The internet became mainstream in the mid-1990s. Some people considered it little more than a passing fad – they were wrong, of course. Today, the internet plays an ever-increasingly important part in our lives. It brings us everything from weather alerts to the latest soccer news, and it has become the main channel through which we consume our entertainment. Let’s see how the streaming war confuses viewers.
Online entertainment today relies mostly on streaming. Social media influencers keep in touch with their audiences through live videos on Instagram, gamers stream to their communities via Twitch, and the list could go on and on. When it comes to pre-recorded entertainment – movies and series – streaming is overtaking broadcast media at a very fast pace. And why shouldn’t it? Half of the world’s population now has access to connected devices that can be used to stream media. It’s needless to say that streaming is a big success – and as such, it’s grounds for a new commercial war between media companies.
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From Netflix to… confusion
Netflix was the first to experiment with commercial video streaming, back when its main activity was sending out DVDs by mail. They first experimented with a set-top box that would allow streaming, then gave up on the idea, switching to an internet streaming model in 2007. While their streaming offer was weak at the time – only about 1000 movies and TV shows as opposed to the more than 100,000 available on DVD – the popularity of the service skyrocketed. This, as you might expect, led to the dropping of DVD rentals entirely, and in time, the global expansion of the streaming service.
The success of Netflix has, of course, inspired other companies to expand in the same direction. The most notable streaming services to grow in parallel with Netflix were Hulu and HBO Go – but both of them were closely tied to their broadcast “parents” (Fox and HBO) and had no exclusive content. At the same time, Netflix invested in original and exclusive content – one of its first hit series was David Fincher’s “House of Cards” which is considered, to this day, one of the best political dramas ever created. Of course, users flocked to the service – from 24.3 million users in 2011, its subscriber base grew to more than 36 million in just two years.
After Netflix went global in 2015 and saw its subscriber numbers skyrocket (today, it has more than 200 million active subscribers), traditional media conglomerates also wanted a slice of the pie. And this is when things started to get confusing.
The streaming wars begin
Movie and TV franchises belong to their respective owners. Everything that’s not a “Netflix original” is licensed by the streaming giant – this includes popular franchises like Marvel and DC and beloved older shows like The Office and Star Trek. At the beginning of the streaming wars, the owners of these franchises wanted them back as exclusive content for their own streaming services.
Netflix’s successful Marvel series – Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, and the ensemble series The Defenders – was discontinued when Disney announced its own streaming service, Disney+. The successful sitcom The Office left Netflix on January 1st 2021 to live on at NBC Universal’s own streaming service Peacock. And Friends, the beloved 1990s sitcom, left the service to find a new home on WarnerMedia’s own HBO Max. Suddenly, fans of these series were left wondering what to do next – especially international fans who still don’t have access to their favourite series as the services they “live” on are not available in their countries.
But massive media companies are not the only ones to shoot salvos in the war. Retail giant Amazon has its own slice of the pie with Prime Video, complete with its own original content. Apple has also started its own and invested hundreds of millions in content for Apple TV+.
The streaming wars have already made a few victims, too. Quibi, the streaming service focusing on short-form, mobile-first content has already crumbled, and Warner’s DC-themed streaming service DC Universe has also been discontinued. Plus, the big ones are buying up media libraries like crazy – Amazon has, for example, recently purchased film and TV company MGM for almost $9 billion, complete with its 4000 movies and 17000 TV series.
And now, the end-user is becoming confused by the increasingly competitive streaming market.
Right now, Netflix offers the best value for their money when it comes to the sheer size of its content library that includes more than 5000 content titles (in the US). It releases originals at the fastest pace, has the most critically acclaimed series and movies (and a bunch of truly garbage ones, too, to be honest), and has the biggest international presence.
The other major names competing for the attention of the viewers are Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and HBO Max. Prime Video has a pretty wide international presence but its content library is pretty small compared to Netflix. Disney+ and HBO Max are in the process of expanding globally, so their reach (and their subscriber base) is still small compared to what Netflix has to offer. Apple TV+ is still struggling to find its place, competing for the attention of the viewer with some truly ambitious originals and friendly prices. Hulu is still mostly an American exclusive – Disney has big plans for it (like turning it into a less kid-friendly alternative to Disney+) but they are at the very beginning. And Peacock, NBC Universal’s own streaming service, is still tied to cable TV subscriptions and is pretty much only available in the US and Canada.
And the end-user is confused. All of the above are releasing original content worthy of our attention at a pace we’ve never seen before. Which one should we subscribe to? Which series should we follow, and which one should we skip? And most importantly, how much is too much to pay for streaming subscriptions in a month?
Or should we simply forget about streaming altogether and wait for the remaining broadcast TV stations to license the original shows?