It's Cable 2.0 as TV's streaming wars mount their offensives

With Disney, Apple and NBC joining an already overcrowded marketplace, the battle for survival is taking hold

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

This is not the future cord-cutters envisioned. 

It was announced this week that "Saved by the Bell" would be rebooted on NBC's new streaming platform, Peacock. In the series, Bayside High School's resident wiseguy hero Zack Morris is now California governor and, wait, I'm sorry... did you say NBC's new streaming platform? 

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the new shows on Apple TV at the Steve Jobs Theater during an event to announce new products Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, in Cupertino, Calif.

Yes, Peacock is set to join a rapidly expanding streaming universe that already includes Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV, CBS All Access, ESPN+, Sony Crackle, Shudder, the WWE Network, the Criterion Channel, Vudu and more. 

They will soon be joined by Disney+ and Apple TV+, both of which are set to launch in November. And then there's HBO Max, the bigger, badder version of HBO (which for some reason will be home to reruns of "The Big Bang Theory"), along with networks dedicated to the NBA and the NFL, Pluto TV, Philo, Sling TV, DAZN...

Gee, remember when we all just had cable?

On one hand, the deluge of streaming networks is creating a content bonanza. All those networks need shows to fill them, which is why "Saved by the Bell" is being brought back, along with reboots of "Battlestar Galactica" and "Punky Brewster." If you liked a television show at any point in the last 30 years and its principal castmembers are still alive, there's a good chance it will be brought back in some form, somewhere.

At this month's Toronto International Film Festival, Steven Soderbergh talked about this very issue, and its downside.

"I don't think the current level of production can sustain. There's just too much stuff being made," said Soderbergh, whose latest film "The Laundromat" will be released by Netflix in theaters Friday and will hit the streaming platform Oct. 18. "The number of people that really know how to execute at a high level is pretty small, and they're busy already. There just aren't enough people to go around who are smart and talented to make all this stuff. It seems very much like a bubble, right now, to me." 

And who can watch all those shows? If you think it's tough keeping up with just Netflix programming — have you watched "Unbelievable" yet? How about season two of "Mindhunter?" What's that, you never got through season one of "Mindhunter?" — try staying on top of two dozen streaming networks, in addition to shows on cable and network TV.

The streaming wars will not be without their casualties.

Netflix popularized the streaming model and revolutionized the way we watch television, and got fans used to binge-watching episodes of TV shows both new ("Stranger Things," "Orange is the New Black") and old ("Friends," "The Office"). Rising subscription rates have caused some to think twice about staying on board, but in an environment where content is king, Netflix has it.

While it's losing favorites like "Friends" and "The Office," Netflix has become a major player with its original films — last year's "Roma" was nominated for Best Picture, this year its got "The Irishman," "Dolemite is My Name" and "Marriage Story" — and its comedy slate is unbeatable. Though it continues to operate at negative cash flow, the logistics of which are confounding, Netflix should continue to thrive. 

Disney+ seems like a no-brainer off of name recognition alone, and if you have children, good luck not being coerced, in some fashion, into signing up for a subscription. Disney+ will be home to Disney's vault of classic films, in addition to Marvel content and new series based around seemingly every character in the "Star Wars" universe. C-3PO will probably have his own nightly talk show. And at an introductory rate of $6.99 a month, Disney+ is poised to make a big splash in the streaming pond.  

Every other streamer seems vulnerable. There's only so much money and so many eyeballs to go around, and second- and third-tier outlets will need more than reruns and reboots to stay afloat. (Looking at you, Hulu.)  

Of course, companies could always get together and offer a bundle of services at one monthly price. They could even put them all on the same platform. It would need a name, of course.

How about "Cable?"

Nah, it will never work.