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What Went Wrong With… Subscription Video On Demand & Over-The-Top Streaming Services?

Too Many Subscriptions written using Netflix, HBO, Prime Video, NowTV, Disney logos

If you’re a long-time subscriber of Sky, Virgin, Comcast, DirecTV, or any other alternative, you’ll know that the price rises over the last two to three decades have become exorbitant. These companies of course, bundle television, internet, landline, smartphone and phone contracts together to make their cost seem reasonable but we all know that an increase way beyond inflation is extortionate, especially when the smartphone and internet is essentially a human right (given how much they’re intertwined with our day-to-day lives). Many people have realised that the part of their monthly subscription they can do without is TV, it’s merely entertainment and if you “cut the chord”, you can find television at a much cheaper price saving you a great deal in monthly subscription costs which can be over £100 for a company’s full package.

Chord cutting meant people ditched satellite and cable and switched to free-to-air TV services (such as Freeview or Freesat) but also over-the-top streaming which bypassed satellites and aerials entirely. Given its relatively cheaper cost, S.V.O.D. (subscription video on demand) has almost overthrown satellite and cable TV. Netflix was the first mainstream alternative to satellite and cable and it took off big time (although they have lost subscribers recently). Amazon’s Prime Video, another alternative, comes bundled with the companies’ Prime subscription which most people take out for free or expedited shipping. This makes Amazon’s TV service a bonus rather than a direct competitor and in most cases, people subscribing to Netflix also subscribe to Amazon.

With Netflix and Amazon coming in at under £10 per month each, their cost (whether separate or together) is much cheaper than the satellite and cable providers. By making original series and films, and by licensing various studios’ movies, Netflix and Amazon began impeding on the TV provider’s territory. If companies like Sky and Virgin didn’t offer internet and phones, they would probably be out of business by now but because they do, they simultaneously profit from their rivals output but also enable them.

Alongside the rise of Netflix, we’ve witnessed the demise of companies such as Blockbuster because that company didn’t change with the times. S.V.O.D. was much more convenient than renting a physical tape or disc, Blockbuster didn’t keep up and now they’re gone. Companies such as Sky have at least acknowledged their competition (although possibly a little too late). They’ve started Sky Cinema Original Films and they offer subscribers the Sky Go or Sky Q app in order to watch TV “over-the-top”. Their monthly cost however, remains high. Sky have therefore created NowTV (strangely in direct competition with themselves). NowTV offers Sky’s range of TV channels with a monthly subscription but without a fixed contract via an app. This is similar to HBO in the US who have HBO Go and HBO Now for regular subscribers but who are planning HBO Max, a stand-alone internet on demand service which will try to compete with Netflix and Prime Video.

Seeing Netflix go from strength to strength, in typical money-grabbing fashion, there’s now other companies wanting a piece of the S.V.O.D. pie. Disney are launching Disney+ and because they own 20th Century Fox, ABC, National Geographic, and have partial stakes in ESPN and A&E, their subscription service will host many great movies and TV shows. But this also means that films from Pixar, Marvel, LucasFilm, and Touchstone Pictures (amongst others) will begin to disappear from services such as Netflix.

Apple are also getting into the act with Apple TV+, they don’t own any huge movie studios so they’ll be creating their own original content (which to me looks mediocre but that’s outweighed by their comparatively cheaper subscription).

There’s also a company called BritBox which offers a subscription to those who want to watch the back catalogue of shows created by the BBC and ITV (although if you’re in the UK you might be peeved off that after paying the BBC’s TV licence for years, you’ll now need to subscribe to this service to watch programmes you’ve already funded). The creation of BritBox will of course mean that BBC and ITV programming will begin to disappear from Netflix too.

In the US there’s also HULU and HBO Max, the latter will have streaming rights to Warner Bros.’ content which will mean some of their movies and TV shows will also begin to vanish from Netflix.

So, by the end of this year, there’ll be Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+, Apple TV+, and BritBox, and then there’s all the channels within Amazon’s Prime Video app including Starz and MGM. What this means, is that if you want to watch a wide selection of TV shows and movies, you’ll have to have several subscriptions costing you around £100 a month, meaning you’re back to having the high monthly cost equivalent to satellite TV. What the hell was the point in chord cutting? It’s not like the public has an allegiance to a particular movie studio, we just want to watch the latest films and TV shows with the least amount of inconvenience and cost, but with all this competition on the horizon, this is not what the public will get.

Back in the early ’90s, Sky TV suckered people in with free trials only to increase the cost year on year from several pounds to approximately a hundred. One thing that has never happened in TV subscription history is prices going down and very much like Sky, Netflix have begun to raise their prices when much of its content is leaving for these other companies (which makes no sense at all). Will they become the next Blockbuster? With Netflix operating at a loss this may happen.

There’s no denying that the over-the-top streaming service landscape is extremely crowded, most people will not subscribe to all of these apps; they’ll either chose the cheapest, or they’ll stick to the one with the largest amount of content. This means that one or some of these services will die a terrible death in the near future.

If you recall the days of analogue satellite, aside from the free-to-air channels, you used to pay per specialist channel; sports cost a set amount and movies cost a set amount, then as subscribers got used to having the viewing equipment (satellite and cable boxes) in their homes, the prices began to increase. When the price rise became obvious, the channels were packaged together in a bundle with various tiers in order to disguise the fact that you weren’t getting your money’s worth. This is quite similar to S.V.O.D., you get used to having a Roku or Fire Stick or smart TV in your house, then the prices increases as does the range of options until you have multiple subscriptions and ever-rising bills. The natural progression of this is for a few of these companies to fail and fizzle away and then a bigger corporation coming along and packaging them together and offering us one single subscription. And when that happens we’re back where we started, we cut the chord from one costly TV service only to be left with another overpriced TV service that needs to be overthrown by something cheaper, convenient, and more value for money; another fucking problem, reaction, solution product.

Being Dragged Kicking And Streaming.

6 replies »

  1. BET+ just launched in September. And in April 2020, we’re about to have Peacock shoved down our throats. I get that TV is kinda dead but this is just too much. 😠

    • Who’s gonna pay $9.99 per month to watch Tyler Perry’s stage plays? BET+ sounds crap. A possible flop of the future.

      I didn’t know about Peacock (I just read about it now). They’re gonna be streaming content from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, and Illumination which means yet more separation of content.

      Way too many subscription services.

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