Unlike the federal election campaign and the Democratic candidates debates, the streaming wars have no end date in sight. They’re just getting started and will go on and on for years.
Tuesday’s announcement by Apple that it will launch AppleTV+ on Nov. 1 was long-awaited. Apple has spent vast amounts of money hiring talent and making shows, but when or how we would see the content has been a mystery. The cost, at US$4.99 a month, undercuts Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+, with the latter also launching in November.
This means big choices for the consumer. But it mainly means that Netflix will finally have tough competition. How tough? Netflix is tougher than all the rest.
Note that the cost of Apple’s new platform reflects what you get. Apple’s TV slate is bare bones with big names attached. Among the originals set to launch on Apple’s platform from Nov. 1 are The Morning Show with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and Dickinson, starring Hailee Steinfeld. And there’s See, a sci-fi drama set 600 years in the future when a virus has almost wiped out humankind and left the survivors blind. Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard star in that one. Also coming is the new creation of Ronald Moore (Battlestar Galactica and Outlander), For All Mankind, which imagines what life would be like if the global space race had never ended.
A drama with Aniston and Witherspoon, set in the morning-TV workplace, is the grabber. Dickinson is aimed at younger viewers – it adds a “modern sensibility and tone” to the coming-of-age story of poet Emily Dickinson.
Apple doesn’t have an existing library of film and TV content and is unlikely to buy one. It’s going to be small and many consumers won’t even pay the monthly fee for AppleTV+, as the company is including it free to anyone who buys a new qualifying device, including an iPhone, Apple TV or Mac. It sure looks as though Apple is doing what Amazon did – offering TV content as a fringe benefit for loyal Apple customers.
Shortly after Apple launches its TV platform, along comes Disney+, with a vast library to entice subscribers. Disney has its own animated movies, and Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar films. It kicks off with the enticing original The Mandalorian, a Star Wars live-action drama series and it has a new take on High School Musical along with a large batch of other family-friendly content.
The real battle in the streaming wars will be Disney+ facing off against Netflix. What Apple is offering is an add-on service much like niche streaming services Acorn and BritBox offer. (CBC GEM also falls into that category.) Still looming on the horizon are WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and a new streaming service owned by NBC Universal.
Netflix has been in business for more than two decades and been a disruptor streaming service since 2007. Its pitch is easily grasped – all the TV and movie content you need is right there on its service for a monthly fee. It has spent tens of billions of dollars on acquiring content and creating new series, specials and movies. It isn’t going to get the jitters when Disney+ arrives. For years, it has been clear that competition was coming and Netflix’s behemoth stature was going to be challenged.
What Netflix has going for it is an already long-established consumer loyalty and dependability. It deals in volume and value for money. The number of Emmy nominations it gets – in 2018 it surpassed HBO for the first time – are mere icing on the cake. The day-to-day business of Netflix is the customer’s ability to discover new content it didn’t know about. Also, it spends money in acquiring hot and award-winning cable series after they’ve aired on cable, a manoeuvre that convinces subscribers to abandon cable and stick with streaming.
There is a good reason why Netflix has played hardball with movie distributors on the matter of Netflix-made movies running in theatres before and during a movie’s availability on Netflix. Each of those movies justifies subscriptions. In the end, Netflix is less interested in Oscar wins than it is in keeping and growing its subscriber base. The movie industry complaining about Netflix is rather like the theatre world complaining that television exists.
Disney+ might look as though it has an advantage. There is a vast existing audience for Star Wars/Marvel/Pixar content. But essentially, you know what you’re getting when you pay for that branded entertainment. With Netflix, you get new series such as Stranger Things, which people are talking about the next day, plus enter a space where you find all manner of entertainment you didn’t know about before. That’s the ace Netflix holds. Don’t bet on its decline.
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