The Shift

As stream­ing ser­vices kill off tra­di­tional cable sub­scrip­tions, David Chartier ex­am­ines whether this shift is for the best

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David Chartier on the stream­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

Tra­di­tional cable subs have steadily de­clined for a decade, while the sheer quan­tity, va­ri­ety, and qual­ity of in­ter­net stream­ing ser­vices has flour­ished. You could ar­gue that con­sumers won — hav­ing es­caped the shack­ling of cable bun­dles while gain­ing more choice and flex­i­bil­ity. In the com­ing years, though, we may have to re­flect on an old adage: be care­ful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Th­ese days, we have no short­age of options for stream­ing just about any­thing we want. Newer com­pa­nies like Net­flix quickly gained dom­i­nance, while the old guard like HBO, Sony, and the broad­cast chan­nels can ap­par­ently learn new tricks. Ap­ple and Ama­zon are now also stream­ing providers and even cre­ate new, orig­i­nal se­ries.

We’re in a golden age of movie and TV show ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Many ser­vices of­fer a wealth of con­tent at af­ford­able prices.

How­ever, I call this a golden age be­cause we are slowly en­ter­ing what comes next. While I don’t think it’s an as­ter­oid or mass me­dia ex­tinc­tion, th­ese ser­vices are def­i­nitely evolv­ing, and I don’t think ev­ery­one will be happy.

The first sign of the Walled Gar­den Age is the race for ex­clu­sives. This tac­tic is as old as the biz itself, but com­pe­ti­tion has hockey-sticked among stream­ing ser­vices in re­cent years. Ap­ple and Ama­zon are di­rectly hir­ing big Hollywood names, and Net­flix alone will spend $8 bil­lion in 2018 to pro­duce (and ac­quire) over 700 orig­i­nal films and TV shows. Yeah, seven hun­dred. You’d bet­ter free up some more bing­ing week­ends.

The next sign is what I would call “old ex­clu­sives.” Some of the larger stu­dios have started pulling con­tent from third par­ties like Net­flix and Ama­zon. It hap­pens with such fre­quency now that some web­sites have started reg­u­lar cov­er­age of “here’s what to watch on Net­flix be­fore it dis­ap­pears this month.” Part of it is just li­censes ex­pir­ing, but Dis­ney plans to pull all of its films from Net­flix in 2019, then launch its own ser­vice.

All of this leads up to the third sign: The New Bundling. Some peo­ple are happy with Net­flix (and maybe Spo­tify). But a large por­tion of the mar­ket will soon trade their sin­gu­lar cable sub­scrip­tion for jug­gling in­di­vid­ual bills across Hulu, Sony, Dis­ney, Net­flix, and maybe even ESPN and a cou­ple other chan­nels for good mea­sure.

In many ways, it’s a win for con­sumer choice and flex­i­bil­ity; I don’t know any­one who wants to go back to wait­ing for a film or TV episode to broad­cast at a spe­cific time on a spe­cific chan­nel. And yet, The Walled Gar­den Age might feel like a loss in other ways. But like the evo­lu­tion­ary ages be­fore it, there is likely no go­ing back.

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