Amazon Video, then called Amazon Unbox (thank goodness they did away with that name), launched in the US in 2006. A year later, Netflix, once a scrappy DVD rental website, launched its streaming service. And a year after that, Hulu (owned by NBC and Fox) launched, and suddenly America had more viewing options when it came to TV and movies. It would take years for streaming services to give TV networks and movie studios a run for their money, but it came and we are now living in the era of streaming.
In the coming years, most of the largest media companies will team up with, or be bought outright by the biggest tech companies, who will in turn give away subscriptions to these services when customers purchase their hardware or services. AT&T’s Time Warner Inc acquisition in February 2019 has given the American corporate-media powerhouse an enormous arsenal of original content, including the huge Warner Bros. movie library, the Turner Classic Movies archive, and all Time Warner’s cable channels. There are rumblings that Warner Media will be launching an online platform in spring 2020 that delivers all this content for less than $20 a month. That’s only a few bucks more a month than an HBO subscription.
Just recently, Disney+ launched and now Disney’s huge catalog of animated films and Pixar projects, plus Marvel shows and movies, ESPN, and—of course—all things Star Wars are available to subscribing customers. Disney also now has full control of Hulu, making them a huge force in the streaming wars to be sure. Viewers will no longer have access to Disney content for free on competing services like Netflix or Amazon, ensuring customers sign up for Disney+ for their Star Wars fix going forward.
As the big media conglomerates ensure their survival by investing in streaming, tech companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Apple are investing heavily in the development of original content to compete with the likes of Disney and Warner Media. Netflix, which recently paid $100 million to retain the rights to Friends for just one more year, is investing staggering sums on their own original content because it knows eventually the studios will raise the cost of their licenses or pull back their content altogether, like Friends and The Office. Establishing themselves as a legitimate studio capable of generating serious content now could ensure their survival once streaming becomes the only way of being.
This ongoing streaming race translates to an enormous amount of content for viewers to consume, and it also means these studios and streaming services need creators to come up with the original content. The pace at which content is developing means more work for those in the media across the board. It means an up-and-coming director or screenwriter has a better chance of getting a pitch in front of an executive than ever before. This never-ending need for content across genres and for a wide variety of audiences, has also opened the door wider for women and minorities who have long been overlooked by the big networks and studios.
In the coming years, it’ll be fascinating to watch how the streaming wars transform the film and TV landscape further. Will we see more and more content that represents even more diversity and different voices and perspectives? Will it continue to stray from convention and push narratives in new, exciting directions? Or, will the push to create original material inundate viewers with an avalanche of subpar content, making it increasingly difficult to find the gems? It’s likely to be a bit of both, but the ride will be wild to be sure. Viewers will be wise to be on the lookout for screaming deals on streaming subscriptions, and rethink their cable subscriptions if they haven’t already.
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