Streaming platforms, such as Netflix, have forever changed the way that we consume entertainment. From television shows to movies, Netflix is a massive game-changer in broadcast media, causing the industry to scramble to profit off of various mediums. From changing the types of stories audiences see in theatrical entertainment, to creating exclusive material for streaming platforms, Netflix is reigning supreme. While they may have forever disrupted the entertainment industry, the ever-growing media giant is beginning to see its own product become disrupted by a continuously changing landscape in digital media, as more studios scramble to build their own platforms with their own exclusive content. This massive “digital arms” race is causing an unprecedented issue in the industry that may forever change the way that we consume our entertainment.
Since the very beginning, Netflix has seen its platform as an outlet for an expression of filmmaking experimentation. At first, it seemed that Netflix’s strategy was to simply invest in as many ideas as possible, in order to find concepts that would stick with audiences and offer users a wide variety of selection on the platform. Netflix’s tremendous growth has cemented their role in the entertainment industry as a serious contender to traditional media, whether that be television or even classic theatrical filmmaking. The major data measurement corporation, Nielsen, has reported that the number of consumers ditching traditional cable (or, “cord-cutting” as it’s referred to in the industry) has grown by forty-eight percent in just eight years, resulting in the loss of over sixteen million cable subscriptions in homes in favor of streaming platforms. Netflix has sought to position itself as a serious disrupter in the world of entertainment and with an estimated 138 million users worldwide, it’s evident that they’ve done just that.
Inspired by the success of Netflix, other corporations have scrambled to position themselves in what the industry believes to be the “future of entertainment.” The years since Netflix’s major popularity has seen the launch of Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access, and HBO Go, to name a few. Additionally, there’s the forthcoming ‘Disney+’ platform launching this year, positioning The Walt Disney Company into the top of the streaming world, and the still-developing-platform on the way from WarnerMedia, from its parent company AT&T, sometime in the near future. It seems that almost every company wants to have its own platform these days, making it difficult for you, the consumer, to have access to all your favorite shows simultaneously, without breaking the bank each month.
While these changes may mean more cost for consumers, it has lead to the encouragement of experimental cinema and unparalleled quality. Netflix, after years of unsuccessful attempts, finally earned themselves an Academy Award for their release of “Roma,” finally positioning themselves as a serious player in the industry. The same could be said for Amazon Instant Video, which has seen nominations of their own, for their original releases Manchester by the Sea and The Big Sick; Turning streaming platforms into their own digital art houses. Netflix has significantly invested in serialized dramas, resulting in hits like Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black, and Amazon quickly did the same with its own recent hits like the Jack Ryan series or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Unlike a traditional movie or TV series, these series’ don’t present an immediate return to the production studios, but they serve as a long-term investment for the growth of the corporations behind their creation. Netflix still somehow finds itself with over $20 billion dollars in debt, but their strong lineup of original feature films and television series’ guarantees its longevity, even long after other studios have pulled their content from the platform in favor of their own streaming services.
Perhaps the largest disruptor that is certain to send a ripple effect throughout the industry is Disney’s $71 billion dollar purchase of 21st Century Fox, which is largely leveraged for its vast intellectual properties and its strong presence in the world of streaming. Along with Disney+, the company is entering the streaming industry in full-force as this new purchase of Fox gives Disney a 60% majority stake in Hulu, gaining ownership of Fox’s 30% stake, along with Disney’s previous 30%. With their significant standing in the digital world and its endless library of valuable content, Disney will invest money in creative content and maintaining large ownership of one of the strongest elements of the streaming arms race. Due to the purchase, Disney gains ownership of all 20th Century Fox, Fox Television, and National Geographic properties, and it has announced it will pull all of its properties from Netflix with the launch of Disney+, which is due this year, with the ownership of Hulu, once the Fox deal clears Federal Trade Commission approval. Similarly, WarnerMedia intends to pull its content from Netflix and other services when their currently-unnamed platform launches, which will be another detrimental blow to Netflix, who recently paid $100 million just to secure the rights to the television series Friends for a single year. Foreseeing that its platform couldn’t be sustained simply by the rights granted by other studios, Netflix fully turned their attention to creating exclusive original content, a.k.a. “Netflix Originals.”
It’s quite possible, and even probable, that sometime in the near future, Netflix will solely be dedicated to original content, similar to the works of Stranger Things or House of Cards, and Netflix is hoping this content will encourage users to stick with the platform, even after it loses the rights to your other favorite shows, and will spend $2 billion just this year on content alone. Over the next few years, other studios will also spend a significant amount of money on creating original content for their streaming platforms. CBS All Access hopes to still generate revenue from those cord-cutters who would otherwise lose access to CBS, with exclusive programming with shows like Star Trek Discovery or the highly-anticipated reboot of The Twilight Zone from Jordan Peele. Amazon reportedly paid $250 million to secure the rights to a Lord of the Rings series to continue bringing interest to their platform. Elsewhere, Disney+ will debut a plethora of brand new series’ and films, all the while, leveraging their highly-popular Star Wars and Marvel properties, with a handful of other new offerings. At the same time, Hulu will serve as a home for series’ based on properties owned by Disney but exist outside of the Disney brand, much like the 21st Century Fox purchase will include. With every major studio quickly joining the industry in a rebuttal to a changing market, it’s clear that the disrupted have finally become the disruptors, forcing Netflix to once again evolve the industry into something entirely new.
Consumers should be prepared for an exciting few years of quality entertainment and innovation from each of these powerhouse studios, but that will ultimately come at a cost. Leaders like Netflix have already announced price hikes, and the scattering of properties may leave fans of various properties forced to buy several subscriptions, resulting in a far more expensive cost than the average one subscription today. If there’s one thing for sure, the battle over streaming rights, and the rush to create high-quality content is well-underway, and entertainment may never be the same as a result of it.