In the world of entertainment platforms, the cycle of dominance seems to be getting shorter and shorter. In the past, it took decades to topple one format – from VHS to DvD, or from network to subscription TV. Now, change is surely inevitable but it seems to be getting relentless too.
This time, it looks like the service that heralded the end of physical media – streaming – is having its own moment of crisis. And we haven’t even had a chance to forget Blockbuster yet. Less than a decade ago, streaming services were obliterating competition left and right.
In their advancement, platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon permanently changed the way creators think about and produce content. As numbers get bigger and bigger, movies and shows are beholden to the gods of marketing as much as to the gods of creativity.
Post-pandemic though, the mood seems to have sobered up among many industry stakeholders. In April this year, Netflix posted subscriber decline for the first time in a decade and the news sent stocks plummeting 35% and even lower.
In response, Netflix is tightening its purse strings, scaling down its library, and worse, laying off employees. Creators are struggling to produce content and survive. At the same time, Disney Plus posted middling ratings for its Marvel shows despite the unwavering loyalty of its fanbase.
So what does it all mean for the future of streaming movies and TV shows? Despite the lower ratings, Disney Plus has at least resolved to continue with their scale of content production. However, a bigger sign of things to come is the fate of HBO Max.
‘It’s Simple, We Kill The Bat(girl)’
In order to dominate viewership across multiple streams, media companies often get into partnerships. Case in point, HBO Max (House of the Dragon, Peacemaker) and WarnerMedia, the company that owns the film rights to popular DC Comics properties.
The then-CEO of WarnerMedia, Jason Kilar, made the decision to release their films on HBO Max the same day as in theaters. Stepping down in April this year, he said in an interview, ‘It was the right decision, because we were in the middle of the pandemic.’
Fast forward to August 2022, WarnerMedia announced that Batgirl starring Leslie Grace, and already in post-production, will never be released. Simultaneously, HBO Max began to remove some media properties from its library. So much for fruitful partnerships.
Fix What’s Broken
Despite the alarms of falling viewership and declining revenues, not every platform is convinced of this gloomy outlook. New shows are being announced (The Rings of Power, Prime) and existing ones being renewed (Stranger Things, Netflix).
In reality, readjustments such as pared down content and canned releases do not address the real issues facing the streaming industry. According to a survey by Wired, the biggest user complaint was with app interfaces including for Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and yes, HBO Max.Despite this feedback, viewership loyalty was high for HBO Max outside the US, and within. Viewers prefer HBO’s unique brand of stellar production and storytelling. The real lesson is to improve user experience. The biggest challenge for the future of streaming is technological.