The streaming wars have been raging for years now. We may have only recently realized that Netflix isn’t the undisputed king of video we once thought it to be, but the reality is that this was never a one-player game. Hulu was created in 2007—the same year Netflix began streaming media—and once this became a competitive market, we were all destined to lose, no matter who came out on top.
Let’s start with a few things that most people have realized by now: first, everyone hates TV. Streaming is an objectively better format, with no commercials and no waiting times for a relatively comparable price to cable. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic made movie theaters obsolete, at least for the time being. We’ll see how this plays out in the long-term. Third, very few people have so much money to burn that they subscribe to every streaming service (and if you think you do, do you really have a subscription to Peacock? Why?).
So, what does this all mean? Simply put, most people’s ideal form of media consumption is to have subscriptions to two or three streaming services, if they can afford it, but no more than that. Most people are more than happy to have Netflix, maybe Hulu Plus too. Maybe your one friend pays for Disney Plus, and you’ll go to their place for Pixar movies once in a while. Either way, few people are going without any of these services, but even less have all of them.
This is why we, the consumer, lose the streaming wars. If you don’t want to pay for every streaming service, you aren’t watching everything you want to watch. The companies running these services know this—it’s why Disney launched Disney Plus even though it had hosted its media on Hulu since 2009 and been a majority shareholder of the company since 2017. Each media company out there is progressively realizing that they can just copy Netflix’s business model, pull their content from third-party platforms and charge subscriptions. Then, in the blink of an eye we’re paying 30 companies 30 micro-subscriptions for 30 different franchises. What’s the next logical step? We go one level deeper, and someone out there starts offering subscription packages—all your favorite streaming apps in one place. Congratulations. We’ve reinvented on-demand cable TV.
Then, of course, as companies realize nobody wants to pay $15 a month to watch “Saturday Night Live,” they let their shows slip onto third-party platforms again, and the cycle begins anew. Alternatively, they refuse to give up on their idea that “The Office” will anchor an entire platform, start hemorrhaging money and are inevitably bought by Disney.
When I write an article, I like to wrap it up with a “What does this mean for us? What can we do about it?” section. This time, I don’t really think there’s anything we can do about it. The free market will do as the free market does, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the things on Netflix and Hulu in a few years are original movies and shows created by them, as other media companies roll out their own services. In the not-too-distant future, we can look forward to a diverse ecosystem of streaming services where each one has their niche—and nobody wants to pay for any of them.