A new report by research service Purely Streamonomics reveals OTT original content production will skyrocket this year, with Disney standing as the biggest spender in the world with over almost 30 billion spent on content in 2020.

Amidst a year of uncertainty and production hiatuses due to the global pandemic, streaming platforms have set the global film and TV industry on a trajectory of accelerated growth with no imminent ceiling in sight.

A new report published by Purely Streamonomics, a new research and analytical service from Purely, shows that the gross cash amount spent producing and licensing new entertainment content (excluding sports) soared by 16.4% in 2020 to reach US$220.2 billion.

This new milestone will likely be surpassed this year as well, with Purely anticipating a total spend of more than US$250 billion in 2021.

But this is only the start of what’s to come. Even more spending growth is on the short-term horizon as a new wave of ad-supported platforms start gaining a stronger foothold around the world, alongside the subscription-funded services that have been driving the streaming marketplace until now.

International Growth

Production spend from companies based in North America is up 16.1%, in line with the overall figure, while dramatic uplifts can be seen from regional business spend in the smaller markets of Africa and the Middle East (+46.3%), Latin America (+32.9%) and Oceania (+32.5%), fueled by rapidly growing local streamers such as Shahid VIP in the Middle East, which has recently committed to spending an additional US$100m per year on original content.

European company spend, which is currently less than a quarter of that in the US and Canada, failed to keep pace, rising by 11.8%. As local streamers such as Viaplay in the Nordics and Movistar+ in Spain expand their offering, this figure would be expected to rise in Europe.

Biggest Spenders

The planet’s biggest single spender on content remains The Walt Disney Company with a grossed-up total of US$28.6 billion for 2020, which is more than spend across the whole of Asia ($27.7 billion) last year. The recent announcement that Warner Media and Discovery are being combined into a unified media empire whose content spending totalled US$20.8 billion means that Netflix has now been pushed into third place on the Hollywood spending charts with its US$15.1 billion outlay last year.

Once Amazon completes its own acquisition of MGM, that combined entity would rank as the fourth largest North American production force with a content spend of US$11.8 billion. On that basis these top four companies alone, with combined spending of US$76.3 billion, almost equates to the entire worldwide spending outside of North America (US$77.3 billion).

The Opportunity for Independents

Spending by Netflix and the Hollywood major studios on original content only tells part of the story. Twice as much money is spent around the globe co-financing and acquiring the rights to independently made feature films and television programming. Purely Streamonomics’ global research found that indie content spending jumped by 25.3% year-on-year in 2020 and now accounts for 65.5% of the world’s film and TV production activity.

The Pressure to Increase Budgets

The research also showed that, in the US, average budgets across all new series – scripted, unscripted, daytime and kids – was on the rise, up 16.5% in 2020. The dramatic growth of the streamers has created new demand for content and, as in every other sector, when demand outstrips supply, prices rise.

In TV and film, this budget inflation has largely been created by two main factors: streamers and producers fighting for talent exclusivity, especially with regard to contracting top names and locking them in for future seasons of a show, and the necessary hike in production costs in order to deliver lavish, glossy and impactful shows that really stand-out in the marketplace and act as subscription drivers to a platform, such as Disney+’s The Mandalorian or Wandavision.

The cost of introducing and monitoring COVID protocols in 2020 also added 20%-30% to production budgets. These costs look to set to stay for a while but, even if they do subside, industry talk of introducing “green production initiatives” could see a further 5%-10% added over time.

Purely’s founder and CEO, Wayne Marc Godfrey, comments: “This is the element of our research that perhaps surprised me the most as every producer I talk to tells me that it’s constantly challenging to get shows financed and commissioned and that budgets are always under pressure. I think the time has come for them to ‘follow the money’ and take their biggest and best ideas – whether scripted or unscripted – to the streamers. Now that the tables have well and truly turned, a domestic public service broadcaster or local linear network should no longer be the main goal for an ambitious production business.”

“The streamers are also co-producing and acquiring more ready-made content than ever before too – so it’s no longer just about producing an ‘Original’ for them. This provides indies and distributors with a range of options for their content and as these options evolve, so are conversations around rights, with streamers more willing to enter into regional-only deals for example.”

Will We Ever Reach “Peak Television”?

Wayne Marc Godfrey concludes: “What is remarkable about these record numbers is that the industry’s spending has yet to bump up against any natural ceiling. Every year there is talk of the industry being on the cusp of ‘peak television’ and yet it is clear from our own business dealings that the streaming of films and TV shows is only now starting to reach escape velocity. Streaming is not just displacing traditional sources of entertainment revenue such as pay-TV and linear broadcasting, it is actually expanding the global marketplace for video. The big question then becomes whether there are enough good stories out there, and talents to tell them, to keep fueling this transformation.”