Battle For Streaming Supremacy
In the beginning, there was Netflix and it was good. Great in fact. Revolutionizing how entertainment was made available, subscribers had access to countless shows and movies of variety for one low price. It was soon joined by Hulu and Amazon, and though Netflix reigned supreme there was enough of a market for the others to carve out their own niche. However, in a move emulating a practice outlawed in the 1948 case, United States v. Paramount Pictures individual studios are now getting into the act and creating streaming services just for their own content. Just this year saw Warner Bros introduce HBO Max and NBC/Universal roll out the Peacock. Inevitably, with the bubble getting bigger it is bound to bust and there will be winners and losers.
Netflix is still the undisputed king, so much so that it is assumed in everyday life others you interact with have the service. But they have to contend with the fact that as individual studios create their own services hey will take the content they contracted out to Netflix for themselves. This leaves the service to increasingly rely on their own original shows and movies and they have been cranking them out to no end. They say Netflix has invested a billion dollars into their productions attracting top tier talent along and big marquee names. With every hit like Stranger Things or the Witcher, there are numerous duds. This leads to the lingering fear they may overextend their financial resources, because unlike their competition Netflix does not have a mega corporation behind them.
Naturally, in their bid to dominate all of entertainment Disney has flexed their muscle in the streamosphere. The shot across the bow was of course Disney+, which not only featured a massive archive of films, documentaries, and TV shows from the Disney Vault but also selections from: Marvel, National Geographic, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Fox. Grabbing attention from the start Disney made sure everyone knew that they would be investing big dollars into TV shows based off their beloved franchises. On premier day audiences were introduced to the critical and commercial hit the Mandalorian. Following up on this, viewers have shows based in the wildly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe on the way. Completing their grasp on the medium, the House of Mouse is now the majority owner of Hulu which gives them not only a platform for more mature offerings but also a live TV streaming service with Hulu Live. For the more sports-minded people Disney also owns ESPN+, which not only provides top tier coverage and documentaries but also live streaming of the: NHL, MLS, UFC, Serie A and more.
As mentioned before HBO Max and the Peacock both launched this year and in a bold and risky gambit, made this move without being available on Roku or Amazon Fire. This takes them out of the equation for about 50% of streamers in the country. It seems now the content providers and the content platforms are playing a game of chicken over if/when these services will be available. For HBO and their parent company Warner Brothers the launch of HBO Max only added to the overall mess of their preexisting streaming services. Before this, they already owned; HBO Go, HBO Now, as well as a superhero-based DC Universe so hyping up a new service only created confusion. Rather than focusing on a big banner original series, HBO Max has shown the spotlight on the preexisting material available. This could have been risky, but like Disney they have a massive library of content at their disposal with close to a century of films and shows from classics like Casablanca to the Harry Potter films. This says nothing of the deals they have made with other companies like: Criterion, Studio Ghibli, and the BBC. On a recent investor call, they touted a subscriber count of 4 million, but with HBO having 10 million subscribers that it 60% of their core audience (many of whom can have free access) they are missing. Publicly Warner Brothers has claimed they have it all under control but the tragic layoffs at the company as well as shuffling of leadership roles in the wake of the launch suggest otherwise. While Peacock may not be the biggest kid on the block now, they do have an ace up their sleeve for next year when they become the exclusive streaming home for fan favorite binge shows, the Office and Parks and Recreation taking two heavy hitters away from the competition.
Inevitably with this much competition it is only a matter of time before one or more streaming services falls. Granted many of them have major companies with deep pocketbooks behind them for them to completely fade away. Something like Apple TV which has barely made a blip in the streaming war may never truly be successful, but it can tread water for a long time to come. CBS All Access has been able to draw in viewers with the Star Trek franchise which has a built-in fanbase but can only take you so far. Outside of boldly going where no man has gone before, they largely have to rely on their regular CBS audience who skews older and naturally more adverse to technology. For this reason, CBS All Access would be my prediction to be the first major player to leave the game. Recently however, to promote the new Trek series Picard, they made an interesting move by partnering with their parent company Paramount’s free streaming service Pluto TV. This is a shrewd move which seemingly paid off, and hopefully it can work two ways because Pluto TV is fantastic and more people need it.
Considering that the streaming boom kicked off in large part because so many people have grown tired of paying so much for cable channels they may not even watch. But there has been grumbling that the streamosphere has begun putting a similar strain on people. As the various companies square off for dominance we will no doubt see some fall and some grow stronger as entertainment is changed forever.