Netflix and chill no more – streaming getting complicated
Streaming TV may never again be as simple, or as affordable, as it is now.
Disney and WarnerMedia are each launching their own streaming services in 2019 in a challenge to Netflix’s dominance. Netflix viewers will no longer be able to watch hit movies such as “Black Panther” or “Moana,” which will soon reside on Disney’s subscription service. WarnerMedia, a unit of AT&T, will also soon have its own service to showcase its library of blockbuster films and HBO series.
Families will have to decide between paying more each month or losing access to some of their favorite dramas, comedies, musicals and action flicks.
“There’s definitely a lot of change coming,” said Paul Verna at eMarketer, a digital research company. “People will have more choices of what to stream, but at the same time the market is already fragmented, and intimidating and it is only going to get more so.”
Media companies are seeking to capitalize on the popularity and profitability of streaming. But by fragmenting the market, they’re also narrowing the once wide selection that fueled the rise of internet-based video. About 55 percent of U.S. households now subscribe to paid streaming video services, up from just 10 percent in 2009, according to research firm Deloitte.
Just as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime tempted people to “cut the cord” by canceling traditional cable TV packages, the newer services are looking to dismember those more-inclusive options.
Disney Plus is set to launch late next year with new Marvel and Star Wars programming, along with its library of animated and live-action movies and shows. It hasn’t announced pricing yet, but Disney CEO Bob Iger said in an August call with analysts that it will likely be less than Netflix, which runs $8 to $14 a month, since its library will be smaller.
AT&T plans a three-tier offering from WarnerMedia, with a slate of new and library content centered around the existing HBO streaming app. No word on pricing yet.
Individual channels, such as Fox, ESPN, CBS and Showtime, are also getting into the act. Research group TDG predicts that every major TV network will launch a direct-to-consumer streaming service in the next five years.
Netflix and others have invested heavily in original movies and TV shows to keep their customers loyal. Netflix, for instance, said Wednesday that 45 million subscriber accounts worldwide watched the Sandra Bullock thriller “Bird Box” during its first seven days on the service, the biggest first-week success of any movie made for the company’s nearly 12-year-old streaming service.
That first-week audience means nearly a third of Netflix’s 137 million subscribers watched the movie from Dec. 21 through Dec. 27 – a holiday-season stretch when many people aren’t working and have more free time.
But Netflix, Hulu and others may soon have to do without programs and movies licensed from their soon-to-be rivals. In Dec-ember, Netflix paid a reported $100 million to continue licensing “Friends” from WarnerMedia.
Why are media companies looking to get in? Data and dollars. Sure, they get money when they sell their programs to other services such as Netflix. But starting their own service allows networks and studios access to valuable data about who is binging on their shows.
The business model that some networks and content companies are currently using, distributing their TV shows and movies only by licensing them to streaming platforms, is getting “disrupted aggressively” as more companies launch their own services, said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, whose company acquired WarnerMedia in June.
A multiplicity of streaming services could easily overwhelm or confuse consumers. To get a full slate of programming, TV watchers may soon have to subscribe to several services instead of just one or two.