What is SVOD?

Written by
Matthew Kaler
June 17, 2021

Yes, like millions of others, we watched Mare of Eastown with that excitement only weekly releases of a serialized narrative provide (and we also helped break HBO Max before the show’s finale). And, hell yes, if there was a streaming service dedicated to Kate Winslet we would hand over our subscription money by the wheelbarrow.

But in this present era where Video On Demand (VOD) offers a tsunami of content in an intimidating variety of forms, it’s helpful to understand what options exist beyond prestige, enterprise services like Amazon Prime Video, HBOmax, and Netflix -- or even niche streaming apps such as American Kennel Club TV and horror fan favorite Shudder. It’s especially important to explore the fact that, despite the latter corporate behemoths, VOD as a landscape is actually a fertile ground of opportunities for independent creators, filmmakers, studios and distributors to share their work and gain subscribers--without millions in funding or a team of software engineers.

Over-the-top video service (OTT) and Video On Demand -- basically, premium video delivered over the internet and immediately distributed across viewing devices -- are not just the future. The era of VOD is now with revenues predicted by some to hit nearly $100 billion per year by 2025. These revenues arrive in a variety of forms through three main platforms and business models: Advertising on Demand (AVOD) as in YouTube, Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD) -- think renting a film on iTunes; and Subscription Video on Demand or SVOD.

But what we’re here to explore is the basics of SVOD: what is it, why it’s great, and what you need to look for in a platform to find the right home for your content and audience.

What are Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) Services?

The answer, simply put, is that SVOD are streaming services for which consumers pay a regular subscription fee to get access. The ubiquitous giants in the game are brands like Netflix and Disney+ that aggregate massive varieties of content, but the liberating principle of SVOD particularly applies to niche, independent services: subscribers can pay only for their desired content (instead of the archaic cable model where we were chained to 100+ channels and maybe watched five of them...like, ever). Too, platforms like AppleTV and Roku host SVOD services across the continuum from YouTubeTV to the Criterion Channel to niche anime channels.

Sure, YouTube can be great for high-level discovery, but there’s no clear monetization path for filmmakers and other creators. Oh, and your audience? They have to navigate a sea of ads just to view your work. Discovery platforms like YouTube create a vast disparity where high-quality content is devalued by the lack of a user-specific experience catering toward your niche. So on one side stands the high-quality produced by big brands, and on the other a lot of low quality disposable stuff. In between is this massive middle ground of high-quality content that needs a home, deserves a cinematic experience, and whose audience wants that. Chances are that if you’re reading this article, you’re looking for the same.

Point being: there’s room in SVOD for independents. And it’s about time.

SVOD is the fastest growing of all VOD platforms -- with nearly 1 billion viewers, owning 80% of VOD revenues, and set to exceed 60$ billion this year alone. Yet with all those eyeballs and dollar signs, how do independent creators, studios, and distributors enter the streaming market to compete with giants without a Netflix production or Quibi (RIP) technology budget?

How Indie and Niche Content Can Thrive with SVOD

Without an audience, your content exists in a vacuum. So it’s crucial to consider how SVOD also benefits content consumers as well as creators. It’s not about generalizing for mass appeal but, as a service, doubling down on an identity. Finding an audience through SVOD has never been easier.

Niche platforms like Mubi or Shudder remain relatively cost effective (as much as a cup of coffee or two per month).  Success in the same landscape as the enterprise services arrives by not worrying about those behemoths, but by providing continued quality for a passionate audience. The best services are those that provide evergreen content without sacrificing the characteristics subscribers paid for in the first place; this means content made specifically for consumers and not watered down for four-quadrant appeal. Then, a virtuous cycle begins: consumer dollars go directly to producing more content that they love and are willing to subscribe to--and this is particularly what platforms like Special.tv are primed to do.

How Creators Can Stop Worrying about Competing with the ‘Giants’ and Love SVOD

How many of us have spent an evening (doom)scrolling through titles until our eyes glaze and we relent to bed without having watched anything? That’s option fatigue and it’s an issue with SVOD.  

The big players in this space are already entrenched: Amazon, Disney+, Hulu, HBOmax, Netflix, etc. Yet most of them divert their efforts to producing originals… which actually validates the direct-to-consumer model. This is an opportunity and not a downfall, and SVOD platforms like special.tv democratize the process and keep ownership where it belongs: in the hands of independent creators and studios. As long as you’re making content an audience loves, you can stop worrying.

Is SVOD right for you as a creator, studio, or distributor? Kind of a rhetorical question, but the qualities that lead you to create as a filmmaker or studio are likely not ones that leave you happy at the thought of handing over control and submitting a mafia-like revenue split to a middleman or a big service. The nature of video distribution and monetization is currently one of golden gates and unavailable gatekeepers. Then, once in that platform, the user has to navigate its often massive library to find what interests them. But it really doesn’t have to be.

With SVOD services like Special.tv, subscribers pick only what they want to pay for and don’t have to sign up for yet another streaming platform in the *hopes* of finding content they care about. SVOD in platforms like Special.tv allow viewers to subscribe directly to creators; and instead of another big corporation taking a big split of profits,  your audience’s subscription revenue goes directly to YOU, the creator. Sure, your audience needs an initial sign-up to get to you, but that’s it.

Still thinking “... but it’s another platform for users to subscribe to… why would they choose mine?”  Not to worry: the average US household now subscribes to a minimum of four streaming services-- meaning that if you make content for an audience, they will find room for you… especially if you spare them from another evening of doomscrolling.

Let’s say you land a contract with one of the major SVOD players. Champaign problems, right?

But consider, in case you don’t know, how many of these contracts get structured. As a creator on a major SVOD platform like Netflix, did you know that you are often still left to manage the marketing? Yes, really. That means you have to create a social and digital campaign. On. Your. Own. Similarly, the contracts are based on production budget and not viewership. So making a popular film doesn’t guarantee you see a revenue windfall that finances the next one. You get little to no insights on viewership or analytics to even find out if your work found its audience. Oh, and for some, you also give up ownership to your content for several years (some up to 10+ years!).But if you were to choose an SVOD service like...say...special.tv, all of your marketing efforts and the rewards of the hard work that brings an audience to your work, goes to your pocket. The difference between special.tv and other major SVOD platforms, is that special.tv empowers you; it doesn’t take advantage of you. On special.tv, you make your own SVOD channel--a home for you and your audience--that empowers you to grow independently. Who’s to say you can’t become a large-scale studio, fund your next creative venture, or even become a distributor?

Perks + What to Look for in an SVOD Service

  • Monetize your content, gated for paid subscribers
  • Build a long-term predictable revenue stream (for filmmakers and studios, this serves as a source of funding for future endeavors that build credibility or can be used to secure MORE funding)
  • Develop a committed and dedicated customer base with creator control over who makes up your audience (and for platforms like special.tv and Netflix, benefit from the network effects of other creators and content--bringing more fans to your work)
  • Discover potential for up-selling and cross-selling

A Successful SVOD Model Should:

  • Automate operations (easy logistics, billing, revenue management) because manual is not scalable
  • Allow access to analytics to monitor content performance and garner actionable insights
  • Offer terrific customer service and tech support (Special.tv optimizes the user experience by handling all tech and customer support, and streamlining subscriptions based on data; we know what works and automate it for our creators. so you can focus on what you do best).
  • Eliminate backend legalese in contracts that deny creators full-ownership; you should maintain all rights to your content, always.
  • Facilitate global distribution (enable global currency exchange at a price you set, and again, while maintaining rights of your content)
  • Provide subscribers with value that they recognize (a value prop) in their subscription
  • Set up efficient payment options through recurring payments (bonus if they offer rental capability, like Special.tv does)
  • Give creators control over branding and navigability
  • Deliver a cinematic experience for your audience, because your content deserves it

The Power of Using a Creator-Focused SVOD Platform

Why Special.tv Could Be Your Home for SVOD (and TVOD)

Okay, here’s where we disprove any “all hat and no cowboy” talk. At special.tv, 90% of revenue goes to creators. This is an artist and studio friendly split. The other 10%? That goes to keeping your  channel afloat, customer & tech support, and providing white-glove services from onboarding to launch planning, to accelerating your growth, and beyond.   Special.tv’s incentives are aligned with yours, because we only make money when you do; it’s in our best interest to help you grow and maintain an audience!

We also offer global, omni-device distribution with free, one-click channel publishing (a “silver-labeled, 98% customizable platform in minutes, rather than a white-labeled development by full-stack software architects and three month lead times for feature releases). With services like special.tv, you maintain full rights and ownership of content and aren’t shackled to any contract, much less lengthy ones (seriously, it’s common for distributors and some SVOD platforms to lock creators into contracts of 10+ years).

It’s your content. Your channel. Your audience.

Then there’s the network effect where, as platforms like special.tv grow, everyone does, organically. The platform skyrockets, alongside the chance of your work getting more eyeballs on it. Reframing success comes with establishing a recurring revenue stream that provides the financial foundation for your next creative endeavor and creative freedom. Your audience, then, doesn’t waste time doomscrolling or watching cat videos (unless you’ve created a cat video channel, then, of course, they're there for you). They’re appreciative of you valuing their time and actively engage in your work. As they curate their library, other subscribers find you.

On special.tv, there are no fees, hidden or otherwise. Nobody is being charged for video hosting / hours of content / subscriber counts, feature-uses, or any of that pickpocketing. With creators or studios, we promote transparency in pricing to foster true independence and creativity--because one key ethos at special.tv is radical transparency. For distributors or even creators collaborating together, there’s no guessing about revenue split or someone to pass through to find data; watchtime analytics are available at your fingertips.

Curious to see how much you could make using an SVOD service like special.tv? See our pricing page and let us do the math for you.

True Value Comes from the Exchange of Meaningful Content -- between You and Your Audience

The most value is and always will be found in a passionate audience --even if smaller than Disney+--because these fans make up genuine communities cultivated by love of content. That's the power of creator-focused SVOD on platforms like special.tv: you're truly empowered, and your audience is too. Because who’s to say the next pop-culture phenomenon won’t be a show niche in origin when the barrier to viewing can be smashed by platforms through the SVOD model ?

Being part of this future-leaning, direct-to-fan and creator-focused move to SVOD will catapult you, as a creator, to a level where you can compete with the likes of HBO Max because you are also creating meaningful, original work. You deserve a platform that puts you in the game and doesn't take advantage of you. Special.tv's mission is to support the creation and exchange of meaningful content. We value independence and a direct, transparent, creator-focused approach, while simultaneously creating a cinematic experience for your content and audience.

Of course, we encourage you to vet out SVOD platforms including ours to find the best fit for your audience. But we’re also passionate about what we created. So if special.tv sounds like your type of platform... then your new home is waiting for you. Sign up for early access today!

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