I don’t know if the ongoing explosion of video streaming services is a “massive toll on America’s middle class,” as Noah Gittell puts it, but I think the day will soon come when consumers look over their various monthly subscription fees for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV, Fubo, Sling, YouTube TV, Playstation Vue, RedBox, GooglePlay, and all the rest and start getting pickier and choosier — assuming that day hasn’t arrived already.
For example, judging from the revenue from the Batman movie series and Aquaman and Shazam, lots of people like the DC comics superheroes. But only a fraction are willing to pay $7.99 for the “DC Universe” streaming service, a library of superhero films, animated series, and a handful of original series. And Warner Brothers, which owns DC comics, is reportedly creating its own streaming service that would include HBO and Cinemax along with Warner Bros. TV shows and movies.
When push comes to shove, and consumers start limiting themselves to just their top few streaming services, Disney+ is going to scoop up a lot of those dollars. Disney’s got three off-the-charts popular franchises in entertainment: its own previously existing children’s entertainment options (Mickey Mouse, The Lion King, and the rest), the Marvel superhero franchises, and Star Wars. If you’re going to kick off a new streaming service, there aren’t many better ways to grab people’s attention than to announce your new service will be the only way to watch two new live-action Star Wars series and four new live-action Marvel superhero miniseries, in addition to a pair of new animated series. If you’ve got kids, there’s a good chance the Disney corporation gets a big chunk of your discretionary income anyway.
The streaming services have become the new television networks, without the traditional revenue method of commercial breaks. This moment should be a golden age for those who create movies and television shows, because there’s never been more venues willing to bring a show to an audience: Almost all of these streaming services are desperate for original content. Netflix produced 1,500 hours of original content in 2018. If you watched all of their original shows and movies nonstop, 24 hours a day, it would take nine weeks.
But the gargantuan avalanche of original programming over a dozen or more streaming services will come to an end, and perhaps sooner than anyone thinks, because not all of these streaming services are going to find enough subscribers to sustain themselves. Once people start paying for Disney+ in November, they’re probably going to rethink whether they still want their subscription to other services. As streaming services start to close up shop, the most liked and watched original programs will either get picked up by other streaming services or get canceled prematurely — a fate that has befallen many beloved programs over the years.
Within a few years, American’s entertainment consumers probably won’t be subscribing to a half-dozen or more streaming services; you’ll see consolidation into a handful that dominate the market. And the prices for those preferred services will probably be not all that different from the pre-Netflix days when cable dominated the market.