Positive Cynicism – The golden age of streaming is probably over

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Boy, there’s a part of me that’s getting really sick of having to talk about Netflix.

Every time you want to have a conversation about what’s going on with Netflix, you have to field your way through those assholes who think it’s their job to give you a lecture about how whiny and entitled you are, and about how you want everything for free, and about how you shouldn’t expect to … well, essentially, how you shouldn’t expect to be able to use the service you pay for the way the service conditioned you to expect to be able to use it. After all, that’s what happened when Netflix split its DVD mailing service and its streaming service into two separate subscriptions, asking you to pay 50 percent more for what you used to get for a single price. Apparently being even a little annoyed by a price hike in a depressed economy on what I had already been paying for was entitlement as its worst. Silly me.

Now we’ve got the announcement that Netflix lost nearly 1,800 titles this week, as more of its licensing deals with studios have expired. 1,794 titles from Warner Bros., MGM and Universal. That’s a lot of film and TV library on that one. Sure, there are people writing little blurbs about “Well, it’s not like anyone’s going to be upset about all of those Barney episodes disappearing” (unless you have kids that like Barney; I don’t even want to imagine how kids reacted to that one), but I haven’t seen anyone talking about the larger, more expensive implications of this one.

The real problem here is that Netflix has become, yet again, a victim of its own success. It proved there was a big market for streaming video services. It provided something very modern and something that proved to be very necessary: a way for people to get the video content they wanted without having to bother with the hassle of video stores and their limited selections. It was better than front door delivery. It was the touch of a few buttons. You can’t overstate the importance of convenience in services, and this was as convenient as it could possibly get.

But what that proved to studios and other services was that there was a vast market for that kind of content. Best of all, it was just a matter of the content — streaming provided a way to make the content itself available without having to go to the trouble of creating physical DVDs and the costs associated with putting them in stores. Over the last few years, I’ve seen so many movies via streaming that I never thought I’d see because they were never even available on DVD. It was a fantastic arrangement.

Now studios and content providers are looking at this vast market and are treating it the way they always do: they’re going to war over it.

We’re in this frustrating consumer cycle where everyone wants to make things as widely available as possible, but only if they can do it on their own terms and monetize it as frequently as they can.

This is hardly the first time someone has let their deal expire with Netflix, but so much content at once — 1,794 titles — looks like an apocalypse. And there will be more disappearing. One day in the next year, if it takes that long, we might all be seriously looking at how little we pay for Netflix every month and wondering if even that amount reflects the value of what we’re getting.

Meanwhile, other streaming services are going to pop up. Obviously we already have Amazon and Hulu, and everyone’s trying to get exclusive access to studio libraries. Warner Instant is already about to launch, and there will probably be more to come. Everyone wants in on this market, and if they can offer it direct without having to go through a licenser like Netflix, that’s further monetization on products that — and I don’t think this is stressed enough when we talk about subscription fees — have already been in profit for years or even decades.

That’s something that people need to mention more, in my opinion. When we watch an old movie on cable, no one grumbles about how we’re basically watching something for free. Yes, we pay a cable subscription, but we aren’t paying for specific access to whatever titles happen to be showing. If MGM suddenly pulled all of its James Bond movies from BBC America and someone went to their blog and complained about it, no one would angrily comment that they just wanted everything for free and for the people who made it to get no money on it even though they were all paid decades ago and the movie’s been in profit forever and all the money ever made on it now goes to the studio that released it and not the people who actually did the work. But when someone complains now that they can’t watch James Bond movies on Netflix anymore, that’s exactly what happens.

Look, here’s the thing about streaming movies and television: no one in the world wants to pay for a dozen subscriptions to a dozen services and have to keep track of a dozen bills. No one. No one in the world. No one wants to pay a dozen fees for basically what they used to get on one service for one fee. Yes, there’s a vast market for streaming, but it’s a market that has already established itself with high convenience and great value for a low cost. Now, that market is being destroyed by greed and its value is being diluted by having to pay more to get the same thing but at less convenience.

It’s not a question of wanting to pay for entertainment. I have no problem paying for entertainment. I just want good value on the price I’m paying, and multiple streaming services is not it. That’s not being whiny or entitled or having to grow up. That’s having to be careful about how I spend my limited amount of money instead of just happily paying more and more and more to the providers who feel entitled to it.

And when you grow up, you’ll realize that.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

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