Netflix changed the game. Twice, actually- first in 1999, when its launch of a monthly DVD mailing subscription doomed classic rental stores such as Blockbuster. Then again in 2007, perhaps more fresh in the minds of Belmont Hill students, when the company announced its intent to shift focus to streaming entertainment. Over the course of the next decade, Netflix spread like wildfire across the globe, forever changing the way we expected to consume content. No longer was it necessary to wait for shows to air on cable, or purchase DVDs of movies to watch at home. Suddenly, the worlds of television and cinema were at our key-clacking fingertips. As “watching Netflix” become a ubiquitous term, other early streaming services such as Amazon grabbed hold of the rising surge in popularity and ascended to a dominant position in the entertainment arena.
Where did all of this leave us? Happy, for the most part: families cancelled their expensive cable and radio subscriptions in favor of cheap monthly streaming costs, and all the entertainment one could need congregated on a few affordable platforms. But that was years ago; since then, other companies have taken notice. Over the past five years, corporations have scrambled to capitalize on the streaming trend, launching new subscription services and dividing up their content among them. Amazon. ESPN+. HBO Now. DC Universe. Stadia. Apple Music. Apple TV+. Disney+. All of these services launched within the past five years, and they are only a few examples of the plethora of new platforms onto which companies are attempting to push their content.
Where does this leave us? Confused, for the most part: if one simply searches “streaming services” online, articles claiming to be the “best guide” to or the “definitive list” of streaming abound, reflecting the utter abundance of options. Gone are the days of Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify as the sole rulers; now, consumers might have to search through Disney+, Netflix, Apple Music, Spotify, and more to find that movie they were looking for.
The sheer number of companies trying to get their skin in the streaming game has many consequences, but not all of them are negative. For instance, due to the increased competition between platforms, each will be motivated to create better, more appealing content. Some of the best television produced in recent years has come from the likes of Netflix and Amazon; The Man in the High Castle, The Mandalorian, and Stranger Things serve as examples of critically acclaimed series that originated on streaming services.
However, there are two key problems with the continued fracturing of entertainment. For one, it removes much of the appeal that subscriptions such as Netflix had when they first launched. The promise of “all the entertainment you could ever want” on one platform has vanished as companies pull their products away from competitors. This separation of media creates the same issue that Netflix sought to solve in the first place. Secondly, the financial burden is increasing. Paying for Spotify and Netflix might have been tolerable, but adding three or four more charges a month to that bill? Speaking specifically as a student with limited time and money, that’s a good way to turn off the average consumer.
We’ve seen many new streaming services crop up over the past few years, and I’m certain we’ll see more during the next few. Corporations will continue to attempt to draw in subscribers with flashy new shows and other original content. However, as entertainment continues to be divided up across platforms and subscription prices pile high, I find it hard to believe that any show, no matter how binge-worthy, will be able to keep this teetering House of Cards standing.