The Atlantic ran a piece saying that “the Wild West era of streaming TV is over.” I see their point, and in some ways I agree. But mostly, I think they have it backward. The new AT&T streaming service — along with those like Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, HBO Now, and so on — is actually the harbinger of a GREAT new world of TV to come.
But the point of the piece is more about how cord cutters used to be able to save a bunch of money, and now they can’t because they have to sign up for a bunch of different services, and their monthly bill will end up looking a lot like their old cable bill after all. Not so. Or at least, only if you’re married to live TV and you feel like you have to watch EVERYTHING that everyone else watches. You don’t!
Just because we have the option to purchase 6 different streaming services, doesn’t we’re going to. Some of us will, and that’s great! But many of us will content ourselves with one or two and leave it there. This attitude assumes that we viewers are slaves to the content creators, and that we must keep up with all the content all the time. But I’m not sure that’s the case. I know it’s not for me, and I suspect it’s not true of you, either.
“But slowly and surely, the corporations are beginning to pull their properties back, recognizing that exclusivity will be the way to lure new subscribers. The boundaries of this digital age have been redrawn, and by 2020, the exciting world of streaming media might start to look very old-fashioned once again.”
I think this is ultimately too pessimistic. The first part is true, corporations are beginning to pull their properties back, and services will use exclusivity to their advantage. But things won’t look old-fashioned.
Let’s draw this out: Warner Brothers, Disney, CBS, Comcast, AMC, and so on: they all have a bunch of content they want you to consume. In the old regime, you would sign up for cable or satellite TV and you’d get a giant, 300-channel package that included everything I listed above. And it cost you, say, $75 (maybe a little less, maybe a lot more).
Now, he says, each of those big companies will have its own streaming service, and if you want to get all that same content, you’re going to end up paying close to, or maybe even more than, that old $75 bill. True enough, I think David Sims is pretty much right here.
But Sims is taking a massive leap right over one word: “IF.” IF I want all the TV content in the world at my fingertips at all times, then yes, I’ll pay for it. But if I know that my family will be fine with Disney content, since they’ll have kids stuff and sports and Hulu stuff, then I pay $15-20 for that, and I’m done–I choose not to pay for everything else. It’s that “if”, that possibility for a piecemeal approach, that makes what’s coming different from what we had before. The only choice we had before was whether to have TV or not. Now? Our choice is both whether and how much. Is it the a la carte situation we all wanted when we started cutting the cord? No. But it’s a lot better than what we had before, because our choices have expanded dramatically.
The Wild West days of streaming aren’t over: they’re only just beginning. Where the power used to rest in the hand of the distributors, now it’s in the hands of many content creators. There will be other problems to solve, sure, but at least we’re getting more choices.
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