Entertainment industry: are streaming platforms the new labels?

Sascha Seifert
7 min readSep 28, 2020
Labels, brands … from Columbia Studios to the Afroland streaming platfrom (Photo © 2020 Sascha Seifert)

From over there … to fame: A launch pad called label. In the media and entertainment world, the thing commonly called label is a brand, a trademark to discover, produce, market film or music content. Once, such labels served as titular saints for powerful companies that acted as mighty gatekeepers. They initiated and were home to some of the most relevant market- and pop-culture- developments in their respective industries ever. Until they lost ground through M&A landslides or technological progress. Or simply, because the driving forces behind them burned out. Finally, everything digital and the internet seemed to drive the business model towards extinction. Until, now in 2020, a good argument can be made that companies running streaming platforms are about to revive this influential position in their own — updated — ways.

Traditionally, in the entertainment world, labels served everybody well. They are masters in designing true fanboy paradises. If you have been a fan of certain artists or styles of film or music over the last decades, you probably have known or do still know a couple of label names that help you navigate the diverse worlds of content, art and entertainment to find what you are looking for. Apart from that, labels gave — and sometimes still give — comfortable homes to the business of creatives, artists, creators by offering safe havens to do great things with great partners, while providing everything relevant about economics and trade as well as about creative processes.

Mainly with the rise of the entertainment industries in the second half of the nineteen hundreds, labels became the industry flagship efforts and household names to brand and market the work of the underlying industry structures that included back office’s, management, distribution and production companies.

Many of these brand names became icons as big as, if not even bigger then, the brightest shining talent stars in front of cameras and microphones. It was the combination of business skills and taste as well as an inherent understanding for creativity that got labels the reputation to be the best addresses out there to create, produce and sell products like music or film mainly driven by creativity, pop-culture and cutting edge entertainment trends.

In the film world, labels like United Artists, Columbia, Universal, Warner Bros. or 20th Century Fox as well as Pathé in France or the German UFA* became brand names that globally became icons of reliable film experiences in cinemas and on television. In the music world, labels like Atlantic, Casablanca, Columbia, Def Jam, Geffen, Virgin or Death Row Records* defined the music and taste of entire generations.

Reggae fans for example knew well that Bob Marley himself had once founded the Tuff Gong label. Hence, everything released under the Tuff Gong brand was of interest for Reggae fans. The Beatles made a graphic designed image of an Apple famous long before Steve Jobs put together the first Macintosh computer — just by making Apple Records home to everything they released into the public as the Fab Four. MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) has been associated with James Bond films ever since. Under his own label creation called Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg has made some of the most popular films the globe has seen so far.

The more diversified each industry branch got, the more colourful the world of labels became, climaxing around the 1990s into the early 2000s with a deep and wide variety of labels, forming a super diverse landscape of creativity and impressive content, that easily could be navigated just by following the releases of certain labels that guaranteed to cater to ones taste. For example, one might easily spend a lifetime to oversee and truly understand the wide and deep universe of Hip-Hop and Techno Music labels, that blossomed in Europe and the US alone in the 1990ies.

The urge to constantly diversify into new and often smaller units was mostly driven by the constant temptation of creative freedom by artists and producers. Driven by stereotyped thinking about categorising the industry landscape into so-called independent labels and major labels. Sometimes for good reasons. But often as well just fostering urban legend. Lengthy, often publicly fought battles by musicians like Prince (aka LoveSymbol) or George Michael to leave the painful suffering of the alleged “evil” major label world behind echoed as well in statements by highly recognised film creatives like director Steven Soderbergh or actor Joaquin Phoenix to quit the “Hollywood System”. In the end, one rule of thumb did and still does apply: The more money and success got made, the easier some parties feel restricted from existing contractual obligations.

Nonetheless, labels ruled until a series of waves of company mergers and technical disruptions (MP3, streaming, mobile etc.) ended the heyday of labels as the ruling force of business around the begin of the new century. The process humiliated them into serving as sole trademarks to organise products by. And — at the same time — adjusting the creative industries into a new power loving normal. A normal, where, given the increasingly confusing industry landscape in general, having reliable partners for handling the business side of things became rather attractive for many creatives.

The label is dead, long live the label! So, since a while, in the wake of the success of Netflix, Hulu or AmazonPrime, there seems to be a renaissance with companies exercising essentials of the label concept to market (broad) niche streaming content. Namely as presenting, producing, marketing a selection of content based on a certain school of taste, thoughts, ideas and/or POVs or aesthetics. Just this time it seems to be, that the labels come in form of streaming platforms.

Photo © 2020 Sascha Seifert

HBO might serve as the “mother of all platforms” for film & TV here, with the pay-TV arm of what is called WarnerMedia Studios & Networks today being a longstanding example of an independently operating sales & marketing platform, that came to fame and fortune by fostering creativity and — from that — developing and producing as well as investing money into high level, super successful entertainment content across the board of almost all genres. HBO started as a pay TV channel that advanced into streaming. In many ways, Netflix just copied HBOs content strategy (high end documentaries, series) combining it with a clever and once brand new and innovative online distribution strategy. Amazon followed suit. So, in many ways, all these companies are nothing else than a reincarnation of the good old major label.

And, on the other side of the streaming platform spectrum, there are a lot of fresh ideas within the independent world as well to keep our eyes peeled for the future. New platform labels for film & TV content that curate and/or invest into/license content, that targets and serves precisely defined groups of audiences best. Niches can be super broad or fairly narrow, with “all you can eat” flat rate subscription models being the dominant business model of choice. Like, for example, “Pan African TV shows and movies” on (Afroland.tv), “horror, thriller and supernatural fiction titles” on (Shudder.com), “visionary, moving and connecting films in the flow of life” on (Pantaray.tv) ** or “original content and curated documentaries about the planet we inhabit” on (https://www.waterbearnetwork.com) — just to name a few.

In some ways, they all follow a path that got paved since 2007 by MUBI.COM — “Watch truly great cinema.” Founded as a straight forward streaming platform, the company meanwhile has pivoted into something I consider more of an online extention for offerings of high end cinematic art by today. Main difference might be it’s rather strict claim to be accepted as a curator: MUBI does limit its’ offerings to one new film per day now.

Usually, all these streaming platforms are designed as stand-alone platforms. Some just licensing content, some even producing some of their own shows already or planning to do so in the future. Often, they are available also as additional channels to be booked as niche offerings, adding to larger bundles on mainstream platforms like Apple, Amazon or Playstation; and with that being — here we go again — serving as trend-setting labels, that help customers navigate and cater to more individual (yet rather broad) niche tastes.

So far, these Platform-Labels rather seems to be a speciality of the world of the moving picture industries, with players in the music industry seemingly still being shy to flex their own muscles a bit more confidently. Sure, there is Spotify; originally a distribution only platform, they start to invest into podcasts and some forms of up and coming music artists to be exclusive on the platform as well. But, besides, the music world seems rather shy so far to venture into new platform territory. At least where it comes to multiple artists content. (Which is, fun fact, interesting, as it was the music world that first did see international artists taking their business into their own hands. Madonna once signed one of the first 360° contracts on the planet; Metallica is represented in everything business by its very own company since a very long time now … etc.) As for exclusive artist content, Neil Young is executing a very interesting concept called https://neilyoungarchives.com that does serve as a perfect example for others. NYA is a subscription-based music platform, a concert vault, a digital record store, a community, a Neil Young communications channel, Youngs personal creative playground — presenting everything Neil Young exactly the way the artist intends it to be. And, with that, doing everything artists once dreamed of doing, but couldn’t, because handling such a venture in an analogue world would simply burn all their resources.

In the end, there is one thing that made all labels great once and that makes platform labels great today: Outstanding, exclusive content that delivers to the premise of the promise. Or, in short: Content rules. Content wins. Again.

*For both lists, I just put together a random collection of names. — **Disclaimer: My own film “SLOW” is streaming on Pantaray.



Sascha Seifert

https://entertainment-venture-capital.li Analyst. Strategist. Entrepreneur. Visualist. Director. Film. Tech. On Digital transformations. Now. The Future