It’s safe to say that film and TV streaming has had a remarkable impact on the media we consume. The draw of “watch anywhere” entertainment has become a fairly everyday concept, though the initial benefit of streaming services was the provision of a simple, one-stop alternative to expensive cable TV packages. However, with so many providers offering such a wide selection of original programming, it may appear that we have now come full circle.
The greatest issue with the current streaming landscape is the expanding wealth of original content that these providers are producing. There shouldn’t be any real reason to complain about such a range of high-quality films and television shows that are currently being produced, but in order to gain access to every “must watch” piece of content, viewers are shelling out a notable monthly bill.
For example, if you want watch shows like The Witcher, Stranger Things, and The Crown in high definition, as well as original, Oscar nominated features like The Irishman and Marriage Story, you’ll need a Netflix subscription priced at $12.99 a month. Want to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Boys and The Man in the High Castle? That’s another $12.99 for Prime Video. Add in a $6.99 Disney Plus subscription to watch The Mandalorian, $5.99 for basic Hulu to watch The Handmaid’s Tale and The Act, and $4.99 to watch Servant, The Morning Show and See on Apple TV+ – all together you’re spending just under $44 a month.
This issue isn’t necessarily unique to TV and film services either. Music streaming platforms have been known to release exclusive, or at least timed-exclusive, albums and singles by world-renowned stars such as Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Drake. Although exclusivity is less common on audio platforms, true music fanatics may need subscriptions to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Deezer just to get their fill. Subscription costs also cause problems for sports fans looking to catch up on every game, while the issue of exclusive content is nothing new to the world of video games.
This is not to say that any streaming provider has completely secured the market though. November 2019 saw Disney Plus launch in the U.S. with much anticipated Star Wars spinoff, The Mandalorian, however the platform’s global launch has not yet been completed. The U.K., for example, won’t be able to access the service until the very end of March 2020. As a result, experts have predicted The Mandalorian will become the most pirated series in history, as there are only so many out of context Baby Yoda memes international fans can put up with. For those with the know-how, as well as a disregard for international piracy laws, no content is ever “exclusive”.
The question is what will subscription fees have to rise to before consumers decide it’s too much? Netflix currently has the largest library of original content, going for a very “quantity over quality” approach whilst still producing some very highly rated programming, and despite offering a number of different pricing structures which each provide varying levels of access, it is, on average, one of the most expensive. It therefore seems that Netflix is aware that consumers won’t just gladly subscribe to multiple services, instead banking on the fact that they will pay for just Netflix content, in order to justify semi-regular subscription fee increases and potentially eliminating demand for the competition.
So could a cross-platform service ever be a possibility? Considering these original series and films are largely being produced by the streaming services themselves, it’s unlikely we will see any bundled options in the near future. Netflix is hardly keen to begin allowing its shows on Apple TV+ when it uses them to justify its own fees. Some shows do have contracts set up between streamers and traditional networks, particularly when it comes to international broadcasting – for example, new episodes of The Good Place air on NBC in the U.S. and are uploaded to Netflix in the U.K. on the same day – but there is little chance of streamers offering such services on a wider scale in a domestic setting.
This all leaves the average viewer in a difficult position – either subscribe to as many services as budget will allow, go without some and make do with missing the next show everyone talks about, or take to the torrent networks. Alternatively, viewers could chose to start and stop subscriptions across platforms as they see necessary, potentially taking advantage of free trials and offers where possible, but this is hardly the best option for either the consumer or the service provider. The reality is that viewers are currently at the whim of the service providers, and the only way to get their attention is to cut them off at the bank.