What Is the Future of the Streaming Wars? – State of Streaming 3.0
There are more streaming networks than ever before, so if you have questions about the future of streaming, then you’ve come to the right place. All week long, IGN’s State of Streaming 3.0 initiative is featuring reviews and in-depth analysis about current streaming providers like Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and more!
After the launch of three new streaming services back in 2020 — Peacock, HBO Max, and Quibi, with the latter’s $2 billion failure resulting in the first major casualty of the Streaming Wars — the number of contenders entering the fray over the past year has slowed down some. Apart from the debuts of Discovery+ and Paramount+ (the rebranded name for CBS All Access) in 2021, the focus of the Streaming Wars has shifted from the creation of new platforms to one of survival, as each combatant continues its quest to gain as many viewers as it can.
To help us better understand how this crowded streaming landscape will affect your entertainment consumption moving forward, we spoke to various industry experts and studio executives to see what’s in store for the future of the Streaming Wars.
What is the future of the Streaming Wars?
Roku is probably best known for its popular streaming platform, which currently has 55.1 million active users, according to THR. However, the streamer made a splash in the Streaming Wars after purchasing the global distribution rights to 75-short form shows from Quibi’s library. Roku even renewed Quibi’s The Most Dangerous Game drama series for a second season, where Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) will reprise his leading role. The streamer recently announced the release of 23 new Roku Originals, including Eye Candy, Squeaky Clean, and Season 2 of Thanks a Million. While these series don’t have the same cache as Netflix’s The Witcher or Disney+’s Loki, it’s clear that Roku intends to join the battle for streaming supremacy.
With Netflix holding the #1 spot atop the streaming charts in 2021, Sherman classifies Amazon and Disney as “sort of 2A and 2B,” with the former doing a bit more spending, especially with its purchase of the James Bond studio MGM for $8.45 billion. But where Netflix is mostly sticking to the status quo in terms of offering a variety of on-demand content, Amazon is attempting to differentiate itself with its multi-billion dollar deal with the NFL and Thursday Night Football.
“[Amazon] is sort of becoming not just an on-demand location, but also a live destination,” Sherman explained. “That separates them a little bit from Netflix and we’ll have to see if that really transforms the way people watch TV in general if they now view streaming as a place that they need to show up weekly for live viewing, which it really isn’t. Yes, there’s some live programming on a lot of the streaming. But by and large, as we speak today, streaming is heavily on-demand, and your live sports and news viewing is still by and large old school broadcast, cable, linear TV even in a digital form, like YouTube TV.”
For all of the other major streaming services, it appears that mergers and acquisitions are the keys to survive the future of the Streaming Wars. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has already made an ambitious move in the form of a $43 billion purchase of WarnerMedia from telecommunications giant AT&T. If the deal goes through, Zaslav will quickly close in on that coveted 100 million subscriber count across both streaming services. Not only will Zaslav control the rights to the Property Brothers, Guy Fieri, and CNN in the unscripted market, but also Game of Thrones and Batman. While $43 billion is nothing to laugh at, when you consider AT&T acquired WarnerMedia for $85 billion back in 2018, Zaslav got a pretty good deal.
Sherman believes that ViacomCBS’ Paramount+ and NBCUniversal’s Peacock won’t last as standalone streaming services, so a merger is likely in their future. The question is, who will they merge with in order to stand a fighting chance against the likes of Amazon, Netflix, and Disney? A potential outcome is for either Peacock or Paramount+ to merge with the new Discovery/WarnerMedia conglomerate or another company buys them instead. The one streaming service we haven’t mentioned yet, that could play a big role as far as mergers are concerned, is Apple TV+.
Valued at over $2 trillion dollars, there isn’t much Apple can’t afford to buy, but does it even want to? “So we don’t know exactly where Apple wants to go in this and that’s sort of the other large, open-ended question here,” Sherman told IGN. “Clearly, Apple wants to play in this world to some degree, otherwise they wouldn’t have started this Apple TV+ service, but they have so little content right now that they’re not a viable competitor and they obviously must know that.” Fortunately for Apple, it has the luxury of time since streaming isn’t its primary source of income.
What is the most powerful weapon in the Streaming Wars?
Intellectual property, or “IP” for short, is still the most powerful weapon in any streamer’s arsenal. Owning the rights to iconic franchises like Game of Thrones (HBO), Star Wars (Disney), and Lord of the Rings (Amazon) can obviously be crucial in bringing more subscribers to your platform. So we spoke to HBO Max Executive Vice President and General Manager Andy Forssell to learn more about the value IP brings to streaming services.
“DC obviously has a huge history going back to the heyday of the books,” Forssell explained. “We’re going to lean into that hugely. Just the James Gunn thread of it here, with Suicide Squad and then Peacemaker early next year (2022). We have a bunch more in development. But as you’d expect, we will lean into it pretty heavily in terms of mining that universe. It’s got to be doing it in a way that’s really specific to DC and with a voice. Not that everything we do in that universe will have the same voice, but with several veins of consistency.”
With all of the recent acclaim for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Zach Snyder’s Justice League, it’s easy to forget that WarnerMedia/HBO has more firepower in its armory than DC properties, such as the Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon, which is currently in production.
“You look at Game of Thrones, built on a fantastic IP from George R. R. Martin,” Forssell said. “Game of Thrones really doesn’t have a comparison, in terms of the last couple of decades, and in terms of a show attracting the kind of people it attracted, especially in this fragmented universe. House of Dragon [sic] will continue that. And there’s a bunch more in the development pipeline there. I think that’s something we’ll mine for years to come, and it’s a universe that clearly people love. And it’s our job not to screw it up, but to build on it and make it interesting.”
While HBO Max and DC continue to develop blockbuster titles like the Suicide Squad spinoff Peacemaker and a live-action Green Lantern show, taking risks with new IP that’s not based on any pre-existing material is also important to Forssell and his team. Highly-acclaimed new series like Mare of Easttown and Hacks help diversify HBO Max’s portfolio, especially during awards season, where HBO and HBO Max lead the 2021 Emmys with a combined 130 nominations.
Amazon Prime Video is taking a similar approach as it continues to add exciting new content to its service. Even though the company’s reported $1 billion investment for five seasons of Lord of the Rings makes for a captivating headline, Amazon’s Vernon Sanders, Co-Head of Television, and Marc Resteghini, Head of Development, are also investing in new talent with new ideas.
“It’s so key that we have a wide-open door for those original ideas and concepts,” Resteghini informed IGN. “We’re particularly excited about a couple of things that are coming next year, Outer Range and Lightyears, that are wholly original and we fell in love and we’re just passionate about. Outer Range came from a playwright in New York who hadn’t done television before. We did THEM last year that came out from a new creator in Little Marvin. So we are just as excited about things that are new and unique and different and come from exciting new voices, and that’s as much a part of our effort as the bigger IP pieces are.”
But high-value intellectual properties don’t always come in the form of Dragons, Caped Crusaders, or even Hobbits. Take Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon, for example, who sold her Hello Sunshine production company for north of $900 million. Witherspoon’s company doesn’t own any iconic IP or famous superheroes that will guarantee billions of dollars of annual revenue for years to come like Marvel and Star Wars, however, she does have a proven track record of successful titles like Apple’s The Morning Show, HBO’s Big Little Lies, and Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are also cashing in on the IP craze, with an astonishing $935 million contract extension from ViacomCBS, which will keep them in the adult-animated business until 2027. These numbers are truly staggering if you think back to Amazon’s reported purchase of Lord of the Rings for $250 million. The value of reliable IP on both the big and small screens has grown tremendously over the past few years.
“Get as much IP as you can get, that’s the name of the game,” CNBC’s Alex Sherman told IGN. “I think it’s by far the most important thing in streaming. If you look at what acquisitions have worked over the past 10 years, the biggest ones that have worked were all IP acquisitions. They’re Disney buying Marvel, it’s Disney buying Lucas, it’s acquisitions of IP that have paid off in droves for the media companies.”
So if you want to survive the future of the streaming wars, consider gaining a new ally with some valuable IP like Discovery’s potential merger with the WarnerMedia company, or have $2 trillion in your back pocket like Apple to sit back, relax, and watch as the war rages one. Either way, TV and movie fans get to enjoy all of the benefits as streaming services spend billions on quality entertainment. All you have to do is subscribe to your streamer of choice and press play.
David Griffin is the TV Streaming Editor for IGN. Say hi on Twitter.
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