The Fracturing World of Streaming

An Editorial

I suspect Hulu’s days are numbered. Here’s why.

Hulu was founded as a joint venture between multiple big media companies as an answer to the rise of Netflix, the independent DVD rental-by-mail service that quickly transformed itself into an innovator in the new market of videos streamed online, offering movies and TV shows for subscribers to watch anywhere at anytime. Hulu, being owned by the likes of NBC Universal, Fox, and the Walt Disney Company, had an advantage in securing the streaming rights to a vast library of television programming, as it was owned by the very companies that produced those shows. Netflix, in contrast, has to continually negotiate the streaming rights to the films and TV shows it offers, apart from their own original programming that they make in-house.

Then, Disney bought 21st Century Fox, and as a consequence of that merger, they now own a 67% share of Hulu, with NBC Universal’s parent, Comcast, agreeing to basically let Disney run Hulu outright and promising to sell its remaining 33% share in five years. So, okay, Disney owns Hulu now, what does that matter?

Disney is planning to launch its own streaming service on November 12. Disney+ is a service that will take advantage of the massive size the company has grown to in recent years, to offer not only Disney films, but also movies and TV shows from Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Fox, and even National Geographic. At the same time, Comcast is going to slowly pull NBC Universal’s content off of Hulu to start their own streaming service that is expected to launch next year. Basically, Hulu is going to be made redundant, and from Disney’s point of view, if it merges Hulu with Disney+, it is guaranteed a massive subscriber base from all the former Hulu subscribers, and will inherit all of Hulu’s own original programming as well. It just makes sense to me that Disney would want to do this.

Disney and NBC aren’t the only big media companies seeking to claim a piece of the hot, new streaming market. WarnerMedia is also launching their own streaming service, HBO Max, also arriving next year. CBS already has its own service, CBS All Access, offering the channel’s TV lineup and some original shows, most notably the latest versions of Star Trek. In a way, I am starting to feel sorry for Netflix, the innovator that started this rush, now constantly losing programming to its competitors as the big media companies pull their libraries off Netflix to put them on their own, rival streaming services. No wonder Netflix has made a huge push to increase its in-house library.

In fact, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, and other streaming services have another crutch they have to overcome. The FCC has repealed net neutrality in the United States, and so far attempts to have Congress reinstate it have stalled, in spite of wide, bipartisan support for net neutrality among the American people. I have written about net neutrality on this blog before, but to summarize, it is the principle that internet providers have to treat all data that users want to access equally. Without it, ISP’s can legally throttle streaming speeds and charge higher premiums for access to certain internet services.

Well, AT&T owns WarnerMedia, and Comcast owns NBC Universal. Is it any wonder these companies want to get into the streaming business? Think about it – they can force people who want to stream movies and TV shows on Netflix or Amazon or Disney+ to pay higher prices for a “premium internet package”, but allow people who use their own in-house streaming service to use it at no extra charge. So long as they are up-front about it and not deceptive, that’s perfectly legal now.

Speaking of cost…

In general, streaming services are not free. Netflix runs up to $15.99 a month. CBS All Access will run you up to $9.99 a month. Hulu’s ad-free version costs $11.99 a month. CuriosityStream, a niche streaming service offering documentaries about science, nature, and history costs $19.99 per year. Amazon Prime Video requires an Amazon Prime subscription, which currently costs $119 per year. At least Crunchyroll, a streaming service for anime, actually is free – though if you want to remove ads you have to pay $7.99 a month. The more streaming services you sign up for, the more expensive it gets. Many Americans, myself included, have gotten rid of cable and now mainly use streaming for entertainment, but it is really easy to end up paying enough in your monthly streaming service bills to equal a cable bill.

And it’s not like Disney+, HBO Max, or the new NBC streaming service will be free, either.

When the streaming market was new, everyone had Netflix and Hulu and that was about all anyone needed. Now, streamers have to pick and choose which streaming services they want to subscribe to, and so these companies have to compete with each other on what their service offers viewers to watch. There are literally websites that exist to track which movies and shows are on which services, and these have to be updated regularly as contracts expire and new ones are negotiated.

Hence, the push for more streaming-only original content that is linked to a specific service. Do you want to watch the upcoming Star Trek: Picard? Better sign up for CBS All Access, then, as you can’t watch it anywhere else.

Legally, anyway

This forces people to pick and choose what programming is worth paying an extra $10-$20 a month for, and many will miss out on films and shows they my have otherwise enjoyed because the price tag is too high. People will end up segregating themselves by preferred streaming service, only seeing shows available on other services when visiting a friend’s or relative’s house. The streaming market is fracturing as we speak, and at least for the foreseeable future, will continue to do so. What impact will this have on what films and TV shows get made, or on how audiences respond to them? Only time will tell. However, it will have an impact, and a big one. Of that, I can be sure.

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