The streaming wars commence

Ryan Neely, Reporter

On January 16, 2007, The New York Times published the following story: “Netflix to Deliver Movies to the PC”. At the time, this foray into streaming was a free bonus for the subscribers to their DVD-by-mail service. Today, it is their main business, one that has around 150 million subscribers.

In retrospect, the reasons for Netflix’s success seem obvious. Streaming is much more convenient and cost-effective than cable, DVDs, or digital downloads, and Netflix was essentially the only game in town. Back then, however, it was assumed that your average consumer wouldn’t want to deal with a computer just to watch a movie. To be fair, this was five months before the launch of the first iPhone.

Today, it’s as if every single media conglomerate simultaneously realized that video streaming is a big deal. CBS was the earliest to the game, launching CBS All Access back in 2014, but given their more modest size, their effort was never seen as a Netflix killer. Disney now has taken control of Hulu and has launched its own service, Disney+. Soon, WarnerMedia will have HBO Max, and NBCUniversal will have Peacock.

This is bad news for Netflix, given that they previously sourced content from many of these companies, and some of them just aren’t fond of sharing. In particular, Friends will be leaving the service in 2020, with The Office following in 2021. Now, Netflix will have to lean much more heavily on their original content, and they will have to compete against some pretty big players. That said, given that they have years to build up their original content library and worldwide subscriber base, they certainly have a fighting chance

Disney+ recently launched with access to Disney’s massive library, in addition to some original content. Most notable is The Mandalorian, a show set in the Star Wars universe, which I can confirm is absolutely fantastic. In the future, it will have another show featuring Obi Wan Kenobi, as well as others set in the Marvel Universe. These are all going to have extremely high budgets, so it seems like Disney is taking this endeavor very seriously.

HBO Max won’t launch until May 2020, but it may just be worth the wait. In addition to the standard HBO content (which is already available to stream via HBO Now, which this service is replacing), it’s going to be pulling from all across WarnerMedia’s library, as well as outside of it, acquiring the licenses to content like South Park and the Studio Ghibli movies. Allegedly, it’s even going to have a Friends reunion special. It all amounts to an impressive library overall.

When deciding between all of these (likely in some combination), most are going to look to pricing. Netflix uses a tiered pricing structure for different levels of video quality and numbers of concurrent streams per-account. The most expensive, which gives users 4K quality and 4 streams (and is equivalent to what the other services provide), is $15.99 per month. By comparison, Disney+ is $6.99 per month, and HBO Max will be $14.99 per month. Hulu and CBS both have plans that cost less while providing ads, but for the sake of a direct comparison, we should look at the ones that don’t, which are $11.99 and $9.99 respectively. 

While little is known about Peacock at the moment, its pricing seems the most intriguing. Rumor has it that there will be a free ad-supported tier (though it may be missing some content). If NBCUniversal can make that work, then the service would almost certainly be a hit. Who doesn’t like something that’s free? Sure, Crackle, an existing free streaming service, hasn’t really caught on, but Peacock might actually have things worth watching on its free tier. As long as it includes The Office, it will definitely have some fans.

But that’s not the only way we can benefit from this situation. Streaming services have started to become bundled with other things. T-Mobile offers Netflix subscriptions with its cellar plans. Sprint (for as long as it still exists) is doing the same with Hulu. Verizon is offering Disney+ to its wireless customers, as well as its new home internet subscribers, but only for a year. 

However, let’s not forget that two other streaming services, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video, are created almost for the sole purpose of being package deals. The former is included for one year with the purchase of an Apple device, being $4.99 per month thereafter. In addition, given that the service isn’t even available on Android, we can tell that its purpose is primarily to keep people glued to the Apple brand. The latter is one of the many perks attached to the Amazon Prime membership, so it too is not directly competing with other streaming services.

Gone will be the days of $70 (or more) cable bills with dozens of channels that most people won’t even watch. Our generation is going to have a lot more choice in the matter. HBO will go from being a status symbol just a part of one of the many comparatively affordable streaming services that people can subscribe to. Now that home entertainment is moving past the horrendously outdated technology and pricing model of cable TV, we’re going to be getting much more of what we want for much less money.

Full disclosure: I own stock in AT&T (owner of WarnerMedia) and Disney