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Streaming Services Contend with ‘Serial Subscribers’ Who Quit and Rejoin Later

Michael King

“Serial subscribers” are those who cancel services, then resubscribe later. There may be any number of reasons for this. It could be due to a particular sporting season or a particular show that only comes up at a specific point in the year. Or it could be due to a change in personal financial status, due to a loss of income or a re-evaluation of spending.

According to Interpret’s recent VideoWatch report, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ have about one-tenth of their current U.S. subscriber bases in this “serial subscriber” category. These numbers go up to about one-in-four for a service like Apple TV+, and can get as high as one-in-three for a virtual multichannel video programming distributor (vMVPD) like Hulu+Live TV.

Services with lower penetration rates are often perceived as complementary to a viewer’s portfolio. For these services, consumers are more likely to dip in and out of their vMVPD subscriptions, based on the releases of popular titles.

Serial subscribers who return to those services often expect to pick back up on their content preferences and user experiences right where they left off when they canceled. This can create a data management and continuity challenge for service providers.

On the other hand, the experiences of these serial subscribers can be very helpful for providers who tailor their products to those subscribers, recognizing the value of multiple cancellations and reacquisitions.

For example, HBO consistently saw large content-driven cancellations and reacquisitions between seasons of Game of Thrones, however, they were able to build a larger audience across each season of the series.

Disney+ may have cracked the code to keeping subscribers for a longer term. By releasing popular shows like The Mandalorian one week at a time, viewers would need to hang on for at least two-to-three months to see the entire program. Services that employ the Netflix binge model are more likely to see violent swings of usership. Even Netflix itself is dabbling with a slower roll-out of its more popular shows.

As mentioned in the beginning, viewers whose cancellations are tied to specific financial reasons or price sensitivities may also be ready to resubscribe to a service when their personal financial situation changes — or when new promotions become more favorable. Managing serial subscribers requires a clear appreciation of the motivations for cancellation in the first place, along with appropriate data and communication so that providers can target them with relevant offers when the timing is right.

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