The Streaming Standoff
January 9, 2020 | By Nadia Naeem
At the beginning of the decade, Netflix had just started their subscription-based online streaming service and were still competing with Blockbuster Video. Now, 10 years later, the media landscape has completely transformed. Video rental stores are practically nonexistent, Netflix and Amazon produce original series and films that garner widespread acclaim, and even cable television is on its way out. Netflix paved the way for the new era of media and entertainment, and countless other companies have followed suit. If you’re starting to get a little overwhelmed by the choices, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
Let’s start to break it down. By May 2020, with the launch of HBO Max, there will be six heavy hitters on the streaming stage: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max. Broadcast television is also attempting to stay in the ring with platforms like CBS All Access and NBC Peacock.
Disney+ launched in November 2019, but it has already seen great success, especially with its original Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. Since the first episode premiered, the internet has been obsessed with baby Yoda, which has driven a lot of interest in The Mandalorian. In addition to a successful original series, Disney has decades-worth of beloved films and series, not to mention the stronghold they have over current media with their Star Wars and Marvel film properties. Disney’s recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox, coupled with the exciting slate of content they have planned for the upcoming years, is gaining their streaming platform millions of subscribers. And, at $6.99 a month, it is one of the cheapest options on the market with exclusive access to Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic properties. Similarly to Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ is not relying solely on their streaming service for revenue like Netflix and Hulu. Disney has an extremely diverse portfolio, the factor that will likely contribute the most to its success. With the vice grip that Disney has on the entertainment industry, it is only fitting that they would create their own streaming service in order to exclusively reap the rewards of their work.
Apple TV+ is one of the more recent services to hit the market and, to be perfectly honest, it has been pretty underwhelming. Unlike most other streaming services, Apple lacks established intellectual properties and acquisitions to stream on their platform. They instead are offering a few original series with familiar faces See (Jason Mamoa), The Morning Show (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell), and Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld). Apple is also offering three children’s series as well as a nature documentary, The Elephant Queen. Critically, these shows have gained some attention: The Morning Show has been nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Drama Television Series. But because of its very limited library, Apple TV+ is at a huge disadvantage compared to its competitors.
However, they do have one key advantage: 1.4 billion active Apple devices. Apple is offering a free year of Apple TV+ to those who purchased an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, or iPod. Apple TV+, like the Apple Card, is just another attempt by Apple to make people more reliant on their products and services. Even at $5 a month, at this stage, Apple TV+ doesn’t seem worth it. Compared to newly launched Disney+, you can get tons of more content for just two more dollars a month. Apple TV+ may become a better option in the future, but only when the platform has more content available.
Some broadcast networks have also entered the field of streaming, like CBS All Access, which boasts its decades-old catalog including old favorites like I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch, not to mention their widely successful original series including Star Trek Discovery, and the new Twilight Zone. NBC’s upcoming service, Peacock, will soon be the only place to stream The Office, which has been Netflix's most popular show, clocking in more than double the amount of minutes watched than their most popular original series, Stranger Things. These networks entering the realm of streaming indicates the pressure that traditional network television is feeling from large streaming services. In 2018, Netflix beat out HBO for the first time in the highest number of Emmy nominations. During the ceremony, host Colin Jost remarked that despite the fact that NBC had the most nominations among broadcast networks that year, it was more like being “the sexiest person on life support.” This year, there are zero broadcast television shows being represented at the Golden Globes, despite its airing on NBC.
Illustrations by Nadia Naeem
HBO Max is set to launch in May of 2020. HBO’s existing streaming options are already confusing. HBO already has HBO Go and HBO Now. Go and Now are essentially the same service, with the difference being how you access them. For Go you must already have an existing HBO subscription through a cable provider or Amazon Prime, and Now is an independent subscription that costs $14.99 per month. HBO Max will be uniting content from nearly all of WarnerMedia’s properties, including HBO, DC, Cartoon Network, New Line Cinema, and Adult Swim. In July 2019, it was reported that HBO Max will have 10,000 hours of content at launch, including every episode of Friends, which will be pulled from Netflix in 2020. Warner is even trying to set up a Friends reunion on the new platform which will no doubt bring in millions of viewers. It is unknown if DC Universe, Warner’s existing DC centric streaming service, will be affected by HBO Max. All we know is that Doom Patrol, DC Universe’s most popular show, will also be available to stream on HBO Max. With an extensive amount of content and original works, HBO Max will likely be another line on the ever expanding bill for streaming consumers. At a whopping $15 a month, it will be the most expensive service on the market.
Hulu began as the main competitor against Netflix. While it doesn’t have quite the vast library that Netflix has, Hulu set itself apart by premiering episodes from popular channels the day after they premiered on cable TV. And now, with critically acclaimed shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Act, Hulu has proven itself to be a worthy competitor in the streaming landscape. Earlier this year, Disney took full operational control over Hulu. The acquisition of 21st Century Fox allowed them to become the majority stakeholder, and they will fully own Hulu once WarnerMedia sells their remaining share back. Like Netflix, Hulu will have to be prepared for the popular network shows carried on their platform to move over to new streaming sites. In Hulu’s case this includes popular NBC shows like Saturday Night Live and The Good Place. Even though Disney operates Hulu, Disney CEO Bob Iger has said that there are no plans to fold Hulu into Disney+. He intends for Hulu to be an additional asset in Disney’s streaming strategy. For a subscription to Hulu, you have two main options: Basic at $5.99 per month or Premium at $11.99 per month. The only difference between the two is that Basic runs limited ads while Premium is ad-free. With both options, consumers can add on premium channels like HBO, Showtime, and STARZ. They also both offer the option to add live TV to your subscription.
When Prime Video first started out on Amazon, most people were unaware that Amazon had video content that you could stream. Even today it is not very easy to find the Prime Video landing on Amazon’s website. Although with shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Transparent, and Fleabag, everybody knows Prime Video now. In 2011, the company rolled out Prime Instant Video which allowed Prime members to watch around 5,000 pieces of prime-eligible content. Prior to this, Amazon was offering an array of digital and physical film and television series for sale or rental. Integrating the instant streaming option helped the company to stay on the edge of the fast-changing media landscape. Around the same time Prime Instant Video started, Amazon founded Amazon Studios, a subsidiary that develops, produces, and distributes films and television series for Prime Video. Although Amazon Studios mostly caters to Prime Video, the majority of their films are usually co-distributed with another studio for theatrical releases. This is likely to allow for such films to gain Oscar contention, for which the Academy requires a minimum of a seven day theatrical release in Los Angeles. Critically, the Prime original series have gained more acclaim overall than their films, although the studio’s 2016 film Manchester By the Sea was actually the first streaming film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. A Prime membership will run you $12.99 a month, but it seems like the majority of people choose it for the free two-day shipping, the Prime Video library is just an added benefit.
And finally, let’s take a look at the one that started this all, Netflix. Netflix has been around since 1997, introduced online streaming in 2003, and in 2013 debuted its first original show, House of Cards. Since then, Netflix has become the standard for online streaming, changing media as we know it. Netflix has the largest and most diverse library of any streaming options, and as a result, there is a lot to talk about in regards to their content. Along with its exorbitant amount of acquisitions, Netflix also has a strong library of original content. Shows like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, and The Crown and films like Roma and Mudbound have gotten critical acclaim, but not all of Netflix’s content is great. Films like Death Note and Bright, which were both highly anticipated, had dismal critical and commercial reception. Season One of Insatiable was the worst reviewed show of 2018, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 13%. But with over 1,500 hours of original content on Netflix, you probably wouldn’t even know about the bad ones. Netflix just produces so much content, that you would never be able to find it, let alone watch it all.
According to a report from Variety, Netflix will have spent an estimated $15 billion on content in 2019. All this money that Netflix has poured into their original content has allowed them to set themselves apart from other services in having increasingly wide variety of shows and movies. In an article from The Hollywood Reporter, HBO’s Watchmen showrunner, Damon Lindelof remarks, "I can tell you what an HBO show is… What is a Netflix show versus a Hulu show versus an Amazon show? I can't answer that question." Netflix’s extreme variety in regards to their original content has made them hard to define. But it is this variety that actually makes Netflix a unique service that caters to people with a variety of tastes.
Additionally, Netflix does deserve recognition for their innovative “Choose Your Own Adventure” style content. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, and You vs. Wild have been Netflix's first steps into this interactive format. Experimental content ideas like this help keep the market competitive, and demonstrates that Netflix is doing anything they can in order to stay on top. Netflix has always pushed boundaries, and that is what has made them a household name.
Although they do have some great original series, it seems like older network television shows like The Office, Friends, and Parks and Recreation are getting more eyes. It is likely that Netflix will soon feel some pinch from these shows being pulled off to other streaming sites. Additionally with Netflix’s premium price point of $12.99 for standard HD viewing ($8.99 for non-HD and $15.99 for Ultra HD), they may see some defectors moving to platforms like Disney+ which includes standard and Ultra HD by default for its $6.99 price.
Netflix is also the most widely available option, accessible in 190 countries. And, they have done a great job of sourcing original content from countries other than the United States, like the German thriller Dark, and the Spanish thriller Money Heist. Netflix is giving these foreign shows a platform for their content to be viewed across the globe, connecting viewers like we’ve never seen before.
Overall, there is no doubt that Netflix and subsequent streaming services have changed the face of media. Before the 2000s words like “streaming” and “binging” were nowhere near the world of media, and now they are part of our everyday vernacular. Streaming has increased globalization in the form of increased access to foreign media content, and has put video rental stores, and cable television in the grave (almost). It is exciting to see new players enter the market and challenging Netflix’s dominancy. Competition pushes these companies to curate and create the best content that they can, which will be of great benefit to consumers.