The streaming wars are raging on and Latin America is shaping up to be one of their main battlefields. Big digital media companies are increasingly keeping a close eye to its market due to its sheer size and potential for rapid growth. Latin American video streaming subscriptions will reach 51.1 million by 2024, according to forecasts from Digital TV Research – a figure that is 60% above the end of 2019.
A growing number of video streaming services backed by technology and media behemoths are being launched across Latin America, all eyeing a share of the market that was until recently synonym of Netflix. At the end of 2016, Amazon Prime Video landed in Brazil, the region’s biggest customer base, and last year Apple TV+ made the move. Disney+ is expected to do the same by late 2020. Also, ViacomCBS recently announced the arrival in March of its free streaming service Pluto TV in Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.
They are up against local TV networks, such as Globo (Brazil) and Televisa (Mexico), traditionally the main content producers in the region, some of which already introduced their own streaming services to compete with the global dominant forces.
The first half of the 2020s is probably going to be a period with growing investment in local Latin content by the main platforms. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple+, as well as Google’s YouTube Premium and HBO Max will likely take the plunge and expand their locally produced portfolios, with a growing menu of series, films and documentaries in Spanish or Portuguese. National incumbents will either ramp up their budgets for streaming or seek partnerships and licensing agreements for their content.
There are barriers to growth in the Latin American streaming market, though, and they may come from the relatively low broadband penetration and speed. Mobile data traffic looks promising, but prepaid plans, though declining, are still the majority in the region – and those plans limit data consumption. Only a minority of fixed-line subscriptions provide connections faster than 4 Mbps, the minimum requirement to stream high-definition video.
Netflix will struggle to maintain its dominant position, with 29 million subscribers around the region, almost double of what it had in 2017. Pricing will be a key weapon in this fight. Amazon Prime Video and Apple+ arrived in Brazil charging their customers BRL 9.90 monthly, while Netflix’s basic subscription (which does not offer HD videos) cost BRL 21.90 in the country. The entrants’ prices will certainly rise, but for now the low cost is going to be their main form to lure customers away from Netflix.
Netflix actually went in the other direction and raised its prices last year by 20% in Argentina, 18.3% in Mexico and 10.1% in Brazil. Nevertheless, at around $ 5-8, the average monthly subscription fees in those countries are still among the cheapest worldwide.
Although Netflix does not reveal the number of subscribers in each country, its performance in Latin America is believed to be driven, above all, by its presence in Brazil and Mexico, the largest markets. And despite the growth in the region, Latin America is the place where subscribers generate the lowest revenue for Netflix: $ 8.21 per month, on average, per subscriber. In the United States and Canada, each subscriber generates an average monthly income of $ 12.36.
When Netflix opened its data about international markets, analysts said that the streaming platform intended to show that, despite the more competitive scenario it finds in the United States, where its subscriber base actually decreased, it still has growth potential in other countries.
Also according to Netflix, its international expansion can be credited to the good acceptance of non-English-language series and projects. The greatest example is the Spanish series La Casa de Papel, which has become very popular in Latin America.
The strategy for Amazon Prime Video is similar. In a statement, the head of international Amazon Originals, James Farrell, says: “We know our Prime Video audiences across Latin America are eager for local shows from the best local voices. And in addition to delighting local audiences, we’re thrilled to be able to bring the work of talented local writers, directors, producers and actors behind each series to an international audience of more than 100 million Prime members worldwide”.
Latin America can be roughly split into Spanish and Portuguese-speaking markets, with the biggest American platforms operating on both sides of the divide, and each of the local services offering plans for only one of them.
Blim TV is a streaming service controlled by Mexican media company Televisa that operates in various Spanish-speaking countries, including the region’s largest markets of Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. So does Movistar Play, whose content may be streamed to subscribers of its parent telecommunications brand, owned by Spain’s Telefónica.
Both already face global giants Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple+, as well as Youtube Premium and more niche platforms such as Crunchyroll, which focuses on anime and manga, and pay-per-view streaming content aggregators like Google Play Movies and HBO Go.
Smaller players complete the landscape. Two examples are Colombia’s state-owned RTVC Play, which specializes in free educational and cultural shows, and Mexican Cinepolis Klic, controlled by a movie-theater chain and offering pay-per-view content.
The scenario is basically along these lines in Brazil, Latin America’s biggest market, where the same global brands operate alongside Globoplay and Telecine Play, on demand streaming services operated by local media leader Grupo Globo. Claro Video Play, owned by Mexican telecom group América Móvil, is an exception: it offers its platform to its clients across Brazil and its Spanish-speaking neighbors.
The last of the Big Five
All eyes are on the imminent Latin American launch of Disney+, expected for October 2020 onwards, though the company released no official date. To entice new customers, Disney is bundling Hulu and ESPN+ with Disney+ in the US market, and the same thing could happen in international markets. HBO Max, the upcoming streaming service that will gather content made by WarnerMedia affiliates, has not yet made public its international expansion plans.