LTR - Oct 17 - The growth charts of Internet dating services and apps have been relatively flat in recent years. Geoff Cook, CEO of The Meet Group, believes Reality TV 2.0 will revitalize the growth of the Internet Dating Industry. One-to-many broadcast video may be the key to improving user engagement and stimulating revenues. Social video platforms like Twitch have created a new version of celebrity and generated billions of dollars in revenue. Replicating this model in online dating may be the remedy the needs. Geoff Cook provides a wealth of information in the latest video in the LTR webinar series.
The topic of my talk is Reality TV 2.0 and why I think that's the answer to dating app flatness. So that may surprise you, but dating apps are essentially flat the world over. You don't have to take it from me. You could look at AppAnnie data for any popular dating app in the world. In August this year, Tinder had 61 million monthly users globally, which was down slightly from 64 million a year ago. And no, they didn't all go to Bumble. According to AppAnnie, Bumble was flat to down as well. I believe dating needs a new trick, something other than selling more and higher priced subscriptions. Subscription-based dating just isn't what it used to be. It's peaking.
The largest dating company in the world, the Match Group, had 9 million subscribers last year, but it has only about 10 million subscribers this year. If you assume Wall Street analysts are right and about 60% of Match's subscriptions are Tinder, then only about 10% of dating app users will ever pay for a subscription. These services are optimized to do nothing but drive the highest possible number of subscribers and extract the most value out of each one. I say 10% is not good enough. 90% of the audience should not be reduced to being merely the content for the other 10%. 10% cannot be the global maximum of payers. It must represent only a local maximum, and a failure of product imagination. Dating apps must find a way to monetize the other 90%. This audience represents the latent potential for dating industry growth.
Imagine hundreds of millions of more users monetizing in some way, other than buying a boring monthly subscription. I know charging more for subscriptions is not an answer to slowing dating industry growth. This is easy to see. Imagine a restaurant that sells lunch for $20. If the manager were a genius, she might be able to raise the price of lunch from $20 to $40 without reducing the number of patrons. But that trick is not going to last forever. Just about no one is going to spend a hundred dollars for lunch and no one is going to spend a hundred dollars a month for a dating app either.
There's another problem with subscriptions. They cap every buyer at too low a limit of spending. Someone may be willing to pay a thousand dollars, or even $10,000 a month, on dating related products, but with the subscription only product that person will pay the same as about everyone else. This is generally about $25 a month today. Yes, the dating app could try to vary subscription prices by age and gender, but only if it doesn't mind being sued out of existence by class action claims of price discrimination. Dating apps need a new trick.
I'm not saying it hasn't been a good run but monetizing only the top 10% was never going to work forever. It's time to diversify away from subscription, but towards what? I say entertainment. Dating has been entertaining audiences for decades. It was 55 years ago that the Dating Game launched on ABC. Blind Date, Temptation Island, the Bachelor and scores of other dating shows followed. Since 2000 and the dawning of the age of low-cost reality television, dating shows became only more popular. In many ways. Dating shows are the original reality TV.
So, what does reality TV to look like? This question is more relevant than ever because reality TV 1.0 is over. Just this week on Tuesday, Kim Kardashians broke the news on Instagram that Keeping Up With the Kardashians will be ending after a 14-year run. It's not hard to speculate why. The answer is certainly not flagging interest in the famous family’s shenanigans. Far from it. The family has 782 million Instagram followers.
It's clear what is disrupting reality television. No cost reality content is streaming everywhere. It's on your phone and it's on the internet, but now the stars know who you are. They respond to you in real-time on chats. They call out your name on channels, like Twitch’s Just Chatting, Instagram Live, and Tik Tok. And yes, you can even date them. They might not be television stars, but in the aggregate, they're bigger than all the television stars put together. Live streaming video has enabled influencers to find an audience and make a living with as few as several hundred paying fans. At the end, influencers with tens of thousands of paying fans can make a killing without being beholden to television networks and long-term contracts.
The solution to dating app doldrums is obvious. Dating apps should own the modern dating game. The next Bachelor, the next Are You the One should be live streamed on Tinder or on Bumble or on Grindr. Only there should be no stars or at least the stars should have no more access to the platform than anyone else, only more fans. Anyone should be able to be the star of her own dating game. It is high time dating apps see the space that is rightfully theirs and own the dating reality show genre. If they don't, it's quite clear what will happen. Facebook or Amazon will. After all, those are the companies with limitless resources and massive existing live streaming platforms with the AI capacity to show the right stream to the right user at the right time.
What would a modern dating show look like? It would look like a hot mess and that's why people would watch it. People love to live vicariously through their perceived betters. That's why celebrity is a thing. What it won't look like is HQ. It won't be slickly produced scheduled content. It will always be on, at times wacky, and dare I say it even fun. It will look like Twitch except for dating. Most of the people, tens of millions of people will be there for love. At the highest end, a new breed of dating celebrity would earn $10 million a year live streaming. While many thousands more would earn hundreds of thousands a year. After all, most people on Twitch aren't there to make money. They're there for community and for fun, but that doesn't stop Twitch from being any less profitable. Twitch streamers make billions of dollars a year.
The same would be true of streamers on dating apps, even if only 5 million of Tinder's 20 plus million estimated daily daters watch live streams, and each one spent, on average, only 60 cents, that's a billion dollars a year in revenue. It's a layup, and that's just one app. The dating industry is so much bigger than one app. In every respect, the concept is analogous to how Snapchat built a content business on top of its messaging distribution. When you have so many tens of millions of daily users sending billions of chats every day, you only need 15% of them to spend 30 minutes more to build one of the largest content companies on the planet.
And what's the alternative exactly? The pandemic has forever changed the nature of dating, tilting it toward video. That much is obvious. Daters are hungry for more video. The only question is in what form. Sure, one-on-one video has a place, but somewhere less than 5% of all daily daters will ever engage in one-on-one video on a mainstream dating app. There's a reason, no dating app company ever touts this statistic. It's too low. Why does one-on-one matter so little? You know, could it be because it's the highest friction product imaginable? One-on-one video is essentially a lousy product that dating apps must offer simply because you expect them to, even though they know you'll never use it.
One-on-one video requires that both sides of the conversation be clothed, ready, and willing to stream, as well as wanting to consume the stream of another long tail content producer who is similarly ready and willing to stream. One-on-one video is a shadow of the potential of its more interesting cousin, broadcast video. Broadcast video, or one-to-many video, requires none of those things. The beauty of broadcast video is that there are 10 people willing to view a stream for every one person willing to create one. And therein lies both the engagement and the monetization magic. Some of those 10 viewers will monetize.
On Twitch, the top video game streamers earn millions of dollars through broadcast video. The same is true on China's Momo dating platform. What's more, on both Twitch and Momo, they earn the same way from virtual gifts, a form of tipping. It is a way of supporting influencers. The model has been proven again and again, and it's coming to a dating app near you and hopefully soon. Virtual gifting monetizes those who would never pay for a subscription and unlike subscription it monetizes up to each individual spender's willingness to pay. It's the right product at the right time for an industry badly in need of a second act.
While the monetization potential of broadcast video is tremendous, it is its capacity for engagement that keeps users coming back. Dating apps are not exactly the greatest products on earth. Let's be clear. Their net promoter scores are generally negative. People mostly hate them. Hinge, one of the most popular dating apps in the world, has the slogan "designed to be deleted." What if a dating app could be just a little more fun? What if it was like a neighborhood bar nightclub? What if it felt alive? What if at the moment you were waiting for a chat or after you've swiped right on your daily quota, and while no one is matching you, when your loneliness is at its peak, what if at that moment you could easily connect with someone nearby live? What if they call out your name when you entered their stream? What if they respond to the questions you ask in chat? What if you could even join them streaming? What if there's chemistry? What if you could even meet them in real life? It's not crazy to add an element of fun to a dating category so stridently defined for its joylessness. If dating apps can provide a meaningful connection and an antidote to loneliness through low friction live streaming video, then why don't they? Video killed the radio star, and if dating apps don't change, it will kill the swipe too.