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How To Win the Streaming Wars? It’s Now About Subscriber Management

The powerful model of serving up what customers want when they want it, can lead to longer-term subscriptions and increase brands' bottom lines.

woman laying on couch with TV remote in her hand: subscription management
Various streaming and subscription services took off over the last two years. [Studio Firma Stocksy/]

Fear of missing out — or “FOMO” — might be one of the media industry’s greatest blessings. But it also might be its curse. People don’t want to miss out on the buzziest new show. But once it’s over, they move onto the next big thing. And that’s a huge challenge for streaming services and media providers who are looking to win the war for attention.

Take, for example, HBO. When the final season of Game of Thrones premiered in 2019, the longtime cable behemoth saw a surge in new subscribers for its HBO Max service. But when the series concluded, its numbers took a huge hit as consumers looked elsewhere for the next show. This phenomenon isn’t unique to video streaming, either. Practically any brand offering a subscription service — from gaming platforms to music streaming to digital fitness — sees this in-and-out behavior. Because customers of these services don’t get locked in with months- or years-long contracts, they don’t really have a reason to stick around and see what else the service can offer once they’ve gotten their fill.

With all of the choices available to consumers in the increasingly crowded and competitive market, subscription services are pouring tons of investments into attracting and acquiring customers to drive growth and subscription revenues. To justify ROI (return on investment), how do brands convince their customers they’ll miss out on something if they leave? By focusing on engagement and retention. Here are three ways how:

1. Build a community

With the rise of digital exercise platforms, many have moved away from the ritual of going to the gym at a scheduled time to take a class with their favorite instructor. Now they tune into on-demand classes they can take at their convenience. What many platforms are missing, however, is a way for users to build camaraderie and community like they would in real life.

Peloton is one of the platforms that figured this out right before the pandemic. Its live and on-demand classes encourage (friendly) competition with real-time leaderboards. Participants run or cycle virtually with others across the globe, and these workouts can motivate and challenge members to go further, faster, and harder than they would going solo. Its model is working — as of September 1, Peloton’s subscriber retention rate was 92%.

Streaming services can also build communities — and in many ways, recreate a phenomenon lost in the age of on-demand bingeing.

Similarly, video streaming services can also build communities — and in many ways, recreate a phenomenon lost in the age of on-demand bingeing. An extension called Teleparty, for instance, enables friends to watch shows together remotely and chat about what’s happening as they watch, bringing people together as we once did to tune into the latest episode of Mad Men or The Sopranos. Creating a network effect by using communities to make digital experiences more interactive and immersive can go a long way in engaging and retaining your subscribers.

2. Buddy up with other brands

Bundles aren’t a new concept. Cable companies have been offering expensive, bloated bundles that included a slew of channels many of their customers didn’t need or want for decades. They also had a knack for offering broadband, phone, and home alarm systems in their cable packages. But cord-cutting has spurred a steady drop in cable and satellite TV subscriptions, with consumers pursuing streaming services instead. And if subscription services partner with companies with similar customer bases, they can go a long way to enhancing their brands by building delightful experiences for customers.

Partnering with brands that offer complementary services is a great way to do bundles right.

Partnering with brands that offer complementary services is a great way to do bundles right. Subscriber management strategies can benefit from these partnerships by keeping customers more engaged with a wider spectrum of related content offerings that fit their needs. Hypothetically, Nintendo could team up with Tidal to offer a discounted bundle that can appeal to customers who would otherwise subscribe to both. The discount incentivizes them to stick with the two services because they’re getting more out of their money. And if they want to make the most of their subscription, they may spend more time exploring each platform. This way, both brands and their customers win.

3. Show your subscribers some love with loyalty programs

Die-hard miles and points chasers and casual travelers alike participate in airline and hotel loyalty programs. They could be motivated for a number of reasons like free checked bags, complimentary room upgrades, or even the prestige of being an elusive Diamond Medallion member on Delta Airlines. Whatever the case, these brands have found ways to tie their customers to their services and keep them coming back. It’s a strategy that many media brands should consider, since many don’t currently reward customer loyalty. Folding the building blocks of these loyalty programs into their subscriber management strategies can drive better engagement and retain their customers.

For example, if a streaming service partners with an audiobook subscription platform, racking up a certain number of points with the streaming service can unlock one or two free audiobook downloads. Making a game out of earning points can make staying on the streaming platform fun while earning opportunities to sample new services without risk. And once they start to accumulate points, they second-guess leaving the service because they don’t want to waste those hard-earned rewards. Meanwhile, the audiobook platform now has a new pipeline of prospective customers they can try to upsell or convert into subscribers.

There’s a tremendous opportunity for subscription services to deliver better experiences for their customers.

There’s a tremendous opportunity for subscription services to deliver better experiences for their customers. Serving up what they want when they want and enabling them to share it with whom they want can lead to longer-term subscriptions that have a huge impact on brands’ bottom lines. Customer acquisition costs approximately five times more than customer retention, so it’s in the best interest of subscription services to develop new ways to keep customers happy so that they’ll never want to say goodbye.


Siva leads global industry strategy for Media & Entertainment at Salesforce driving adoption and large scale digital transformation for clients around the world. With many years of combined experience between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, he has an acute sense of the magnitude of digital disruption that the M&E companies are going through. In his current role, he enables customers to be the disruptors rather than be disrupted.

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