The natural endpoint of the streaming wars seems inevitable: not every streaming service will survive, and many of those that are left will end up offered in bundles just like cable channels. What’s old, as they say, will be new again.
That’s the conclusion reached in a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers – the same accounting firm responsible for tabulating Oscar results; they do other things! –report. Projecting out to 2024, the PwC report predicts, “There will be a number of high-profile streaming casualties by the end of the forecast period. Market consolidation will eventually lead to the new bundle, whereupon some stand-alone OTT services will be packaged with other players in a similar way to pay TV now.”
This conclusion is hardly unique. As recently as last November – because this is 2020 I know November seems so, so long ago, but it really wasn’t – other analysts and media outlets were making the same general argument. The shape of how this is all going to play has seemed fairly obvious for a while now, particularly once Disney revealed its intention to offer Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ as a bundle. However, that was before major players like WarnerMedia and Comcast launched HBOMax and Peacock respectively as well as before the world met something called Quibi. (If you haven’t done so yet, Vulture’s “Is Anyone Watching Quibi?” article is a must-read.)
I don’t know if we fully appreciated the capacity for some of these high-profile services to fail until we saw HBOMax, Peacock, and Quibi each limp out of the gate with no obvious answer to the following question: who exactly was asking for this? We’re now three months post-launch for HBOMax and everyone who was in charge on launch day is no longer there. Peacock spent blockbuster movie-level money on a launch show, Brave New World, no one seems to be talking about, and Quibi – or “Katzenberg’s Folly,” if ya nasty – has already shuffled through multiple rebrands and reportedly threw all the money it could at Prince Harry and Megan Markle and still lost out to Netflix.
In the latest subscriber totals, HBOMax seems to be rebounding from its embarrassing sub-one-million-users start but a large part of that boost comes from bundling subscriptions with cell phone plans for AT&T users, an increasingly common trick for all streaming services:
Long before we reached this point, however, various surveys indicated the average consumer’s tolerance for streaming subscriptions would max out somewhere between three and five. We’ve already added three new services this year!
So, now seems like a good time to briefly check in with where I’m currently at in this brave new streaming age. Long story short: I definitely have more than 5 streaming subscriptions, but the simple act of sitting down to plan this article helped me realize there was one subscription I meant to cancel ages ago. If nothing else, then, this article just saved me $4.99/month going forward. Huzzah!
I Subscribe To (Listed from Most to Least Used)
- Cost: $11.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: Season 2 of Justified
Hulu recently redesigned itself to look more like every other streaming service, converting more broadly to the industry standard tile-based aesthetic. Preferences might differ, but I’ve found the redesign makes Hulu easier to navigate. As a result, I’ve been following the app’s suggestion tree lately, going from the Fox sitcom The Mick to the long-running FX anti-sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Plus, I finally started watching Justified. That’s a lot of content Hulu now owns thanks to Disney. Speaking of which, I already finished the FX on Hulu Original Mrs. America but haven’t started Alex Garland’s Devs. In general, Hulu is reaching that Netflix level of having too many good original shows to keep up with but it sure is fun trying.
- Cost: $15.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: Season 1 of Cobra Kai
As the excellent podcast Land of the Giants recently argued, Netflix is essentially all of Hollywood rolled into one now yet somehow even bigger and more global. They still have the streaming belt and won’t give it up anytime soon, and Netflix’s ability to generate online conversation over new content – or gently re-used content like Cobra Kai – is currently unparalleled. So, to see what everyone else is talking about Netflix remains a must, but I’ve drifted away from it in recent months. Before Cobra Kai, the last major Netflix content I consumed was Schitt’s Creek, Derry Girls, and the new season of Lucifer.
- Cost: $12.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: First 3 episodes of The Boys: Season 2
Even if I never watched a second of Amazon Video content, the service would still be worth it for the annual free shipping that is Amazon Prime’s primary selling point. As a throw-in, though, Amazon Prime Video has a better, more diverse supply of older movies than Netflix and a roster of originals that periodically deliver a must-watch offering like The Boys.
- Cost: $14.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: Class Action Park
I never actually signed up for HBO Max. I was automatically upgraded into it, with WarnerMedia using some serious McDonald’s Value Meal psychology to pitch it – it’s the same price as HBO but it comes with all this other content! All these months later and HBO Max still isn’t on Roku nor does it offer any of its titles in 4K. However, I occasionally use one of my smart TVs to access HBO Max and explore the latest originals, like Close Enough or Class Action Park. It’s a nice bonus, sure, but when I want to watch true HBO content like Lovecraft Country I instinctively do it the way I have been for years: via the HBO app on my Roku.
- Cost: Free to me
- Last Thing Watched: Most recent episode of Ted Lasso
At the time of Apple TV+’s launch, Apple gave full-year memberships away to anyone who had recently either purchased a new iPhone or upgraded to one. Ergo, I’ve had free Apple TV+ since last November and have thus enjoyed a surprisingly steady supply of compelling originals like The Morning Show, Defending Jacob, Central Park, Greyhound, Beastie Boys Story, and Boys State. Not uniformly amazing content, of course, but certainly watchable and I can’t exactly complain about the price.
Going forward, when the full-year membership expires will I actually become a paying customer? Yes, mostly because their latest original, Ted Lasso, has thoroughly hooked me, delivering me soothing half-hours of feel-good comedy like no other show this year. Knowing a second season has been ordered, I’ll gladly pay to see that through.
CBS All Access
- Cost: $5.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: The most recent episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks
I use this to watch all the new Star Trek shows – Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, which I’ve ranked from my most to least favorite. The other originals I’ve sampled, like Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone or Tell Me a Story, are rather disappointing and not recommended. Still, Discovery’s third season will be here soon enough. Plus, I’m at least vaguely curious to see what their version fo The Stand looks like, particularly from the angle of how do you make a TV show about a pandemic entertaining…in the middle of a real-world pandemic.
- Cost: $6.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: The Simpsons
There was The Mandalorian. Then there was Hamilton. In-between – and after – those two huge draws are long stretches where I was quarantined away from my niece and nephew and never gave Disney+ a second thought. With The Mandalorian’s second season fast approaching, however, I won’t be canceling my subscription anytime soon, and with social distancing measures in my area easing up I’m back to seeing the wee little ones again. The niece loves to put on and talk along with Forky Asks a Question. I don’t mind. Plus, she suddenly loves The Simpsons. I definitely don’t mind that.
- Cost: $5.99/month
- Last Thing Watched: Joe Bob’s Last Drive-In Summer Sleepover
Prior to the pandemic, this AMC-backed horror streaming service was easily among my most used and essential. However, you know how they say horror thrives in times of social unrest? I totally related to that before the world turned into the least subtle horror movie ever. Now, metaphorical supernatural stories or ritualistic bloodlettings don’t really do anything for my anxiety. Still, I stick around for the Joe Bob Briggs specials and eventual time where I might refind my love for horror.
- Cost: Free
- Last Thing I Watched: Psych 2: Lassie Come Home
Since I used a Google device while signing up for Peacock’s three-month free trial I was automated upgraded into the premiere, no-commercials plan. Figuring out where I could go to actually watch Peacock, however, turned into quite the ordeal, and once I did find my toward downloading it to my seldom-used Playstation 4 I sat through Psych 2: Lassie Come Home and watched as it crashed on me three different times. I haven’t gone back and will not become a paying member in the future. Their ad-supported option, however, is free, and I won’t mind being downgraded into that. Maybe then I’ll find out if Peacock’s generous library of Alfred Hitchcock classics is actually available to non-paying members as well.
I Cancelled My Subscription To
Every time you cancel a subscription on Roku, you are asked a series of exit interview-style questions to suss out why you decided to walk away. For the following streaming services, my answer was exactly the same: I only signed up to watch one show.
- AcornTV (David Tennant’s murder mystery series Deadwater Fell)
- Cinemax (Robert Kirkman’s horror series Outcast)
- Topics on The Roku Channel (Matt Berry’s hilarious period piece comedy Year of the Rabbit)
DC Universe and Night Flight, on the other hand, kept me around for a bit longer than just one long weekend. But now that all of DC Universe’s best content has also been made available on HBOMax I thought of it as a redundancy. Night Flight – a modern-day re-launching of an old American cable show from the 80s – has more music and alt-culture documentaries than you could ever have time to watch. That’s supplemented with vintage full episodes of the original Night Flight as well as B-movie and horror offerings from labels like Severin, Arrow Video, and Blue Underground. It’s a lot of content for just $5 a month but I didn’t even remember I was still a subscriber until writing this article. I haven’t used the app since before the pandemic started. Time to cut it loose.
What about you? What does your streaming thumbprint look like? Let me know in the comments.