The Streaming Wars in 2022

While broadcast television continues to hold on, streaming and differentiated viewing grows its audience with each passing year. One stark comparison can be drawn from the Nielsen broadcast ratings numbers from the week of March 14, 2022; the top show, 60 Minutes, pulled in just over nine million viewers. By contrast, Euphoria is pulling in over 16 million watchers combined from HBO and the HBO Max platform. As streaming continues its ascent, the battle for the top of the heap has become more intense, with major platforms making significant moves to cement their place in a rapidly shifting landscape.

Netflix remains at the top of the biggest streamers with an audience that’s nearly 222 million viewers. The remainder of the top services in America are Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, YouTube Premium, Hulu, Paramount+, Peacock, ESPN+, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Crunchyroll, Funimation, BET+, and Shudder. Nearly all of them have made news in the past few months with everything from new features to new additions that have people talking. Here are a few highlights.

Stranger Things 4 trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Netflix)

Netflix: While continuing to perform at a high level with outsized hits like The Adam Project, Netflix continues to fall back on complaining about password sharing among customers. Despite being the clear leader in subscriptions worldwide, there has rarely been a four-quarter frame in which Netflix doesn’t discuss a new initiative to stop the shares. Most recently, the service announced that it was going to start charging accounts extra for passwords being used outside the household. However, that program is currently only going into effect in Peru, Costa Rica, and Chile. Right now, the top-tier Netflix subscription allows up to four screens to be in use; many users argue that it shouldn’t matter if all four screens are in the same house, particularly if one of those screens is being used by a child away at school. Such a change could actually upset the balance of subscriptions in the U.S., which is obviously a situation that the biggest kid on the playground wants to avoid.

The Streaming Home of Marvel ad (Uploaded to YouTube by Disney Plus)

Disney+: The House of Mouse just introduced new parental controls that allow for parents to create kids’ accounts that prevent them from watching some of the more mature fare on the service. This is instigated by the arrival of the six Marvel shows that had previously existed as Netflix offerings (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher) and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which ran for seven seasons on ABC. That influx of material added a whopping 184 episodes of new content to the streamer in one day. The parental controls also popped up, in what is certainly no coincidence, in time for the new Marvel series, Moon Knight; while the show is rated TV-14, some early viewers and advance reviewers have noted that the show’s intensity takes it very close to the line of mature fare.

Euphoria Season One teaser (Uploaded to YouTube by euphoria)

HBO Max and Discovery+: The biggest news on both of these fronts is that they’re about to merge. Though the two services were already part of the same company, it was announced on March 14 that shareholders have approved a merger of HBO Max and Discovery+. There is not yet a set date for switchover, nor is there an exact monthly price quote, although there will be different tiers with and without ads. The merger puts HBO Max’s vast library in one place with Discovery’s large well of content, which includes shows from popular channels like Food Network, Lifetime, OWN, HGTV, History, and the Magnolia Network.

Crunchyroll welcomes Funimation and Wakanim (Uploaded to YouTube by Crunchyroll Collection)

Crunchyroll: The extremely popular anime streaming service is battling rumors of a change that isn’t actually happening. Word had been going around that the streamer was going to dispense with free-with-ads programming. That’s actually a misinterpretation; Crunchyroll is moving simulcast episodes (that is, brand-new episodes that debut in the U.S. and Japan at the same time which were running on the free-with-ads tier one week after their debuts) behind their pay structure, but free-with-ads series will still be running. Crunchyroll has a rather unique position in the Streaming Wars; while it has around five million paid streaming subscribers, it has over 120 million registered users that take advantage of free-with-ads use. That puts it below the marquee services for paid viewers, but among the most-watched overall. And that will only get bigger as Crunchyroll is now bringing aboard a huge influx of content from Funimation (creators of the insanely popular DragonBall franchise) and Wakanim.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds teaser trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Paramount Plus)

Paramount+: To this point, Paramount+ has thrived by being the home of multiple new Star Trek series. With Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and the forthcoming Strange New Worlds (which arrives May 5), the service has a lock on that extremely loyal audience. However, they are maximizing efforts with new shows (Halo) and a barrage of reboots and spin-offs, including another Yellowstone series, original movies spun-out from S.E.A.L. Team and Teen Wolf, and revivals of Frasier and Beavis and Butt-Head. At right around $5, it’s a must-have for Trek fans, and a bargain for others with its growing film library (which includes The Godfather trilogy and more).

If there’s one thing that’s certain about our streaming future, it’s that nothing is certain. In the past few years, there’s been a veritable explosion of options. While some were DOA (like Quibi), some have grown beyond their introductory form into something of greater potential, like the evolution of CBS All Access into Paramount+. The consolidation of HBO Max and Discovery+ is no real surprise, as it gives owners a mammoth base. At this point, it seems that the titans (Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO) will continue to sit at the top of the mountain, but diversity of content and healthy services with a targeted audience (like horror streamer Shudder) mean that there is plenty of room for other entries.  As the Streaming Wars continue, some forces are going to take more ground, but it’s apparent that smaller established entries will find a place to survive.


Farewell to a King: Chadwick Boseman Dies at 43

It’s a cliché to say that you don’t have the words, but some clichés became exactly that because they’re true. As the word raced across internet Friday night, two things were certain: people were stunned, and the celebrated actor Chadwick Boseman was dead at age 43 after a four-year struggle with colon cancer. It’s hard to articulate why Boseman meant so much to so many people in such a short time, but that makes it no less true. Whether playing Supreme Court Justices or glass-ceiling-shattering baseball legends or the Godfather of Soul or the Avenger King of Wakanda, Chadwick Boseman entertained, inspired, and did his level best to make the world better.

Chadwick Boseman Tribute to Denzel Washington (Uploaded to YouTube by TNT)

Chadwick Boseman graduated from high school in South Carolina in 1995; he’d already written his first play as a junior. He headed to Howard University, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Directing. Among his teachers was Phylicia Rashād; in a story that’s now part of Hollywood lore, Rashād reached out to other Black actors to find financial support to send Boseman and others to the Oxford Mid-Summer Program of the British American Drama Academy in London. Boseman discovered that the person who was responsible for his own trip getting funded was Denzel Washington. In 2019, Boseman had the chance to thank Washington publicly at the AFL Life Achievement Award event honoring Washington.

The trailer for 42 (Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Trailers)

Boseman broke into television in 2003, working on a number of shows, including the NBC dramas Third Watch, ER, and Law & Order. His film debut came in 2008 in The Express: The Ernie Davis Story, in which he played future NFL Hall of Fame halfback Floyd Little. Although he was still writing plays and considering giving up acting altogether so he could direct, he broke through to greater notice with 2013’s 42, in which he played baseball legend and agent of change Jackie Robinson. After that, he essayed another immortal Black American in 2014’s Get on Up; as James Brown, Boseman got most of the film’s critical attention. David Denby of The New Yorker wrote “Chadwick Boseman gives a startling and galvanic performance,” while James Berardinelli of ReelViews wrote “Whatever failings the film may have, none can be laid at the feet of lead actor Chadwick Boseman, whose performance is phenomenal.”

In October of 2014, at a surprise event orchestrated by Marvel Studios to announce their “Phase 3” line-up, Boseman was introduced to wild applause as the actor that would be playing T’Challa, the Black Panther. Robert Downey, Jr. quipped, “Get used to all that applause, by the way.” He wasn’t wrong. Boseman debuted as Black Panther in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, making a strong impression in a film that was packed with stars (and also introduced Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe). But that was just preamble to the phenomenon that would ensue when Boseman headed up the Black Panther solo film in 2018.

The Black Panther trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Marvel Entertainment)

There was something in the air leading up the debut of the film, and it exploded to life on an extraordinary President’s Day weekend when it took in $242 million in just four days. Director Ryan Coogler had made a film built on Afrofuturism and a keen sense of identity that also stayed steeped in Marvel continuity and that brand’s mix of action and humor. The film featured complex moral questions and challenged audiences with a villain (Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger) that had an understandable motive. Boseman was the gravitational force at its center, struggling with the burden of leadership and the understanding that earlier generations might have made grave mistakes. He acted with regal bearing and purpose, believable as both hero and human. He anchored the film to seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, a first for a super-hero film.

Across the Black community, the film itself became something of a celebration; for millions of children, here, finally, was a hero of an order of magnitude that also looked liked them. The movie made over a $1.347 billion; it was even the first film shown in Saudi Arabia after a 30-year theater ban. It was a super-hero movie, but it mattered. It resonated through all levels of culture. The “Wakandan Salute” became commonplace, and Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo, with as assist from Boseman, wore a Black Panther mask in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

In 2017, Boseman played Thurgood Marshall in the film Marshall, which dramatized one of his early cases, years before he became the first Black Supreme Court Justice. He returned to the role of Black Panther in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 and Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Endgame wrapped up its run as the biggest moneymaker in box office history. 2020 saw the release of Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, which matched Boseman up with a strong ensemble cast.  He had already filmed the as-yet-unreleased Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the work of August Wilson, and Black Panther 2 had been scheduled for 2022, but had not yet begun production.

However, as Boseman was building his Black Panther character across the MCU, one thing was kept from public view. He had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016. Boseman quietly battled it, through what the actor’s Instagram called “countless surgeries and chemotherapy,” for the last four years. The disease progressed to stage IV, and the actor passed on August 28, 2020 “in his home, with his wife and his family by his side.”

Public statements came quickly. Marvel Studios released a statement that began with, “Our hearts are broken.”  Fellow Avenger Brie “Captain Marvel” Larson posted “I’m honored to have the memories I have. The conversations, the laughter.” Chris “Captain America” Evans tweeted “Chadwick was special. A true original.” Director Jordan Peele said, “This is a crushing blow.” And literally thousands more.

Kyle and his book. (Photo by Troy Brownfield, January 19, 2018).

Kyle and his book. (Photo by Troy Brownfield, January 19, 2018).

Chadwick Boseman touched a chord. He struck an electric nerve in the heart of a world that needed reminded that heroes don’t have to look like you. If you’ll allow a personal digression, my youngest son was 11 when Black Panther was released. He and his brother had been Marvel fans basically since birth (it’s a thing that happens in a house where dad writes comic books). He came to me ahead of the movie and told me that he had something he wanted to buy with his own money that he’d been saving. I asked what it was, and he showed me online. It was the DK Publishing Marvel Black Panther: The Ultimate Guide. And I was proud, proud that my little white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy saw an awesome hero that he wanted to know more about. Proud that he knew that a hero didn’t have to look like him, even as it was so important to so many that he did. And it wasn’t just that one book; action figures, hoodies, basketball shorts, throw rugs, Funko Pops . . . that kid was and is a legit fan. The boys are asleep as I write this; it’s going to break their hearts to hear it. It breaks mine to write it.

Jack Kirby, who co-created Black Panther with Stan Lee, was born 103 years ago today.  A beloved artist, they called him “The King.” It may be fitting that Chadwick Boseman passed on Jack Kirby’s birthday, which is also the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the venue for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Remarkably, August 28 is also celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball. The loss of Chadwick Boseman is a generational loss. Although he had accomplished much by 43, we will forever speculate on his untapped potential. His body of work will continue to inspire, both as a super-hero and as the all-too-human characters that he so frequently played. The Saturday Evening Post extends its condolences to his family, his friends, his colleagues, and his fans. Wakanda Forever.

Featured image: DFree / Shutterstock