Millions of Americans will tune in live this weekend on old-guard network television. Of course, we’re talking about the Super Bowl on CBS. Live sports are still one of the last things to attract viewers to traditional TV, as more of us watch movies and shows online. But the hypercompetitive and arguably oversaturated streaming sector isn’t so hot either.
Finding new subscribers is difficult. Most services are still not profitable. And today’s decentralized landscape is a longing for the simpler days when consumers could stream all their favorite shows on just one or two platforms for less than $15 a month.
According to Eleanor Patterson, a professor of media studies at Auburn University, Netflix and Hulu were offering these cheap subscriptions and large content libraries at a huge loss.
“It’s the Silicon Valley model of focusing on scaling first and worrying about profitability later,” Patterson said.
This model did not lead to further competition. And before long, Big Tech and legacy media companies moved in. Amazon Prime Video went global in 2016. Soon, Disney, HBO, Peacock and Paramount launched their broadcasting arms.
“And when they open their services, they say, ‘I’m going to take all my services back.’ [intellectual property]”,” Patterson said.
Popular shows spread across platforms, so viewers started needing four or five subscriptions to watch them all. Streamers have begun raising subscription prices, in part to push consumers to cheaper, ad-supported tiers as they try to move toward profitability. Still, many of our monthly streaming bills are approaching the price of the cable packages we threw away a decade ago.
“It’s a big, big mess, that’s what I mean,” Patterson said.
And not just for the audience. “The business has been in shambles for the last three or four years,” said J. Christopher Hamilton, a professor of television, radio and film at Syracuse University and an entertainment lawyer.
In addition to revenue challenges, Hamilton said the streaming sector is recalibrating after the pandemic boom-and-bust period and the Hollywood holidays in 2023.
“One of the things we’ve learned from this learning is that consumers can’t avoid wanting their cake and eating it too,” he said.
Streamers need to figure out how to keep popular shows at a price we can stomach, which is difficult in such a crowded field.
“But if you listen to what these CEOs are talking about, I think we’re going to see a much more condensed media space,” Hamilton said. A few years later, “it can only be three major players.”
It’s a lot like the old days of television. Speaking of which, Parrot Analytics’ Brandon Katz says that ad volumes at broadcasters should continue to grow.
“With price pressure, [streamers] We will continue to try to convert as many people as possible to the ad level,” Katz said.
On the content front, he predicts there will be “creative dumb” in the coming years. During this period of growth, he said, many high-brow, artistically daring shows (think “Fleabag”) have been greenlit.
“Peak TV has well and truly peaked,” Katz said. “From a programming perspective, it’s a huge race to the middle. Everyone is looking for that large-scale commercial rate.”
Turns out, most of us just want to watch hokey sitcoms and old network dramas on loop. Universal’s 2011 legal drama “Suits” was the top-grossing show of 2023, according to a recent analysis by Nielsen. “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Big Bang Theory” also topped the list, easily beating out the most-watched broadcast. original, “Ted Lasso.”
“My students, I ask them what their favorite show is, and they’re like, ‘Friends,’ ‘Seinfeld,'” Patterson said. Streamers are “like parasites who killed the channels that made these shows and now don’t know how to make their own version.”
Patterson said streaming services’ most popular commodities are decades-old network shows, and many of us worry about how decentralized streaming is going, but there’s no TV Guide to tell us what to watch.
“People want it all in one box. They want that magic wand that has everything. And I’m sure people will pay $100 a month for it,” he said.
Streaming is both killing and transforming the competition. Maybe that’s what we all want.
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