies. It has grown exponentially since 2016, with a million subscribers logging in each month. What is most attractive about Watcha Play is that it uses a highly sophisticated Big Data** server that analyzes users’ needs and preferences to make customized recommendations. When users first subscribe to Watcha Play, they are encouraged to rate movies they have watched in the past. The platform gathers this information to provide film recommendations to these new subscribers. With time, Watcha Play is able to give more accurate recommendations by garnering data based on viewer history, saved contents, preferences in genre, actor, director, and so on.
Watcha Play is also an economical alternative for broke college students. Its basic service costs only \7,900 a month, a rate much cheaper than Netflix. Yet, the trade-off for its affordable price is the absence of original contents. This is the reason why many Korean users alternate between using Watcha Play and Netflix. For newcomers to OTT platforms, I suggest that you follow this trend to get the best of both worlds—original series and movies. However, user satisfaction aside, its lack of distinctive content can be a vulnerability as large studios are entering the OTT market. For instance, HBO contents like Game of Thrones and Sex and the City are major attractions for new subscribers of Watcha Play. However, with HBO Max scheduled to launch in 2020, it is possible they would end their contract with Watcha Play. It would not be surprising as Warner Media has already taken back the streaming rights of Friends from Netflix to relocate it in HBO Max.
Wavve: provider of K-contents
Wavve is the combination of two platforms: Oksusu and POOQ, the former two largest domestic OTT platforms in Korea***. The Fair Trade Commission allowed these two platforms to merge in order to prevent Netflix’s monopoly in the domestic OTT industry and to make Korean platforms more competitive. Wavve aims to consolidate its place in the market by streaming Korean contents broadcasted on major airwaves such as KBS, MBC, and SBS and providing archives of fan favorite TV series like Dae-jang-geum and Infinite Challenge. Another unique feature is its “live” service, which allows viewers to watch live television through the Wavve platform. Unlike Watcha Play, Wavve is ambitious in creating original contents. In 2019, Wavve was the sole provider of the TV series Nok-du-jeon which gained mostly positive reviews. Its success is likely to give Wavve producers more confidence to invest in original contents that can rival Netflix.
Wavve’s biggest downsides are its shaky server and lack of variety. Even now, multiple users complain about the frequent errors and the low video resolution. Perhaps the more substantial problem in the long-term is its lack of prominent content that would woo users from Netflix or Watcha Play. Its film collection is not as extensive as Watcha Play’s and it does not provide well-known foreign TV series available on Netflix. While Wavve does have the advantage of possessing many K-contents, the merit seems diminished because many are already on YouTube. Personally, Wavve is similar to watching TV because its main strengths are providing Korean TV contents and live broadcast. Thus, if you are looking for an OTT that can substitute for TV, I recommend Wavve. However, if you are looking for a platform that streams contents unavailable on TV, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Prime Video: compact but effective
Prime Video is part of the Amazon Prime, a premium service that provides members free fast shipping, music streaming services, exclusive sales and discounts, and so on. While it is granted to all Prime members, you are not required to subscribe to Amazon Prime to use this OTT service. Prime Video uses its parent company’s massive data to operate its “X-ray” function. X-ray draws data from IMDB, the Internet movie database owned by Amazon. Prime Video allows users to quickly access information about the content they are watching, such as the cast, theme music, and related trivia. Apart from X-ray, what makes Prime Video stand out from its competitors is its substantially lower price: \3,500 for new users and \7,000 for users that have been subscribing to the service for over six months. This is much cheaper than any other OTT platform, given that it provides a number of critically acclaimed exclusive series such as Mozart in the Jungle, Bosch, and The Man in the High Castle.
Currently, Prime Video is doing quite well as it has the second largest market share worldwide****. However, this popularity is most likely because it is part of the package deal for Amazon Prime. Thus, Prime Video’s wide usage has less to do with its own merit, but rather the popularity of Amazon Prime. This assumption is convincing because Prime Video only provides about 300 films and TV series, which is far fewer than any other global OTT platform. There is also the issue of lack of subtitles. Unlike the previous platforms, Prime Video only streams contents produced outside of Korea. So, many contents do not provide Korean subtitles, which reduces accessibility. From a subscriber’s perspective, Prime Video is most suited for people that already use a number of Amazon’s services.
**Big Data: technology involving a large volume of data that is stored and used for analysis
***The Korea Herald