How The CW’s ‘Riverdale’ Provides a Direction Through the Cluttered Streaming Landscape

Streaming has become something of a buyer’s market recently, and network executives are hustling to make their platforms stand out in an unprecedented and crowded film and television environment.

At the NATPE Streaming Plus event in Los Angeles Tuesday, panelists, including executives from Netflix, CBS All Access, Starz, and a host of other television networks and streaming platforms, discussed the problems of monetization and content delivery that film and television providers are grappling with in the era of streaming video.

No matter the subject, the perpetually increasing competitiveness of the streaming market loomed over every panel. There are already over 300 streaming services in the United States, and many of them feature acclaimed and popular films and television shows. Content wasn’t the primary discussion topic at NATPE, and rightfully so: Having the rights to one or two hit programs is no longer enough to stand out in the saturated streaming market, and executives are keenly aware of that.

For The CW Executive Vice President Rick Haskins, the challenge is less about creating the next “Game of Thrones” exclusively for CW, and more about simply getting viewers invested in the company’s content, wherever it may be. Haskins cited teen drama series “Riverdale” as proof that one popular series isn’t enough to elevate a streaming service to success. He noted that putting “Riverdale” and other CW shows on Netflix significantly increased their viewership.

Though viewers may be watching those shows on Netflix –  at least at first – Haskins said each episode would end on Netflix by noting that new installments of the series could be viewed on CW, which pulled viewers back to the the home base. Those kinds of collaborations can help smaller streamers survive among the giants, according to Haskins. He added that CW would continue collaborating with other companies and said the platform has partnered with Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine to create future content.

Haskins also noted that consumers can’t be strong-armed into watching television on the medium that a company might want them to. He cited “Gossip Girl,” a well-received series that nonetheless failed to find a large audience at launch. He noted that once streaming became more popular, CW attempted to pull the show off streaming services to entice viewers to watch it on the company’s television networks, only to see viewership plummet.

That said, Haskins’ collaborative outlook on streaming is hardly ubiquitous and not all platforms have shown such openness to working with competitors. As more companies prepare to launch their own streaming services in the coming months, many of them are beginning to pull their most popular brands off competing services to ensure their new platforms have exclusive and exciting content. Most notably, Netflix recently lost the rights to stream “The Office” and “Friends.” Both shows will be taken off Netflix in early 2020; “The Office” will find a new home on NBCUniversal’s streaming service that will launch in April, while “Friends” will be available on WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, which is expected to launch in spring.

Those upcoming platforms will also be competing with new streaming services from Apple and Disney, which will both launch later this year. All of the upcoming platforms are working with high-profile talent and brands to create exclusive content, and the priority

Of course, high-quality content is essential for any successful platform, but when every service can tout a great film or television series, it’s no longer enough to just have a “Game of Thrones” or “Friends” to succeed in the streaming market.

Regardless, all network executives agree that they need to do new things to stand out in the increasingly saturated streaming market. If consumers find signing up for a platform or digging around a service to find specific content a hassle, it won’t take them long to begin searching elsewhere.

That’s why Jeff Shultz, Pluto TV’s chief business officer, was one of several NATPE panelists who stressed accessibility as one of the keys for a successful streaming service. Shultz touted user-friendliness as one of the core design aspects of Pluto TV: Download the app, turn it on, and a show will automatically be playing. Whether the available content is good enough to sit through advertisements is entirely subjective, but as far as accessibility goes, Pluto TV arguably has a key understanding of the market.

The merits of both free, ad-supported platforms such as Pluto TV and subscription-based services such as Netflix were discussed in several panels, but opinions among executives remain largely split. Although advertisements can turn viewers away, the fact that most of the aforementioned upcoming streaming platforms will require a paid subscription has been met with no small amount of consumer frustration. Whether ads or subscriptions define streaming services in the years to come is impossible to predict, but either way, executives know they know the pressure to stand out has never been higher.

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