Saturday, July 27, 2019

Weekend Post

An article in the UK’s GUARDIAN speculates that the golden age of streaming television is about to come to an end. Now that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are thriving while network television is dying, content providers want to get in on the action with their own subscription streaming services.

Why do you think Disney bought 20th Century Fox? For it’s library. For its franchises. Later this year Disney will roll out their own streaming service. If you want to see Snow White and Captain America and MASH you better pay the mouse.

Apple is debuting their own service. WB is soon to follow. As will be NBC-Universal. The article states that the most watched show on Netflix (by a wide margin) is the U.S. version of THE OFFICE. That goes away to Universal. FRIENDS is probably next. Bye bye FRIENDS unless you sign up for the WB.

So the article suggests that television viewing is going to get a lot more expensive in the next few years.

A number of readers have what I thought. So here’s what I think:


It’s one thing when a couple of services have most everything you want. But it’s another to shell out $12 a month or more to Netflix, AND Hulu, Amazon, Disney, Apple, Universal, Warner Brothers, CBS All-Access, HBO, Facebook, YouTube, Showtime, and does the Vice Channel continue to exist?

So you’ll be picking and choosing, maybe subscribing to two, possibly three. Are you a big STAR TREK fan? Then CBS All-Access will be your dish, although the rest of the programming is primarily old episodes of CBS shows. You can spend your weekend binging MAN WITH A PLAN episodes.

Eventually some services will work and others won’t. Disney will be a runaway success. A huge library and who doesn’t love Disney? You have a kid? You’re getting Disney. They’ll also have THE SIMPSONS, MARVEL UNIVERSE, Pixar, and STAR WARS franchises. CBS All-Access has STAR TREK, THE GOOD FIGHT, and KEVIN CAN WAIT Big whoop.

My hope is that in time the weaker services will merge and after a shakedown of a few years there will once again by two or three giant streaming services. But they’ll be charging you $40 a month instead of $12.

Remember the days when your biggest complaint was that your favorite shows had too many commercials? Trust me, you will long for those days.


E. Yarber said...

The emergence of streaming media is in many ways a return to the early 1950s when television was taking off just as the government had broken up the cozy relationship the studios had owning their own theaters. I've spouted some of this history before, but let's take one more look at the picture.

MCA, under Lew Wasserman, saw the writing on the wall while the old moguls were in denial, and moved ruthlessly to take advantage of the weakened position of the majors. First they purchased the Paramount back catalog for television rentals, a multi-million deal that literally paid for itself, as the income from the movies reached the full value of the price within a year. They used that money to set up Revue Studios, a major supplier of television programs, and in turn the revenue from those shows gave them the capital to purchase Universal.

Netflix tried something similar, but from a weakened position. Originally using the Amazon notion of getting beyond the limits of physical stores, they set up themselves up as the video rental place that had EVERYTHING. In time they were able to kill off the Blockbuster chain (which had already killed off mom-and-pop video stores) by developing a customer base that got used to renting discs by mail. Their next stop was shifting that base to their streaming platform, which couldn't hold EVERYTHING but seemed to have enough. They paid terrible rates to third-party creators, however, because at that time they were the only game in town, and their next goal in any case was to put their own product up front.

That's where the edges started to fray, however. Unlike MCA, they hadn't bought their bread-and-butter backlog of programming outright, and their own shows were generally cancelled as soon as they became more expensive to produce. (The company makes programming decisions based on rigid economic analytics rather than viewer popularity). They may have had a loyal viewership who were more than happy to let Netflix kill Hollywood the same way they had Blockbuster, but Hollywood wasn't going to let that happen without a fight. They're taking their shows back and eventually Netflix will be a much smaller player in a growing field of competitors. Frankly, the studios are better positioned to create "must-see" product on their own platforms, so Netflix will lose their initial advantage and customers will simply pay through the nose to have EVERYTHING. Netflix didn't seem to have the long-term plan that Wasserman carefully built step by step.

Pat Reeder said...

I subscribed to Netflix about six months ago under the mistaken impression that I would have access to a lot of older movies. Turned out I had to pay extra for the DVD service. Even that's turned out to be a disappointment. Some of the films I most wanted to see are listed on the site, but try ordering them and oops! They aren't in stock, so I'm on the waiting list. I'm ready to cancel the whole thing. Amazon Prime and the various Firebox apps like TCM give me more of what I'd want to watch than I have time for anyway. For things I can watch again and again, like the Marx Brothers films, "MASH" or "Twilight Zone," I've bought the entire lot on DVD or Blu-Ray when they went on deep-discount sales at Amazon.

This is also why I refuse to sell off my massive collection of LPs and CDs for streaming music. I'll use Amazon streaming for convenience, as long as it's cheap. But if you don't own hard copies of your music, then you don't own it. Streaming, whether music or video, can be taken away from you at any time, for any reason from a terms of service change to a bankruptcy or takeover. My rule of thumb: Never give one of these big tech companies control over any of your data. Besides, buying a CD actually gives money to the musicians.

Michael Hagerty said...

...and this started out as a good thing---cord-cutting. Why pay the cable company $80 when you can get NETFLIX for $10?

And Ken, you and I are both old enough to remember our fathers saying "PAY TV??? What kinda cockamamie idea is that?"

William said...

Not stating a preference, just giving a prediction. Piracy will be one big winner. If the content is spread thin and keeping up with everything becomes unaffordable for the average Joe, then piracy will rise again.

Keith Nichols said...

I don't foresee me paying to see crap sitcoms and cop shows that I avoid when they're free; so this trend toward pay-to-view will only drive me back to the public library and into my own library. TV-watching is basically a habit, anyway -- one that's easier to break than smoking.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Commercials is actually why I have an issue with Hulu: they won't let you skip commercials.

Then again, my biggest issue with Hulu is that it used be to good when it first started, because when it first started, not only was it free, but it was essentially an alternative to YouTube, and not competition with Netflix and other streaming services.

Buttermilk Sky said...

How long before Disney and the rest start adding commercials, like Sundance and other "premium" channels we have now? And you'll keep on paying every month because the kids must have LION KING, etc. There is no escape from the Mad Men, or the greed of the networks.

Frank Beans said...

I concur with some other commenters: Local libraries will continue to be crucial. I'm lucky enough to live in a mid-sized city where we have an excellent one, with most things I could want, including television series, documentaries, and rare films. And online piracy will inevitably return too. Maybe not as renegade as in the 90s-2000s, but it will be done. And really, if you can stream something, you can record it.

Media conglomerates will try to squeeze as much profit as they can at first, but it will eventually devolve back into something like what it is now. Nobody is going to pay $40 a month very long for shit they can get for free.

Mike Bloodworth said...

You know the old saying, "I've never paid for it in my life" Well, I can say that about television programming. There's been an antenna on my roof for as long as I can remember. (Replaced, occasionally over the years)
Quite honestly, I miss out on a lot. I no longer get to see the Lakers, Dodgers and the PAC 12 due their cable only deals. I can't watch "South Park" since it moved to HULU. My cousin's wife says that the new "Star Trek" is surprisingly good, yet there's no way I'm going to pay CBS for it.
Movies like "Snow White" and "Bambi" are true classics. But, a lot of what they show on the Disney channel is pure crap. I believe that many shows on pay-cable are overrated. So, you can imagine that to fill space these streaming services will also be airing less than stellar material. Pardon the cliche, but it looks like it Will be feast or famine.

I've said this many times before, but maybe it's time to turn of the TV and read a book. The library is still free.
Maybe E. Yarber would loan me some of his ancient Greek stuff.
Another option, go see one of Ken's plays.

Blackbeard said...

Andrew Ross is right. Time to fire up BitLord. Simple solution and free. And the industry will once again have done it to themselves.

The Good Fight was a show I wanted to watch but I'm not paying extra for CBS. Period. Then they air the first season on broadcast CBS only to be blacked out on AT&T services. If it requires that many hoops to watch a show, I'll go get it myself.

Roy DeRousse said...

Friends is definitely leaving Netflix at the end of this year.

VincentS said...

We'll see what happens. If progressives continue to gain influence we might see a breakup of near-monopolies like Disney and Amazon the way the studio system was broken up in the 60s.

Jeff Boice said...

I did see where the CEO of Netflix said he was more worried about Fortnite than he was about Disney Plus. Another wild card is legalized sports betting- particularly after 5G rolls out. Once I inadvertently got onto the ESPN Australia site, and I noticed on their listing of MLB games you could click on "Bet now". Of course you have to be in Australia...

The issue is going to be how much money Disney will lose during the Disney Plus startup- I know Mr. Iger is planning to retire in a couple of years anyway, but there is that Commandment about maximizing return on investment to the shareholders.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Mike Bloodworth: A lot of places the library isn't that well stocked - and in those places you probably can't see one of Ken's plays, either. That said, it's a lot easier outside the US to get a really good mix of free-to-air programming. When I was living in Ithaca, NY if you didn't have cable you barely had TV, and what you did have was snowy and unwatchable. Cable started in places like that. In London, via the antenna I have the BBC, ITV, Channels 4 & 5, and then a bunch of other things like Sky News, BBC Parliament, and a bunch of channels I never watch. Plus everything that's on the web.

It's easy to underestimate Netflix, though. I think it has a lot of problems - debt is a huge issue. But the company *has* done a good job of global expansion - it's a big deal in all sorts of countries, including the UK and Australia, and it's been building up local content libraries aimed at those markets. Among the upcoming competitors, only Disney has a really significant global brand. Maybe Warner Brothers. Nonetheless, the Guardian article says what I've been predicting myself for some time now (fairly sure I posted it here at the time...)


Wally said...

@patreeder Check this out

Tony.T said...

The problem I find with streaming shows is that even if I like a show, I often just stop watching them mid run. They don't hold me.

MikeN said...

Comcast will eventually cut deals to show parts of each service, and have it convenient in one bill.
Their cable box already will connect to your Netflix.

Jeffrey Graebner said...

I think the Guardian article as well as Ken and many of the commenters here are really misunderstanding the direction the industry is going. These streaming services are rapidly becoming the primary source of television programming. In a very short time, traditional broadcast and cable networks are either going to become very niche or, more likely, will simply go away completely. The number of people consuming TV over the air has already dropped to a small percentage (the most recent statistic I could find was 14%) of the population.

A quick Google search finds that the average cable TV bill is around $107/month, but it isn't going to be long before most customers are redirecting that money to streaming services instead. While I suspect the streaming business will probably consolidate down to 5 or 6 major players, the cost of subscribing to all of them will probably be no more than what most people pay for cable now.

I think the big media companies likely understand this. By next year, Disney will have three major streaming services: Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. It isn't hard to imagine these essentially replacing Disney Channel, ESPN, and even ABC in the not too distant future. Similarly, it isn't too hard to understand why AT&T/Warner decided to use HBO branding on their recently announced streaming service.

For scripted programming, the idea of watching at a scheduled time is already pretty alien to pretty much anyone under 20 or so and older audiences are also rapidly becoming used to on-demand viewing. It won't be long before it is the norm for everything but news, sports, award shows, and other similar events. There is no reason those can't be offered by streaming services as well. The big broadcast and cable networks already typically offer their feeds online and we've even seen streaming services such as Amazon, YouTube and even Twitter experimenting with live streaming sporting events.

Finally, I've never found the whole argument compelling that people will resort to piracy due to their being too many services. First, the necessary technical skills and friction to piracy, plus the ethical concerns, are always going to eliminate it as a possibility for most people. Those that are apt to pirate programming are going to keep doing it regardless of how many services there are and what they charge, while everyone else is going to either pay or do without.

I'm Outraged! said...

Free to air television isn't going to die, it will never disappear.

Peter said...

On youtube recently I stumbled upon clips of a mind blowingly unfunny sitcom called Malibu Dan the Family Man. It turns out it's a show on a streaming service called Pure Flix, which is described as a Christian Netflix. I'm guessing Mike Huckabee subscribes to it.

Malibu Dan isn't just appallingly unfunny, it looks like the work of people who've never watched a real sitcom in their lives and don't have the first clue about structure and story. I get that Christians want their comedy to be anodyne and family friendly, but this is so bland and moronic, it makes My Little Margie look like Natural Born Killers.

It's worth looking up a clip to see for yourself how terrible it is. It's actually unintentionally funny in its awfulness.

Anonymous said...

This situation is somewhat similar to US free to air TV around the 1990's.

The studios all got their hands on a free to air major TV network, believing them to be gold mines.

Fox (FOX) was the first, so did Paramount (UPN) , Warner Brothers (WB), Disney (ABC) and Universal (NBC).

And how did that end up?

The eventual imploding-

Warner Brother and Paramount merged because the waters weren't as rosy as they expected.

While the others seem to be riding the waves OK ... for now.

(M. Kirby)
I do not want a Google account)

DavidG said...

E. Yarber makes some good points, but Netflix have to deal with very different studios than Wasserman. In the 50s the studios were happy to make a quick buck by selling their catalogue for next to nothing, because they saw most of it as worthless (except Disney of course, Walt was no fool, and never gave away permanent rights to anything, having been burnt in the past). The current ones are not that dumb, so Netflix couldn't get the same sort of cash. And in the 50s the studios refused to make content for TV, who they saw as the enemy (Walt was the exception there too, hence Mickey Mouse Club and World of Disney). MCA filled that gap. Now of course the studios are not so proud. So, less money, and more competition, tougher world.

Charles Bryan said...

My recommendation: Subscribe on a monthly basis. Cancel after binging. Resubscribe as needed. Rinse and repeat.

The only two ongoing services that I keep are YouTubeTV (because of all of the sports channels and cloud DVR) and HBO Now.

E. Yarber said...

Netflix is definitely not going to repeat the MCA experience.

Like Revue/Universal's TV department, Netflix is obsessed with the bottom line. (Samuel Fuller wrote and directed the pilot of THE VIRGINIAN but declined an offer to remain with the series, explaining that while he was used to low budgets, Universal's production methods were too rushed and careless for his taste). Unlike Netflix, however, MCA had a supreme ability to maximize their profits with Other People's Money, taking full advantage of television's need for more and more product. Netflix is stuck promising to regularly bring in X-million more subscribers to increase their revenue, and their stock took a tumble when they failed to reach their target in the first quarter of this year. Their business model is built on the idea of unlimited growth, which is simply impossible, and charging for the platform rather than individual projects means that successful shows actually become a liability for them because they don't bring in more money while costing more to sustain. I think the studios are watching Netflix's rise and fall very carefully and will try not to paint themselves into the same corner.

I don't mean to particularly bash Netflix, but at the same time it got a bit tiring to listen to people go on about how the company had changed the entire model for entertainment and would dominate Hollywood when it was rather clear that their advantage was temporary. They began as a distribution service, neither making films nor manufacturing DVDs, but found a niche buying copies of everything for viewers who had trouble finding certain discs at their local Blockbuster. The streaming service emerged as an extension of that service, but bandwidth limited their inventory. Independent filmmakers who thought they could join that bandwagon were offered little beyond "exposure" if they accepted the lowball terms Netflix offered, and it was known that the company was going to put such small fish deep in the background as they tried to launch their own production slate. They'll survive in a diminished capacity, but aren't going the seize the industry the way MCA managed to do in a different climate.

E. Yarber said...

And as if my last comment didn't go on too long, I'm reminded of a story that pretty much epitomizes the way MCA did business.

Universal made WAGON TRAIN for NBC, and the network found the show so successful that they ran repeats of previous seasons in prime time. When it came time to set up a new season, the MCA representative phoned to say that from now on, the network would have to pay TWICE as much to Universal to keep showing the repeats. This was quite a chunk of money for the company to spend on second-run programming, so the NBC executive asked for a little time to consider the offer.

A few hours later, MCA called back and said, "You're TOO LATE to save WAGON TRAIN! We just sold the show to ABC! However, we'll offer you a NEW program called THE VIRGINIAN! It'll be NINETY MINUTES LONG!"

So Universal got extra mileage out of an aging show while pushing an even larger commitment on NBC in the space of a day. That's how they did business.

mike schlesinger said...

Someone once asked me why I didn't subscribe to Filmstruck. I replied that my DVD library was larger than theirs. It's also why I have no need for most streaming services; the only ones I have are Amazon (because of the other stuff, like free shipping) and BroadwayHD (an annual birthday gift from a friend). I'm sure there're great series on Netflix, Hulu, et al, but I have more than enough to watch now.

And as I always say, if you can't hold it, you don't own it.

sanford said...

Some one gave out the web address for kanopy. Our library does not have that. I believe there is a similar service out there. If the average cost of cable is 107 dollars then that means you are not getting very much. Every baseball team is on a regional network, while you can get your regional team on basic it is not on HD. My son lives in Minneapolis. While he is not a twins fan he can not get the twins game even on basic cable. He did cut the cord, so he uses one tv with cable and a play station. He pays way less than paying for cable. But I think he uses some form of cable for a tv in another room. As for pirating. I have used a bit torrent a couple of times in the past, but never knew which one to use or if it was safe. Pretty sure I had a lap top screwed up because of that. Some one said if you subscribed to a lot of services it would be cheap as cable. I tend to doubt that. Yes you could subscribe to binge watch something and then drop the subscription. The problem is there is always other things than the one show that might be interesting to watch.

Andy Rose said...

When people used to demand ala cartel cable pricing, I used to warn them that they’d just end up getting fewer channels for about the same amount of money. Pretty basic economics. Now we’re starting to see some of that, albeit in a form I never could have imagined 10 years ago. Not unlike the way early DVR adopters thought they were so clever finding a way to skip commercials. Well congrats, now we have product placement in virtually every show.

E. Yarber makes some good points about Netflix. They’ve certainly proven to be a lot more resilient than I would have expected, and they realize now they need to own as much of their product as possible. But I’m not sold on their strategy of throwing (literally) a billion dollars at the problem and trying to fill up the barn in one fell swoop. Not a week goes by that I don’t see two or three new network-quality series being touted on Netflix. Some of them look great, but I’ll probably never know because they’re trampling each other out of the gate, and I don’t have time to watch them. That seems like an awfully inefficient programming strategy, but it’s hard to bet against Ted Sarandos.

Aaron Sheckley said...

One factor that isn't addressed here and which can really affect how you see streaming video in the future is how the ISPs are going to change their business models based on the repeal of Net Neutrality and the fact that a former Verizon executive, Ajit Pai, is now in charge of the FCC. Knowing that the cable companies are the ISP for most people, and that they are going to be pretty much unfettered by regulations in the future, how long before Comcast or Spectrum start creating usage tiers based on how much bandwidth you use every month? The cable companies are going to be making up that loss of cable subscribers somehow; how long until all the cable cutters start seeing their internet rates double or triple based on how much streaming they do? How long until Comcast starts offering their "Silver" and "Gold" packages for broadband service? How long until Spectrum starts deciding which streaming services you can use on their broadband?

If you thought the cable company stranglehold was bad before, that won't hold a candle to what's coming.

Pat Reeder said...

To Wally: Thanks for the tip on Kanopy. By coincidence, I was just looking into that last night because I saw it mentioned at the Film Noir Foundation website as a place that has some noir movies for streaming. It looks like it would be right up my alley. They also mentioned Criterion Collection, which I'll check out, too.

Sean MacDonald said...

I, for one, do not miss the days of piracy via torrent. Basically, the second time I tried torrenting, my ISP found out and shut off my internet until I agreed to never ever torrent again and to remove from my computer all my torrent stuff. That was a pretty scary day, especially since I wasn't sure how to find another ISP without having access to the internet, so I had to do what my ISP said.

Sami said...

I have no idea what will become of TV. All I know is that I am not paying for it anymore.I have a hard time getting interested in anything on TV. Very little holds my attention. I watch movies on dvd from the library. If I cannot find something, there is interlibrary loan. I tend to watch movies in 20 minute increments while eating or folding clothes.

I miss looking forward to my favorite shows and putting my feet up and watching every evening. But that time has been getting shorter and shorter. I sometimes flip around, but i basically just use the tv for watching dvds that i eitheown or borrowed. Sigh.