The golden age of streaming wars is over

It’s finish. Over the past half-decade, we’ve had a golden age of entertainment. The rise of the streaming service has brought more TV and movies into our homes than ever before. It’s been a joy – and sometimes a chore – to keep up with every new Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus and the rest that comes our way. But over the past few months we’ve seen a shift in how many of these services are doing business, and it’s clear that this glut of content that we’ve been enjoying, for the mere cost of a monthly subscription, is on the point to end. Some of us are going to feel the pain of it deeply more than others.

Before streaming changed the Hollywood landscape, it was a very different place. It could take writers years to become showrunners, and the number of plum roles for a new star were few and far between. There was plenty of reality TV — especially on cable — but scripted TV was limited to a handful of channels. The owners of these channels were in a brutal competition for your eyeballs, crafting prestige show after prestige show to grab our attention. From 1999, with the creation of The Sopranossomewhere in the mid-2010s there was a golden age of television.

Then the streaming wars came, and let’s be real: it was a blast. It was another golden age. Netflix began pumping money into Hollywood in an effort to create a cache of greatest hits so it could compete with Disney, Warner Brothers, and MGM, which owned most of the biggest franchises. But while Netflix has struggled to build big franchises outside of stranger things, Bridgertonand the witcher (the latter two are based on extremely popular book series), it produced a lot of content, throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.

1923 Las Vegas Premiere Screening & After Party

Taylor Sheridan created the latest in her Yellowstone Cinematic Universe at the Rodeo National Finals in Vegas earlier this month. The franchise is a huge success for Paramount and, accidentally, Peacock.
Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for Paramount Plus

And it was like everyone had followed suit. Rival streamers all clearly had their own content strategies based on things like game of thrones, star wars, and it doesn’t matter taylor sheridan cowboy stuff wants to stand up, but they were also willing to experiment in an unusual way before the streaming wars.

This experimentation has been a particular boon for marginalized communities. Because when distribution channels for TV and movies were limited to a certain number of time slots on cable and in theaters, Hollywood was careful – only putting money into movies and TV that would appeal to the wider audience, which meant that film and television were very male-oriented, very white and very, very upright.

The streaming wars opened up more avenues of distribution, which meant more action shows with women in the lead, comedies that didn’t need a white guy or a big comedian to anchor them. , and dramas with a happy ending and a main character. it was weird. We often like to measure diversity in entertainment by “firsts,” and over the past few years, we’ve racked up more firsts than in the previous dozen years.

But these unprecedented times, when we had so much scripted content available that Hollywood faces a shortage of showrunners, are coming to an end. Although the streaming wars are not over, there is definitely a lull in the fight and streamers are all adjusting their tactics. They’ve invested a lot of money in content in hopes of getting subscribers, but now there’s increased competition, and it’s no longer possible to just put cool shows in our mouths with little programming strategy beyond “looks neat”.

A woman has her arm around another woman's neck and looks at her fondly while the other woman nervously looks away.

warrior nun was canceled this week because it was probably too gay for TV. (It was lovely.)
Picture: Manolo Pavon/Netflix

Last month, Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings appeared at The New York Times‘Annual DealBook Summit to talk about the platform and streaming in general. He was candid about Netflix’s need to make money and made it clear that he’ll take hits where he gets them regardless of the cultural costs, which means it will be a pleasure to order Dave Chappelle’s “again and again” specials even though they’re so transphobic they inspire protests, but smaller, more emphatically queer shows like warrior nun and The Babysitters Club to be canceled – although it seems to be working well based on the few metrics Netflix makes public.

HBO Max is a clearer, if devastating, example of the shifting strategies of the streaming wars. The CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav, was extraordinarily clear that he’ll sacrifice a lot of shows and movies if it means he can save some money. The almost finished bat girl has been set aside for tax savings (downgrading it would now be costly for the same reason), and over the summer and fall dozens of other movies and TV shows were unceremoniously pulled from the service to supposedly avoid paying residues to the people who worked there.

This week, more shows got a similar ‘anything to save money’ ax.. Westworldwhich was canceled after four seasons, was pulled from HBO Max alongside Nevers — the Joss Whedon-led show that started terribly and became fascinating before going on hiatus in 2021. The second half of its first season is supposed to be over, but neither halves will air on HBO Max. The second season of Naughty, a surprisingly fun period show about creating a dirty magazine for women. The show has already been renewed by HBO Max, and Variety claims that the service can be purchased by other distributors.

Suddenly canceled TV shows with entire episodes shelved were a relatively common pre-run. There were limited time slots for airing stuff on TV, and TV stations would rather air an old rerun than the latest episode of a little-watched show if it meant it could sell more expensive ads against that replay.

Two women in 19th century clothes are kissing.

Nevers was so awkward until suddenly it was so mesmerizing and now it’s so cancelled.
Image: Keith Bernstein/HBO

In the world of streaming, there’s infinite storage space, which theoretically means that it doesn’t matter how many people watch something that’s already been ordered and produced as long as somebody look at him. That’s why a pre-Zaslav HBO Max had no problem featuring abruptly ended shows like Swamp Thing and that Glow 90s series.

But you still have to pay for creator residuals, and Zaslav is going to avoid doing that if he thinks a specific show’s audience is too small compared to the money he has to pay to keep that content on his service. . And the price of keeping these shows on a streaming service in perpetuity is likely to get more expensive soon, too. In 2023, the Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America, and Screen Actors Guild will all negotiate new contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and flux residues are going to be a major talking point.

And to keep up with the rising costs of creating and maintaining content on these services (and, to be clear, I’m all for playing the creators appropriately for their content), streamers won’t be looking only to secure your subscriptions – they are I’m going to want to sell your audience for ads, which all major streamers now offer.

That means the next phase of this streaming war won’t be about securing your long-term subscription with really cool shows that cater to a smaller audience. It will be about reaching as wide an audience as possible to secure eyeballs for advertisements. And that means this renaissance that has attracted smaller segments of the population is going to come to an end, and what’s left is just going to get more expensive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *