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.
Often my family will gather around to watch a slightly dowdy woman discharge her duties with poise, intelligence, and a wistful, inward-looking gaze that makes her a fascinating figure.
And when they’re tired of hanging out with me, we just turn on The Crown.
Now in its third season, the Netflix series chronicles the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to throne in 1952 as a young bride of 25 and has stalwartly remained there ever since. The dramatized story of her life doubles as a look back through seventy-odd years of history: one minute dwelling on the 1969 moon landing, a “giant leap for mankind,” and in the next scene cutting to Princess Margaret’s extramarital affair, a rather smaller leap into the arms of a handsome landscaper named Roddy.
The Crown has something for everyone, in fact. Born into 21st century California, my children are fascinated by mid-century Britain. Back then, it seems, a working mom was always beautifully coiffed and attired, and never snapped: “Who do you think I am, the maid?” The Queen of England had maids, real ones! It would be cool to have a mom who never got mad at you for leaving dirty socks lying around. Instead, the Queen was always dressing down some prime minister or other for things like “wrecking the economy.” While she was busy, you could get away with a lot.
Our family has learned many life lessons from The Crown. Here are a few:
In any conflict, refer to yourself in the Exalted Third Person. Which sounds more convincing? “I don’t want to go to that party. I just don’t feel like it for some reason.” Or: “The Crown does not attend holiday potlucks. The Crown only attends catered events hosted by heads of state.” And, if you have to press the point: “The Crown does not make casseroles. You make the casserole, if you’re so keen on – see! I knew you wouldn’t.”
If you need to borrow money from someone, stoop down to their level. In season three, the Queen’s fun-loving sister Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter, goes on a tour of the United States, where she is roped into having dinner with President Lyndon Johnson. England needs a massive financial bailout from the Johnson Administration, so the White House dinner is a delicate task. But Margaret bonds with the potty-mouthed LBJ over drinks and dirty jokes, getting the bailout and saving her country. The moral: That bawdy limerick you scrawled on the middle school bathroom wall might, under the right circumstances, be worth $100 million pounds. Try to remember it.
Sometimes you just have to forgive people and muddle through. After season two, which covered the years 1956 through 1963, my preteen daughter held a grudge against Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for his rumored dalliance with a Russian ballerina. How dare he insult The Crown in such a fashion!
“Loyalty is my thing. It’s very important to me,” she explained in a mature new voice. “So if my husband were disloyal to me, I’d probably have him killed.”
“Well, I’ll never betray you now,” I said slowly. “I mean, I’d never betray you anyway. But now I’m afraid to betray you.”
My child seemed suited to a bloodier era of the British monarchy, when errant spouses were hustled off to the Tower and never seen again. But Queen Elizabeth II – played in the first two seasons by Claire Foy – merely looked pensive in her twinset, fiddling with her pearls and keeping busy with matters of state.
Eventually, the young couple patched things up. As I told my daughter, whatever missteps Philip allegedly made in the 1950s, he and the Queen had now been married for an astonishing 72 years! They still laughed at each other’s jokes and walked the dogs together! All was well.
She looked skeptical. I’m planning to stay on her good side, just in case.
Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why they call it “work.” According to The Crown, Elizabeth Windsor never wanted to be Queen of England. She hoped for a quiet life in the country, raising horses with the help of her horse-obsessed friend Porchy. But when her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne so he could marry an American divorcee, his younger brother George became king, making George’s elder daughter next in line for The Crown.
While others (like Margaret) might kick up their heels as Queen, Elizabeth stoically assumed the burdens of the job. It is instructive for today’s youth, who plan on being professional YouTubers and bitcoin millionaires, to see what work really looks like: hauling yourself into a carriage for a lonely ride to your Silver Jubilee when you’d much rather be at home with your feet up. As played in season three by Olivia Colman, the Queen is a mature, self-sacrificing woman doing her job, come rain or shine. Sometimes, when a prime minister is nattering on, she gazes sadly at a large painting of a horse and then says: “Sorry, what?”
Cut corners if you must, but never stint on interior design. After three seasons of The Crown, our family has a new appreciation for the trappings of outrageous wealth. Life’s ups and downs are easier to bear, we’ve learned, if your surroundings are fabulous to a degree unmatched in human history. When the royal teenagers, Charles and Anne, mope around Buckingham Palace in season three, their troubles are dwarfed by the red-carpeted Grand Staircase and rooms filled with priceless paintings, crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains, and Corinthian columns. We should feel sorry for them because their private lives are subject to the requirements of The Crown, but we are distracted by their opulent surroundings. Pretty sweet!
All and all, the show has made us feel fond of England. The British have given us Hercule Poirot, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and now – with The Crown – HRH. From one complicated modern family to another: Long Live the Queen.
Featured image: Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as The Duke of Edinburgh, appearing in the third season of the Netflix show, The Crown. (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)