Disney Plus piles on, forcing decision dilemmas over streaming
There was no question Jenn Nummer would be signing up for Disney Plus.
With its enormous library of Disney titles, Marvel movies and its new "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian," Nummer was one of the first to sign up for the streaming service, which launches Tuesday. Even though she already shells out more than $200 monthly for cable, Netflix and Hulu, Disney Plus was still a no-brainer.
"Being a huge Disney family, this was a must to be able to have access to anything and everything they want," she says, speaking for her husband, Jason, and their two sons, 10-year-old Mason and 7-year-old Lucas.
Disney is betting on there being a lot of families like Macomb's Nummers. Disney Plus is entering a crowded streaming field that already includes several major players — Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video among them — and is only getting more crowded.
Apple TV Plus joined the field earlier this month, and next year sees the arrival of HBO Max, which rolls out in May and will be the exclusive streaming home of "Friends," as well as HBO's library of series, "The Big Bang Theory" and Warner titles.
And then there's Peacock, NBC's new streaming service, which arrives in April, and Discovery/BBC's streaming service, which also launches in 2020. They will fight for consumer dollars alongside CBS All Access, ESPN Plus, YouTube Premium, the WWE Network, Shudder, the Criterion Channel and more.
For consumers, the various streaming services — each with its own exclusive content — are beginning to add up to another cable bill, and a tipping point may be near.
"It feels like we're getting to the point where things are getting over-saturated," says Devindra Hardawar, senior editor at Edgadget, which covers the consumer electronics field. He says the problem is people trying to figure out what they need and having too many options to choose from.
"As a consumer, it feels exhausting," he says. "People are not saying, 'What service are you going to subscribe to?' It's more like, 'When am I going to have time to watch any of this?'"
Hardawar compares the streaming wars to the height of cable TV, where customers were forced into high monthly bills and subscriptions to hundreds of channels just to be able to watch the few shows they like.
That led to frustration and eventually cord-cutting as the arrival of streaming gave customers the ability to piece together their own TV packages, à la carte, without cable conglomerates. (Netflix currently has around 60 million subscribers in the U.S. and another 100 million globally.)
Now, with networks holding on to their material and restricting it to their own proprietary services, it's beginning to look like cable all over again.
"Everybody has their content in their own kingdoms, and they're all just trying to fight and destroy each other," says Hardawar. "It seems like the idea of cooperation — which was the past decade of people trying to cooperate with Netflix and get their content up there — that's all changing as everybody is taking more control of what they have."
How that shakes out with viewers remains to be seen.
"I think it’s an open question of how many of these subscriptions a consumer is going to be willing to pay for," says Steven Soderbergh, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, who made his last two films for Netflix. "Will it eventually shake out that basically somebody will go, 'OK, if I have these two subscriptions, that kind of covers me?' My sense is that’s where it will go. Which two those will be will be interesting."
For the services themselves, there's also the matter of finances.
"Let’s be clear, none of these platforms are making money yet," Soderbergh says. "And it’s very expensive to mount one of these things. Hulu is still losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Netflix is still operating at a debt. These things cost a lot of money to sustain, especially if you’re doing it on a worldwide basis. So it remains to be seen to me how long they can keep that going before somebody says, 'I don’t see a way out. I don’t see daylight here.'"
The exceptions to that rule are Disney Plus and HBO Max, which already own their programming and their libraries, and should be able to quickly turn a profit. Services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video are on the hook for new programming and round out their libraries with content that's essentially rented from other providers, which is why operating costs remain so high.
There's also the question of the content itself. Apple TV Plus launched Nov. 1 with several high-profile shows, including "The Morning Show," with Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon, about the behind-the-scenes goings on at a "Today"-style morning news program. But it was met with mostly middling reviews, as were most of its other offerings, including "See," a "Game of Thrones"-like sci-fi series staring "Aquaman's" Jason Momoa.
But Apple is counting on its low subscription cost — $4.99 a month to start — to be enough to get it over the hump. And because Apple makes its money elsewhere, it is willing to use Apple TV Plus as an add-on; Apple is giving away year-long subscriptions to the service with the purchase of new Apple products, including iPhones.
For Nummer, the content is enough to justify the subscription costs. She's looking forward to diving into Disney Plus to watch movies she remembers watching as a kid, including 1959's "The Shaggy Dog" and 1961's "The Absent-Minded Professor," while she's excited to show her kids other Disney live-action films from years past. (She and Jason have already plowed through most of Disney's animated offerings with the young ones.)
The various packages are "a little much," Nummer admits, but she's not making any changes, yet. "If we cut anything, it will be from the cable networks," she says. "My hope is we can get rid of the premium channels."
Steve Huber of Rochester Hills and his wife, Marisa, won't be signing up for Disney Plus. They have four children under 10, but with a $150 cable bill, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, they're all set, he says.
"I guess we're not looking for additional content," Huber says. They have Disney Jr. through their cable subscription, which is enough for the kids. He watches sports on ESPN and comedy specials on Netflix, and anything else is superfluous, he says.
"If someone were to say, 'do you want Disney Plus for free?' we'd take it. But on some level, I just don't see the value," he says. "I don't need it. We never lack for something to watch. We lack for time more than we lack for content to watch."
A guide to the new streaming services and what they have to offer:
Launch date: Tuesday
Price: $6.99 monthly
What's on it: An extensive library of films from the Disney, Marvel and Pixar libraries, as well as "The Mandalorian," the new "Star Wars"-centered TV series. The service is also home to "The Simpsons," the live action remake of "Lady and the Tramp" and a new series based on "High School Musical," and down the road will be home to new Marvel series focusing on new and returning characters.
Who it's for: Parents of small children, superhero fanatics and children of all ages.
Apple TV Plus
Launch date: Nov. 1
Price: $4.99 monthly
What's on it: At launch, Apple's foray into the streaming world housed a small handful of new series, including "The Morning Show," with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, about the behind-the-scenes at a network morning news program; "See," a "Game of Thrones"-style offering starring Jason Momoa; and "Dickinson," with Hailee Steinfeld as American poet Emily Dickinson. More series and movies are in the pipeline.
Who it's for: Aniston fans and Apple diehards; the tech giant is giving away year-long subscriptions to customers who purchase new iPhones.
Launch date: May 2020
Price: $14.99 monthly
What's on it: HBO titles, from "Game of Thrones" to "Succession," as well as Warner titles such as "Friends" and "The Big Bang Theory" and children's television giant "Sesame Street." The service will also include original programming, including series based on "The Boondocks" and "Dune."
Who it's for: Consumers ready to give up Netflix. With its mix of familiar and new programming, HBO Max is presenting itself as the most direct competitor to the streaming leader.
Launch date: April 2020
What's on it: "The Office," one of the most coveted titles in the streaming world, as well as movies from Universal, reruns of NBC staples such as "Parks and Recreation," "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live" and revivals of "Saved by the Bell" and "Punky Brewster." The service will also be home to a new "Battlestar Galactica."
Who it's for: Fans of "The Office," which has only gotten more popular since it went off the air in 2013. (If Peacock really wanted to bolster its place in the streaming world, it would open up its checkbook and order new episodes of the beloved series.)
Launch date: April 6, 2020
Price: $4.99-$7.99 monthly
What's on it: Only have a few minutes to spare? This experimental streamer is for you. Specializing in short-form programming that tops out around 10 minutes, the service will be home to a horror anthology series from Steven Spielberg, a "People's Court"-style offering with Chrissy Teigen doling out her brand of justice, and daily news and sports shows. With the other streaming services fighting over the past and present, Quibi looks to have its eye on the future of programming.
Who it's for: Streamers on the go.