INT- ABC News - April, 2029
Disney’s D23 conference has started off with a bang.
The House of Mouse has finally confirmed the loudest rumor in Hollywood of the past year: it has acquired Netflix for $13B. For more on this, here’s Liv.
The streaming wars are finally over. Disney has officially announced plans to acquire Netflix, the once King of streaming.
A revolutionary service in it’s early days, in more recent times Netflix was the last opponent standing in Disney’s path to complete control of the Entertainment industry. Taking advantage of a years-long downward trend in subscription numbers and market value, Disney moved in for the kill when formal talks began late last year.
In a rare instance of market-consumer harmony, the move is being unanimously praised, as Disney completing their acquisition of Netflix brings all of entertainment under one banner, inside of a select few platforms and Theater chains.
Disney’s spokesman, a literal Walt Disney hologram, talked about next steps, revealing an All Access pass to all of Disney’s properties and products– Disney One:
“The end of media fragmentation is something we all have wanted for a long time and now, Disney is able to make that dream a reality.
Disney One: A single pass to a true World of Imagination.”
I. THE STATE OF STREAMING
It’s 2019 and streaming media has already forever changed Entertainment and media consumption as we know it. All of our music, movies, and even video games exist as intangible, near-ephemeral products in our phones, tablets, computers, and TVs. And, from a consumer standpoint, it makes perfect sense– Pay a low monthly price for what seems like any movie or show in existence, a click away— legally. It was the natural evolution of the iTunes model of the early Aughts that dragged the music industry kicking and screaming back into stability from a rapid decline by way of Napster and the rest of the peer to peer services that enabled free sharing of any song you could think of. Convenience, it turns out, has a very strong market, no matter the industry.
As of Late, the streaming video market is undergoing a seismic shift in power. Netflix, of course, is at the top of the food chain, with the most subscribers and in many many more international markets. And yet, 2019 will go down as its most crucial year, one that will define what its future and, indeed, the future of entertainment will look like in the following 5-10 years.
Netflix recently announced that it had missed subscriber growth predictions by almost half of what was anticipated, which only adds to a few key issues that have been some time coming. Higher subcription fees deterring people, and the fact that those that have wanted netflix probably already have it in some form or another. Massive production costs coming from their original movies and tv shows, $15B amount this year alone. And other, larger legacy companies deciding to give it a go in the post-cable TV landscape of today. Once a Kingmaker, with its watch-anytime-anywhere convenience and rapid growth, Netflix in 2019 is in a very different position than it was in, say, 2013, when it gave a critically acclaimed but criminally underwatched show a mid-series boost that would prove crucial to its eventual success– BREAKING BAD.
Of course, over the years, big series, both old and new, would take their place among the ever growing sea of thumbnails and recommendations. The Office would go on to become the most streamed title on the entire platform, long after its run had ended. Friends, in 2015, arrived to a… confusingly hyped reception, over a decade after its last episode, and remained in its top 10 ever since. Such was the need to keep it on the platform that Netflix would go on to pay $100M to Warner Bros to keep it on its service for just one more year. In 2019, almost half of Netflix’s top 10 streamed titles are third party licensed properties. And by this time next year, that will not be the case for a few reasons.
By 2020, Netflix will be going against Comcast, AT&T, CBS All Access and, of course, Disney+ (with an assist from newly-controlled Hulu). That means Friends, The Office, Marvel and Disney films will no longer hold a spot in Netflix’s top 10. In fact, you won’t find them there at all.
It turns out, licensing from large media conglomerates means that eventually they -will- come for their piece of the pie. And in just a year, the cordcutters dream of an internet plan and your Netflix or Hulu subscription might not satisfy your entertainment needs. A maybe-$50ish monthly investment will be ballooning up to over $100, should you choose to subscribe to all the major services, more than the current TV/cable package with Internet included. And Netflix, with it’s multi-billion dollar push for original content, finds itself having to drastically raise both the quantity and the quality of its programming. Spending more on Originals, Licensing more national and international properties and figuring out how to get into more wallets, all while trying to stop the bleeding, in just these next few years. Its once part-time financing flirtations are now a full-time necessity. And with that, the guarantee of yet-another price hike to offset its industry-high costs.
But the exit of these massive properties, the snappening by these monolothic companies, brings with it a cruel sense of irony with it:
Streaming, and the larger digital marketplace, carries with it a dangerous prevent: the trading of permanence for convenience.
II. THE END OF OWNERSHIP
The decline of video stores and, well, physical media, is one of those things that mainly hurts in unexpected ways. And as easy it is to call it Nostalgic in the romantic sense, Nostalgia does become unavoidable but in a more practical sense. Like deciding you want to watch one of your favorite movies and realizing that it is nowhere to be found in any of the existing streaming services and turns out to be near-impossible to buy physically, or when an album you love disappears from Spotify or a song’s sample wasn’t cleared properly the song is gone, or when the soundtrack to a classic video game has to be altered because certain licensing deals have expired. (GTA4)
Inside Gaming has a fantastic piece on how streaming gaming platforms and digital retail can, has, and will continue to affect how we interact with games altogether. And even though it focuses on video games, we can swap that out for music, movies or TV and much of the piece remains valid. Netflix owned these properties as much as we did. Which is to say, not at all. And when the owners decided to pull them for their own pay-for platforms, Netflix had to either pay $100M to soften the blow, create lesser versions, or take the L with no other options except to accept the void that will be left by these large chunks of its viewership pie. And this speaks to the most concerning realization of our current digital media landscape.
-You own none of what you consume—
Not the shows on Netflix, not that playlist or album on Spotify, the $60 digital games, the movies you buy on iTunes, not even the books in your Kindle.
Like Netflix, you merely license these things. You pay for the right to access them. And like The Office, Friends or The Avengers, they can and will be taken away from you.
The battle for your eyes and wallet is really a battle for control. For ownership. Of your tastes, your senses, even your behavior.
THE GREAT CONTENT GOLD RUSH
To say the internet has changed the way we consume media is hilariously understating it. These days, we have an infinite amount of music, movies and shows to enjoy. On the creative side, it has become something of an equalizer: that small youtuber in his bedroom shares a platform with a Late Night TV Show, that girl with a microphone and a desk can be found in the same music platform as her favorite artist. And filmmakers of all ages can forgo the pitch to a large distributor in favor of uploading their film to Vimeo and maybe even make their production costs back through a service like Patreon or Kickstarter. There is art to be shared, stories to be told, and so much of it, that the same meritocracy brought about by digital media and the internet becomes the reason for it’s biggest fault: we have disposabilized creativity.
It certainly feels like -everyone- has watched that Thing, Heard that Song, but really we just hit play, ride the viral wave and move on to the next TV Dinner.
If Game of Thrones has any legacy beyond falling apart so disastrously heading to the finish line, it’s that the show itself will be the last “watercooler” show.
On a weekly basis, we got one episode, with drama, story and characters to take in and speculate on, and we got to do just that. Over lunch, at work, on Twitter. We got to theorize and form alliances and stan or cancel any number of characters. All because we had those 6 days to simmer on what we just watched.
When you’re sitting in front of your TV, holding your phone or tablet, and plow through 5, 6 episodes or a whole season of a show, there’s little room for analyzing, theorizing, discussion. If you like the show enough, binge-territory approaches and you need to get through the whole season. Be it a personal challenge, taste, or a desire to be part of the online conversation. And there’s nothing truly harmful about that. Except… well, I wish we just took more time with things. Episodes blur into themselves. Characters lose names and arcs. If you want to talk about it with someone, everyone has either seen one episode, half a season, or the full season. This fragmentation builds an annoying panic around spoilers and a frustrating friction in simply wanting to talk about it. And the way media is produced has absolutely changed, as well– In 2019, shows are 10-hour movies and movies are 10-year shows. And while that can work fantastically in some cases, sometimes it’s obvious, the cynicism of it all.
On a positive note, having all these new services by massive players means one really really good thing: a content Gold Rush. The way Netflix has financed or licensed smaller movies and mid-budget productions with diverse stories and styles, there’s now much more money and platforms, and a larger market for new and refreshing voices, not just stateside, but internationally, just because these companies want and need to pump their platforms full of unique or expensive or dime a dozen movies or shows. And that can be really cool to see. Now, the only thing needed is, perhaps contradictory, some level of curation. A human element.
It’s a joke at this point how often we find ourselves just scrolling and browsing through hundreds of thumbnails just trying to decide. What looks good, what doesn’t, who’s in what or just “sure, I guess.”
Now, I’m not smart enough to know the solution is here, maybe a new interface with a rotating set of critics’ choices, a clear top-10 most watched or best rated list, monthly themes, or highlighting smaller creators specifically. Of course, some of that might eat away at “ENGAGEMENT” metrics, which is why the interface keeps you in the carousel of content. But, like I said, I’m not smart or paid enough to know how any of it works. What I do know is how it used to work.
III. an ode to rituals
Is it just going to the video store that made the difference? Or was it the physical box you brought home. The disc you had to load into your DVD player. Maybe it was the conversations that were had with employees or other patrons.
Or looking forward all week to it, and knowing that once that night arrived, it meant a weekend of movies to lose yourself in.
And, look, I’m well aware that much of that can be and is replicated somewhat these days, but the adventure of it all, the immersion and the… yo no se qué is just not quite there.
Is there any way to recover that experience? I’m sure that in the not too distant future, our increasingly misconnected behavior will lead to a VR experience that recreates walking through the aisles of a video store. But that won’t be enough, will it? There won’t be that same sense of connection, of community. The smells are gone, the lights. The seasonal decorations. The wonder of just what is new in the new releases, as well as the bargain rentals filled with classics and old flops. The small international section full of gems you otherwise wouldn’t have looked at, if not by walking by it, being faced with it.
I guess what’s lost is a real sense of discovery. Of debate. Of knowing that those two or three rentals will be your weekend of movie nights. Of loving a rental enough that you go back and purchase a copy.
Grabbing those boxes and leaving with them. Snapping them open at home to load it into your VCR or DVD, while the popcorn was popping and the pop was fizzing. And gathering around the screen in the closest thing to a theater, or a church, that you could conjure up with your family or your partner.
That’s gone. And it’s not coming back. Unless we try.
When i started writing this, I was only interested in the imminent streaming wars and how the way we consume media may or may not change but I quickly realized there was something bigger to think about, some concern that went beyond apps, platforms, prices… Parallel proposals for your pupils…. And even though I’m not satisfied with my own conclusion, I realize it all circles back to nostalgia.
My big confession is that I can’t help but be romantic about it. movie nights brought to you by your local Blockbuster IS how my love of films was born. Films, art, was truly like magic to me. So I obsessed over it all. I would watch every documentary and behind the scenes featurette I could find to learn how the magic happens. And when you look behind the curtain, all that’s left IS the presentation. through all the business bullshit, and technical setups and choreography, the seen and unseen, what stage, platform, or box it lands in, all that’s left is the moment the theater dims, and the spotlight burns brightest, and the magician takes the stage…and even knowing how it all works, she still dazzles you.
Be Kind, Rewind
The reality is, the younger generations and those to come won’t know what it meant to drive to your local video store on a Friday night, to browse hundreds of boxes of cover art, to memorize the release date bulletins. Or going to your local music store on release dates for your favorite artist, grab that tape or CD, tear off the packaging and press play. They won’t know about liner notes, thank you messages. Having to turn the tape over for Side B. Rewinding a tape. Playing that movie or album over and over because that’s the one you got and there was waiting, and a transaction, and a ritual that led to you actually experiencing that work. It felt almost spiritual. A fuzzy link between you and the artists. And you shared that with your friends, your family, your special someone. But more importantly, you got to -hold- it, inspect it. It was art you could touch. And you drove, walked, navigated physical locations to land at that moment. And you purchased it. And with that purchase came a contract of permanence. As long as you cared enough, that Tape or Disc would hold a place in your shelf or your binder, and hey, next week, next month, next year, or YEARS, you could return to that same copy, maybe dust it off a little and suddenly the ritual begins again, at least one more time.
And I think that’s what I miss the most. The ritual of it all. The effort, the purpose. And the permanence. When a moment isn’t, call it somewhat inconvenient, it loses weight. It lacks true gratification. It doesn’t stick because it was never held in the first place. It never had a chance to leave a mark because it was never -placed-.
We live in the most connected era in history. The internet has completely obliterated barriers of access and discovery to more languages and culture, past and future, creation tools and sharing platforms. It allowed that kid in her bedroom to reach the same masses as her favorite artist. It has allowed for entire revolutions to be organized, executed and documented. There is more news, music, movies and memes than we can literally count to, and it grows every single day. And that sounds amazing. Until it’s not. In seeing ALL of it, we observe none of it.
Modern life moves at a speed that is almost impossible to keep up with. The way we commute, communicate, eat, work, listen and watch. And all that power is, quite literally, in the palm of your hand. On demand. But In the mindnumbing (corporate) push for convenience, we signed away ownership. We gave up experience. We waived agency.
Maybe, the idea of a medium or, rather, a format, with a built in ritual that forces us to slow down, at least for a moment… should become more appealing.
So, I guess what I’m trying say is:
Be kind, Rewind.