Around the internet, all the time I see people get angry at the number of streaming services available, and declare that it’s like having cable all over again, or that it’s worse than cable. This is just wrong.
First, 2008-2014 Netflix (or whatever the golden years were) was never going to be the norm. It was always a historical fluke. You can’t have all the video content in the world for $12/mo. Spotify does that for music, and music is way cheaper to produce, and even then Spotify still runs at a loss. It’s just not viable. Content would not be made under the model where a significant amount of the viewing public paid $12/mo to see all of it.
Early Netflix was a result of content companies thinking streaming was just a niche fad, and they made almost all their money from broadcast cable. They were willing to sign away the rights to their content for peanuts because it was “free money” to them on a niche viewing method that they didn’t invest at all in. But after streaming took off, it became clear that streaming was going to be the future for a large portion of the viewing audience, and at that point they could no longer treat streaming as a novelty and bonus income, it had to be a main part of their future plans.
It is simply financially impossible for there to be one streaming service for $12 a month that would carry all the content that cable used to.
“Oh, but now that I need to subscribe to 10 different streaming services, it costs as much as cable!” they say.
First, why do you need 10 different streaming services at once? How much content can you possibly watch at one time? With cable, since you were interested in different channels at different times a day, and you had to have those channels to catch the shows you wanted as they aired, and you were limited to watching only what was on for a given moment, it made more sense that you had to have a lot of channels. But people who stream don’t watch TV like that anymore. They typically watch 1-3 shows on their own schedule on demand. Why, then, do you need to have every single service simultaneously?
The monopoly of cable makes it almost impossible to cancel your cable service easily. You have to basically harass them into cancelling your service, or to reduce and re-subscribe particular packages. But that’s not true for streaming. It’s trivial to simply pause your subscription for as long as you like and come back to it. So if you have 2 or 3 streaming services at once, for maybe $20 or $25 a month, you’ll have more content than you could possibly watch in any reasonable amount of time. When some show you really want to see comes to some other streaming service - then just subscribe to that one for a month. Or rotate your subscriptions. Pause netflix, subscribe to HBO plus. There’s no real reason anyone has to spend more than $25 a month or so on streaming, and anyone who subscribes to 8+ different streaming services and then complains about the price is a dumb dumb.
But even if that weren’t true, even if you did have to have all the streaming services for some reason, it’s still not as expensive as cable. If you had Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, paramount+, hbomax, peacock, discovery plus, amazon prime (which is kind of a special case, because a lot of people have prime for other reasons anyway), you’re looking at something like $75-90 a month depending on which tier of service you chose. The average cable TV bill is $116. So even with that ridiculous, unnecessary lineup at all times, it’s still cheaper.
But let’s ignore that and say they cost the same. Streaming is still better:
Most streaming is ad free. Some streaming is ad-supported (in which case you pay no subscription) and some streaming is ad-optional, in which case you’re saving a few bucks a month not to buy their ad-free tier. The power never to see ads is within your hand. A full 1/3rd of viewing time on cable is spent on ads. Right there, alone, makes streaming vastly superior to cable.
You are not at the mercy of appointment viewing. You don’t have to flip through channels to see what’s on, you don’t have to sit your butt down at exactly 9pm on Wednesday night to catch the 19th singing show of the week (seriously, the amount of singing shows on prime time is ridiculous), you get what you want when you want. Cable services do offer some on-demand content, but it’s nowhere near as good: it’s not complete, it’s often ad-supported, it’s often done through awful interfaces on cable boxes that are slow, clunky, and painful to use. Every computer, phone, smart TV, and tons of other devices have the ability to run streaming services however you like, and if their interface sucks, you can simply go to another service, whereas you’re basically just stuck with whatever absolute garbage software/cable box comcast gives you.
The amount of content available to you at any particular time is higher than cable. You’re limited to whatever cable has on at that particular moment, but you have access to entire libraries of streaming content with any of the streaming services that could easily include hundreds or thousands of hours of content that interest you.
Now a lot of people will say “well it’s not about cost, it’s about convenience, I’d be willing to pay more to have all of my content in one place”
I usually see this as an excuse to justify piracy, so I don’t think it’s made in good faith. I think if you made one super streaming service for $80 a month that had everything, then these people wouldn’t get it because they don’t want to pay $80 a month for TV.
But let’s examine that idea for a moment:
Competition between services benefits the customers. They have an incentive to make their interface and user experience better, they have an incentive to try to get all the content they can, and an incentive to make good original content. If there were one big streaming service, like if Netflix was the only one, they could just sit on their laurels and trust their monopolistic status to make people come to them. Hey… what does that remind you of?
Additionally, while sometimes creating their own streaming service involves pulling content away from previously licensed services (like taking The Office off Netflix), it often involves bringing new content that was not previously available on streaming to the market. As an example, Discovery+ brought thousands of hours of content from discovery, HGTV, food network, history, and others that simply wasn’t available for streaming before. And people rolled their eyes and said “oh wow another streaming service” instead of thinking “awesome, a ton of new content that I couldn’t have watched before for $5/mo”
And, really, how big a deal is it to switch from the netflix app to the disney+ app on your computer, tablet, or smart TV? It’s a 2 second operation. A prime example of a first world problem.
The fragmented streaming model allows for cheaper viewing, as I outlined above. If there was one giant service and it was $80 a month, then you’d have to pay $80/mo no matter what. You couldn’t do the same thing and rotate your subscriptions and only pay $10-25 a month and eventually get all that content, you’d have to pay 3-8x more for, ultimately, the same content.
That one streaming service would have incredible power over the content industry. They could decide if shows are made or are canceled, what catalogs to show and which ones to ignore, which ones to pay and which ones to strong arm into a lower priced deal. This gives them a huge amount of content control that would almost certainly be bad for both the content makers and the consumers.
Really - when we had cable, there was a big push so that people could buy channels a-la-carte. What we have now with streaming is not quite a-la-carte, but it’s a lot closer than what cable TV has to offer. And the irony is - the people complaining that the streaming industry should be consolidated down to one service are the ones who seem to want to re-create cable TV. But then they complain that having a fragmented streaming market is “just like having cable all over again”, which is illogical and really does not appreciate how good streaming is or how bad cable TV is.
2010 Netflix was an unsustainable fluke. Don’t get hung up on the idea that it should be how things will always be. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be enough money for new content to get made with everyone expecting the world for $12/mo. The current market with competing streaming services is vastly better than cable ever was, and better than a realistically priced giant singular streaming service would be.