The Streaming Wars: And The Child Shall Lead Them

The Post has been covering the Streaming Wars for some time now. In the past several months, a number of new developments have taken hold. These include services embracing a new kind of Video-On-Demand (VOD) model, some new service launches, and several layers of content reshuffling. HBO Max, Peacock, and Quibi all launched with various problems, while CBS All Access seems headed for a merger with a larger platform. And then there’s The Mandalorian, which barnstormed social media with breakout character “The Child” (aka “Baby Yoda”) on its way to a jaw-dropping 15 Emmy nominations. But what about stalwarts like Netflix? And how does the Age of COVID-19 change the shape of what’s to come? Here’s your war report.

Lockdown on Demand: When theaters closed across the country with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, studios scrambled to change dates and look at alternative delivery formats. One victory was found at the drive-in; the built-in social distancing that comes with watching a film from your car allowed some new releases to filter out, some old favorites to come roaring back, and for some small films to generate (for them) big numbers. One of the first movies that was slated for a big theatrical release, but shifted to a VOD delivery, was Trolls World Tour. The sequel to the hit 2016 animated musical became available for digital rental on April 10 (which was the same day that it debuted in a limited number of theaters), but at a steeper rental price point that would be more akin to taking a family of four to the movies. The film made a startling $40 million off of rentals in its opening weekend. IndieWire estimated in August that it’s made around $150 million in rentals through the life of its release. Other studios have followed suit with select releases. Bill & Ted Face the Music from United Artists bowed in select theaters and for a $19.99 rental across a number of services. In just four days, it was Fandango’s top title for all of August.

The trailer for Mulan. (Uploaded to YouTube by Walt Disney Studios)

However, it looks like Disney+ is in line to have lightning strike twice. The first major mouse move was to bring the filmed version of Hamilton to the service months before it was scheduled to arrive in theaters. The July 3 release spurred a quarter of a million new Disney+ subscriptions that weekend, and Variety reported that roughly 37 percent of all the app’s subscribers watched the musical in its first month. The second big release shuffled to the platform was the live-action remake of Mulan, which debuted September 4. Early indications are that Mulan’s performance may easily surpass Hamilton’s, with one major catch; Hamilton was simply an addition to the platform, whereas you presently have to pay $29.99 to get Mulan. With Disney+ passing 60 million subscribers in August, it would only take 8 percent of subscribers ordering Mulan for the film to clear nearly $150 million. That would be a major victory for the company, and it would make it much more feasible for other delayed blockbusters (like Black Widow) to make a profitable simultaneous home and theater debut.

New Launch Woes: Even as the traditional HBO channel is garnering attention and praise for its new series, Lovecraft Country, the rollout of the new HBO/AT&T/WarnerMedia app HBO Max has been something of a headache. When HBO Max landed in May, it wasn’t available through Roku or Amazon/Fire devices . . . and it still isn’t; the problem is that those two options represent approximately 70 percent of the streaming player market in the U.S., and they’re locked in a dispute with HBO Max over fees. Additionally, roughly 20 million people who subscribed to HBO, and who would have gotten HBO Max rolled in with their sub, simply didn’t activate the service when it started, meaning that HBO Max only had about 4 million official users by the end of June. There was also confusion when HBO’s other apps (HBO Go and HBO Now) went away and were replaced with, simply, an app called HBO. That app offers the programming that Now did, including current series, but doesn’t have access to the Max exclusive series or the wider content libraries (like the Criterion Collection) that were rolled into Max. Confusing content deals haven’t helped; while the Harry Potter franchise and various DC Comics-based films were heavily advertised for the launch, pre-existing deals with other services meant that many of the DC movies vanished in the first week, and the app lost the Potter films in August. The struggling DC Universe app will have its content rolled into HBO Max, but questions linger about whether its extremely popular digital DC Comics library will make the transition or go elsewhere.

Depature is one of many originals headed to Peacock. (Uploaded to YouTube by Peacock)

The NBCUniversal app Peacock kicked off for Xfinity users in April; it landed on other platforms in July and worked up to 10 million viewers by the end of that month. It has a free tier that accesses 15,000 hours of content; the pay levels unlock about 5,000 more. With NBC Sports deals for soccer and content with third-party providers like ViacomCBS and Paramount Pictures on the way, Peacock is putting together a big library, and is looking to Parks and Recreation (arriving in October) and The Office (arriving in January 2021) to boost subs. However, it has one big problem in common with HBO Max: you won’t find it on Roku or Amazon. Peacock also had some of its big launch-day draws, like the Fast & Furious franchise, The Matrix, and Shrek already vanish. New content has taken a hit due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. In the face of these issues, which users have complained about readily on social media, there has also been praise for a “channels” feature that runs clips and content around different themes. The Today All Day channel gathers The Today Show segments, and other channels are devoted to Saturday Night Live and other themes.

Quibi is a mobile streaming platform that launched with free trials in April with an eye toward shorter programming. The 10-minute episodes are referred to as “quick bites” (a phrase that was truncated into the service’s name). While a number of high-profile companies invested in the service and stars like Anna Kendrick and Kiefer Sutherland dot the programming, the download numbers for the app crashed after the first month of operation. The company cut staff in June amid reports that its 2 million subscribers fell well under a proposed 7.4 million user goal. The Verge reported in July that the conversion rate from free initial user to paid subscriber was a poor 8 percent.

A Viacom Mind-Meld: CBS All Access has put together a base of around four million subscribers. The service has bet big on Star Trek so far, with three active series (Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks) and two coming (Strange New Worlds and Section 3). One much anticipated show is the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand, which launches in December. Like Apple TV+, CBS All Access has been actively gathering other content; parent company ViacomCBS looks to merge All Access with programming from its other brands (MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, etc.) with the notion of competing with the bigger services.

Update: Early on Tuesday morning, September 15, one day after this story originally posted, ViacomCBS announced that CBS All Access will be rebranded in early 2021. Under the new name Paramount+, the service will roll in CBS All Access programming with the other brand verticals mentioned above for a larger, more competitive service.

The Morning Show has been a major success for Apple TV+. (Uploaded to YouTube by Apple TV)

Apple in the Middle: Apple TV+ is doing all right. The streamer already renewed most of its original drama and comedy series and the service claimed 18 Emmy nominations, including nods for The Morning Show, Defending Jacob, and Beastie Boys Story. While Apple had intended for the service to focus on original content, it went into acquisition mode in the middle of the year after COVID-19 shut down original productions. The app actively bought films like Tom Hanks’s Greyhound and Will Smith’s upcoming Emancipation to bolster content offerings. Apple also has a robust development slate for series and films spread across the next few years; it has the potential to develop into destination viewing for unique programming over the long term.

The Big Kids on the Block: Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, and Hulu remain the big dogs in the yard, with Disney+ joining the pack. Prime Video is available to Amazon Prime’s 150 million subscribers around the world, though about 26 million actively use it. Hulu has 35 million paid, with over 3 million of those opting for Hulu+Live TV to replace cable service. Disney+ passed 60 million in their first year, stomping their initial estimate that it would take until 2024 to get 60 to 90 million subscribers. Netflix remains the numbers champ, with 193 million paid users.

Each of those services continues to offer strong performances in various areas. Prime’s The Boys has been a breakout critical and commercial hit, and anticipation is high for the forthcoming Lord of the Rings series. Hulu had a big quarantine hit with original film Palm Springs, a strong development slate, and offers returning water-cooler programs like The Handmaid’s Tale. Netflix is, of course, Netflix, and wields enormous programming influence; the primary viewer complaint about the service is the impression that many series don’t get past three “seasons” or that they appear very quick to cancel shows that might grow with more time. Nevertheless, Netflix cuts a dominant figure, especially with the success of films like Extraction, break-out series like The Witcher, and their ongoing live-comedy specials.

The trailer for The Mandalorian Season One. (Uploaded to YouTube by Star Wars)

As for Disney+, its first year has seen a subscription base that exceeded expectations, 19 Emmy nominations, and a legitimate pop culture phenomenon in the form of The Child, the inhumanly cute “Baby Yoda” that co-stars in The Mandalorian. That Star Wars spin-off accounted for 15 nominations, including an unexpected nod for Best Drama. The service also had the good fortune to have The Mandalorian season two filming completed before the pandemic; editing and effects continued remotely, which will allow the next set of episodes to debut in October as scheduled. Additionally, the much-anticipated Marvel Cinematic Universe installment The Falcon and The Winter Soldier is still expected to debut this fall after an initial delay from the COVID shutdown. All of that is, of course, on top of one of the most powerful libraries in entertainment, which includes the Marvel and Star Wars brands, the Pixar films, Disney animated classics, and National Geographic, in addition to acquisitions like Beyoncé’s video album Black is King.

Service Name Price Per Month Program Highlights
Amazon Prime Video $8.99 standalone; $12.99 w/full Prime The Boys, The Expanse, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
AppleTV+ $4.99 The Morning Show, For All Mankind, Servant
CBS All Access $5.99 Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, ST: Lower Decks
Disney+ $7; $12.99 bundled with basic Hulu & ESPN+ The Mandalorian; The Imagineereing Story
HBO Max $14.99; $143.88 for 1-year deal available Raised by Wolves; Doom Patrol
Hulu $5.99 basic; $54.99 +Live TV; ad-free tiers also available The Handmaid’s Tale; Castle Rock; Shrill, Letterkenny
Netflix $8.99 basic; $12.99 standard; $15.99 Premium The Umbrella Acadmey; Cobra Kai; Lucifer; Away

The streaming landscape has become a crowded, constantly shifting place. It’s possible for multiple large outlets to co-exist; even with the pervasiveness of Netflix, it’s obvious that several other companies have very healthy options. The big question is how many of these services will thrive in the long term. At some point, every household will hit saturation on the number of services that they actually use, or can afford. Until then, the various entrants will continue to jockey for position in a race that is much more a marathon than a sprint.

Featured image: Ivan Marc / Shutterstock

Contrariwise: Let’s Stop Bashing Millennials

“I believe that the abominable deterioration of ethical standards stems primarily from the mechanization and depersonalization of our lives — a disastrous byproduct of science and technology,” said Albert Einstein in 1946, as the first wave of baby boomers entered a new, post-war, consumerist culture that coincided with the rise of mass media. Those coddled, Dr. Spock-reared bundles of joy couldn’t have possibly known they’d grow up to be a cranky senior population complaining about their grandchildren’s addiction to smartphones. In fact, they formed the habits millennials would soon inherit.

Ever since the advent of the radio, older generations have complained about those damn kids and their new-fangled gadgets, fearing media consumption would lead to the degradation of society. In the 1950s, you may recall that satirists referred to TV as the idiot box or boob tube.

Let’s be honest — we’re all addicted to technology in one form or another unless we’re living off the grid.

Fast-forward to the present day, and the generational divide appears greater than ever as baby boomers and millennials trade digital blows in name-calling — from “snowflake” to “OK, boomer” — unaware that they’re more alike than they realize. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that while 93 percent of millennials own smartphones, baby boomers are not far behind at 68 percent with a rapidly growing adoption rate. Seventy years after television invaded our homes, we’re all staring at our screens, and now we’re bickering about them.

Let’s be honest — we’re all addicted to technology in one form or another — whether TV, Alexa, Nest, or Life Alert® — unless we’re living off the grid. While these new gadgets have had some negative impact, as all innovation does, they’ve done some good too.

Today, I can FaceTime with my grandma in Florida and see her smile each day without boarding an airplane. I can listen to records and watch TV shows without accumulating large quantities of crap in my home. My in-laws can leave me alone and go upstairs and watch Netflix on their iPad while I watch PBS on the overpriced cable I pay for. Should I go on?

No matter the current issue, oldsters have been groaning about younger generations for, well, generations. This concept isn’t new, it’s nature. If I had a dime for every senior I see complaining about millenials, I wouldn’t worry about having Social Security in 40 years.

—Raj Tawney is a journalist specializing in entertainment’s impact on culture

This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Shutterstock

13 Virtual Festivals and Events This Summer

Summer is the time for rushing to crowded places to celebrate and experience culture. The best festivals and events in the country should be taking place in the next few months, but gathering hundreds of people together is ill-advised. Instead, lots of organizers have adapted their events to be experienced virtually. On the bright side, this could give even more people access to art, comedy, films, and other cultural events.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Firefly Light Show

Each summer, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park lights up with 19 species of bioluminescent beetles, also known as fireflies. From late May to mid-June, a particular type of firefly flashes synchronously in the night during its mating season, and visitors flock to the park to witness the stunning display. Although the event was cancelled this year, Discover Life in America created a virtual experience with photographer Radim Schreiber so that anyone can see the natural light show from their own home.

The Pandemic Faire

This virtual art fair curates work from contemporary artists located around the globe for visitors to browse in lieu of attending art festivals in the real world. With new artists added weekly, the Pandemic Faire offers art lovers exposure to new creators along with links to purchase their work from galleries and personal websites.

Second City Online

The Chicago-based improvisational comedy troupe is offering a slew of free virtual programming for you to enjoy “from the discomfort of your own home.” By registering for the live performances with Zoom, attendees can watch and take part in weekly improvisational shows like Improv House Party, Girls Night In, and the family-friendly Really Awesome Improv Show Online. Second City has also released The Last Show Left on Earth, a four-episode YouTube variety show with sketches and musical guests (the first episode features one of the last appearances of the late, great Fred Willard).

All In WA

The first place in the U.S. to be hit hard by COVID-19, Washington state, has seen philanthropists and communities come together to organize a virtual concert to benefit its workers and families who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. All In WA is collecting donations to go toward food and housing insecurity in the state, and the concert, to be livestreamed on June 24, will feature Pearl Jam, Ciara, Macklemore, Dave Matthews, and more.

Blue Ox Music Festival

In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the Blue Ox Music Festival has brought bluegrass and Americana musicians to this family-friendly event since 2015. Although the festival will lack a live audience this year, the acts will still be livestreamed on YouTube on June 12 and 13. Sam Bush, Pert Near Sandstone, Charlie Parr, and Them Coulee Boys will perform, and Chicago-based bluegrass band The Henhouse Prowlers will give a talk about their experience teaching music in the U.S. and abroad.

Juneteenth

June 19th, the anniversary of the end of slavery in the U.S., is widely celebrated around the country. Denver’s celebration, which includes a music festival, awards, comedy, and financial literacy segments, will be livestreamed on June 18. Their celebration of African-American history also comes with a call to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Stretching Arms

Through July 31, A Women’s Thing is holding an online exhibition and auction called “Stretching Arms.” The collection features young women artists from New Zealand, Russia, China, and Belarus and asks the question, “How do we transcend solitude?”

Electric Blockaloo

A rave, experienced through the videogame Minecraft, is calling itself “the world’s largest virtual music festival.” With more than 300 electronic artists and digital recreations of music venues and mini-games, admission to Electric Blockaloo on June 25-28 will require “guest list” links from artists distributed via social media.

Seattle Festál

Seattle’s summer (and fall) of cultural festivals will be taken online. The Chinese Culture and Arts Festival, Black Arts Fest, Iranian Festival, and more will offer dancing, art, workshops, and classes to anyone wishing to “make 2020 memorable for the resilience and beautiful moments of humanity,” and you don’t have to be in Seattle to enjoy it all.

CPR Summerfest

Colorado Public Radio’s annual festival of classical music features world-class musicians and singers performing for 10 weeks each summer. This year, CPR is bringing in Joshua Bell, the National Repertory Orchestra, and some of Colorado’s own musical institutions to keep classical selections playing all summer. You can tune in online or by using a smart speaker.

NYC Dance Week Virtual Fest

Dance studios in New York City are offering free dance classes from June 11-20, and they’re open to everyone everywhere. Ballet, yoga, jazz, hip-hop, and tons of other fitness lessons are on offer from a host of studios. If you ever wanted to try a professional class (or 10), this is your chance to do it with no commitment or cost.

Key West Mango Fest

If you were wondering what to do with all of those extra mangoes you have lying around, Key West Mango Fest might have a virtual answer for you. Join in on virtual cooking and cocktail demonstrations, contests, and shopping that revolve around the “king of fruits.”

deadCENTER Film Festival

Oklahoma City’s 20th annual film festival will be going virtual (with some possible drive-in options). By purchasing an all-access pass or individual tickets, you can stream the shorts, music videos, and feature films as well as see panels and workshops with filmmakers from around the globe.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Review: American Trial: The Eric Garner Story — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

American Trial: The Eric Garner Story

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: NR

Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Director: Roee Messinger

Streaming through independent theater websites. Find the latest links at www.passionriver.com/americantrial.html

It would be difficult to imagine a film more timely than American Trial: The Eric Garner Story — a daringly imaginative attempt to bring closure to one of the more notorious police brutality cases in recent history.

Garner was the Staten Island African-American man who, in 2014, was arrested for selling loose cigarettes on a sidewalk. He ended up face-down on the sidewalk, his neck in a choke hold, gasping “I can’t breathe” — three words that have become a haunting mantra in America’s latter-day civil rights movement.

A grand jury chose not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who tackled Garner and who, according to the coroner’s office, applied the choke hold that led to Garner’s death. So, aside from a civil suit against the city won by Garner’s family, no one paid a price.

That’s where director Roee Messinger comes in: Summoning equal measures of inspiration and ingenuity, he mounts a trial for Pantaleo on film, hiring actual defense attorneys and real-life prosecutors, and bringing in true-life witnesses to what happened that awful day on Staten Island. We meet Garner’s widow and his best friend — but we also hear testimony from genuine medical experts who differ on the cause of Garner’s death, and real ex-cops who speak urgently about the supreme difficulty of making split-second life-and-death decisions on the street.

Only one actor is employed in the cause: Bronx-born Anthony Altieri, who convincingly plays the accused as a guy who feels badly about what happened — but whose years on the beat have seemingly dulled his ability to respond emotionally to anything.

The result is a film that seems more like a nightly news summary of Pantaleo’s trial, documented by cameras mounted on the periphery of a nondescript urban courtroom. No mahogany tables or soaring windows here — the furniture is purely utilitarian, the lighting harsh, the confines almost claustrophobic. And ever-present on the soundtrack, like a minimalist musical score, clicks the keyboard of the court reporter, a touch that lends uncanny reality to the proceedings.

As the trial unfolds, Messinger seems to consciously eschew every common trope of courtroom dramas. The lawyers don’t perform Shakespearian orations — they read their opening and closing statements from laptops and pads of paper. The jurors seem to occasionally lose interest, or at least focus. There are no tight shots of sweating witnesses, no outbursts from the gallery, no stern lectures from the judge. Then there’s the perfunctory “Good morning” that each lawyer offers to every opposition witness — and their guarded “Good morning” response as they brace for the coming evisceration. This is the American trial process in all its banal beauty; the imperfect grunt work of imperfect people seemingly at odds — yet in a real sense working together to reach that elusive quality called Justice.

An American Trial: The Eric Garner Story won’t replace To Kill a Mockingbird or Inherit the Wind as the cinema’s quintessential courtroom drama, but it may well endure as the most authentic. And because it depicts a trial that never happened, it also serves as a solemn reminder that the denial of justice blocks closure not only for the aggrieved, but the accused, as well.

Featured image: Actor Anthony Altieri with witnesses, friends, and family (Passion River Films)

Wit’s End: Why One Modern Family Is Down for The Crown

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.”

“Good.”

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)

The Streaming Wars: Disney Unveils Its Killer App As Others Make Their Moves

Does streaming TV have a future? That’s the question we asked last September in reference to what some observers had perceived as a streaming bubble. With the proliferation of streaming services and each household only having so much to spend, it seems likely that the bubble would eventually burst, leaving some services to survive while others go by the wayside. At the time, much of the speculation rested on what Disney was going to do. With their acquisition of Fox complete, Disney finally made the official announcement on April 12 of a date, price, and programming for Disney+. And it’s going to be huge. Now that Disney has revealed their killer app (and, quite likely, app killer for a more than a few services), how does this change the picture? And how do more recent additions like DC Universe, the Criterion Channel, and more forthcoming from the likes of Warner Brothers, impact an already volatile system? We look at some of the new permutations emerging in the constantly changing streaming landscape, and make some guesses as to what many consumers might choose — including what might be right for you.

The extended trailer for the DC Universe series, Doom Patrol. (Uploaded to YouTube by DC)

DC Universe: DC Universe, which launched in September is doing . . . okay. The continuation of the much-loved Young Justice animated series, whichwas one of their more anticipated launch titles, received strong reviews and word-of-mouth. But the reaction to the other big launch title, Titans, was more mixed. Numbers in January seemed a bit sluggish, or at least not where the service needs to be. However, the recently added Doom Patrol series is enjoying both critical and fan support, and eagerly awaited debuts like Swamp Thing and Stargirl are coming soon (or maybe not; breaking news on April 17 indicated that production on Swamp Thing was being shut down three episodes early) . Those titles may boost DC Universe’s long-term viability, but right now, it’s working had to assert itself. At $7.99 a month (or a $74.99 annual deal), it’s not a terrible expense, but it needs to continually add content to demonstrate value in the face of its competition.

The Criterion Channel: Following the demise of FilmStruck, Criterion moved their library of remastered classic and important films to its own streaming service. Over 1,500 films and documentaries can be found for a $10.99 monthly subscription (a free 14-day trial is available). If you’re a real fan of cinema, this is a gold mine. David Lynch’s Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and Mulholland Drive are all here, as is Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. A metric ton of Akira Kurosawa is present, and featured categories include Women Filmmakers (featuring artists like Jane Campion and the late Chantal Akerman), and Essential Art House (with the likes of 8-1/2, The Rules of the Game, An Angel at My Table, and The Seventh Seal). As of this writing, the service has only been available for a week, so its overall numbers are unknown; however, it did generate a fair amount of excitement on social media, so it’s possible that it could be a sleeper hit.

Hulu: Hulu’s gone through some changes lately, partially related to Disney’s acquisition of Fox. Previously, Hulu ownership was shared by Disney, Fox, Comcast (through NBCUniversal), and AT&T (through WarnerMedia). AT&T sold its 10 percent back to Hulu on April 15, likely to pay down debt and prepare for their own new streaming offerings. Prior to the sale, that Disney (combined with Fox’s portion) owned 60 percent of Hulu, while Comcast had 30 percent. It’s unknown at this time how the remaining 10 percent will be split, although Disney did previously approach AT&T separately about buying out their stake. While Hulu says that they’ll still run WarnerMedia properties, it’s likely that more of those programs will go to whatever the new WarnerMedia services will be. For their part, Disney, as part of the official Disney+ announcement last week, indicated that more of their mature programming and non-franchise items directed at adults would likely go to Hulu (like the in-development Howard the Duck animated series) as opposed to Disney+. Comcast, on the other hand, is expected to announce a service of their own in 2020; it’s unknown at present if they’ll sell the rest of Hulu to Disney, or simply maintain their present partnership.

Netflix: Netflix took a stock hit after last week’s Disney+ announcement, losing a little over five percent in the two trading days after the unveiling. A pending earnings report could even that out. Aside from that, things aren’t dire for Netflix at the moment. The recent first season of The Umbrella Academy did huge numbers for them, and they have heavy hitters like the third season of Stranger Things and the final season of Orange Is the New Black on deck. Something that will have long-term consequences is the ceding of Marvel properties back to Disney (and Disney+); Netflix has shed (or will shed) its six original Marvel series, and the MCU films will no longer join the service after their theatrical runs. That’s the same story for Star Wars films and series, as well as Disney and Pixar products, too. Granted, there’s a huge entertainment world that isn’t owned by The Mouse, but the reality of this particular cultural moment is that The Mouse is overachieving at the box office. When you can share in that, it helps your brand; when you can’t, it doesn’t.

AppleTV+: One wildcard in all of this is AppleTV+, a new service targeted for fall launch through the AppleTV app. It’s boasting a pretty big roster of talent. Names as big as Oprah, Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, Sofia Coppola, M. Night Shyamalan, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Octavia Spencer all have projects forthcoming. The programming slate includes a revival of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, Aniston and Witherspoon’s The Morning Show (which also stars Steve Carell), dystopian drama See (starring Jason Momoa), science fiction drama for All Mankind (from Ronald D. Moore of the acclaimed Battlestar Galactica reboot), and many others. On the kids’ side, the service has deals in place for Peanuts properties and new content from The Children’s Television Workshop. As of this writing, the price hasn’t been confirmed. The full roster of programs in development is substantial, and it might only take one or two solid hits with critics and early adopters to drive the service. Still, the lack of price information or even a specific date (“autumn” seems to be the refrain) takes a little of the wind out of it when you stack it up to Disney+.

Disney+: This much is true: Disney is aiming high with the new service. Set for a November launch, Disney+ will arrive at a $6.99 per month (or $69.99 per year) price point, which definitely undercuts the monthly prices for the three Netflix tiers (they range from $9 to $16 per month). The content library looks to be enormous, as they draw from verticals that include Disney Animation, Pixar, Lucasfilm (that’s Star Wars), Marvel, National Geographic, and Fox. In the presentation on April 11, they suggested that their first year target for the service would be more than 25 new episodic series, more than 10 original movies and specials, over 7,500 past television episodes (including all 30 seasons of The Simpsons), over 400 films from the library, and more than 100 recent films. They have an even more impressive “Year Five” target, which ups the number of television episodes to 10,000 while growing each of the other areas as well.

The content that has generated the most interest and excitement thus far would be the various Marvel and Star Wars offerings. In addition to an animated series based on the fan-favorite What If? comic, Marvel will be producing live-action limited series featuring talent reprising their roles from the uber-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Hawkeye (starring Jeremy Renner), Loki (starring Tom Hiddleston), Falcon & Winter Soldier (starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan), and WandaVision (starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany). On the Star Wars side, the beloved The Clone Wars animated series will get a continuation, and director Jon Favreau will helm a new live-action series called The Mandalorian, which has been described as “Clint Eastwood in space.” Actors Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk will also reprise their Rogue One: A Star Wars Story characters for another live-action series. These announcements brought an incredible amount of buzz to social media, with a first look at The Mandalorian drawing high praise; for their part, the various Marvel shows kicked up major interest because of Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s assertion that the “episodes will intersect with the movies in a big way. It’s a totally new form of storytelling that we get to play with and explore.”

On the back of the announcements, Disney’s stock shot up 9.5 percent, which was the best single stock day for Disney since May 2009. CNBC called the forthcoming service a “value winner” in a family viewing context, particularly in comparison to Netflix. Disney CEO Bob Iger made it clear that the low price of the service was designed to attract an audience of millions; he also outlined that the broad strokes of their strategy focus on the widest audiences of kids (Disney+), sports fans (ESPN+, which launched in 2018 and already has over two million subscribers), and adults (Hulu) that they can muster.

If there’s a possible downside to the Disney+ announcement, it’s that there’s a general lack of specifics about the disposition of the vast amount of Fox properties that they just acquired. Are the Aliens films going to Hulu? What about the literally hundreds of films and other franchises that can now be accessed? It may be too early to tell, but that information might actually increase their potential subscriber base. And while the $6.99 launch price is great, one wonders how long Disney will be able to keep the cost that low. Increases seem inevitable, especially when you consider competition and shareholders. A deluge of customers might keep costs low, but it seems that an ambitious slate of content offerings will need to deliver consistently to put a pin in the monthly rate.

SERVICE NAME PRICE PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS
Amazon Prime Video $13/month with Prime; $9 video only The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle
AppleTV+ Not yet available Amazing Stories, See, Oprah’s new jam
CBS All Access $6/month with ads; $10 ad-free Star Trek: Discovery, pending Patrick Stewart Star Trek series
The Criterion Collection $11/month or $100 annually Films by Lynch, Kurosawa, Bergman, and more
DC Universe $7.99/month or $74.99 annually Young Justice: Outsiders, Titans
Disney+ $6.99/month or $69.99 annually The Mandalorian, assorted Marvel Cinematic Universe shows
ESPN+ $5/month or $50 annually for basic Full MLB.TV and NHL Hockey seasons for an extra $25/month
HBO Now $15/month Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Little Lies
Hulu $6/month with ads; $12 ad-free The Handmaid’s Tale, Marvel’s Runaways, Veronica Mars reboot
Netflix $9/$13/$16/month for different features Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, The Umbrella Academy

This chart shows a few of the bigger services, their current price points, and some featured offerings.

What’s Next?: WarnerMedia continues to work on a slate of streaming offerings, of which DC Universe is only a small part. Comcast is aiming their service for 2020. Amazon Prime continues to be a player, as they add new programs and acquisitions like the critically acclaimed The Expanse. The net result of all this is fairly clear: there’s not room in the average family budget for every service. Observers note that when push comes to shove, families will likely stick with what is the best value and what has the most offerings for the whole family. That sounds exactly like the target for Disney+. If that service does emerge to become the premiere streamer, with Hulu and Netflix and others vying for second place, what happens to the middle and lower-tier streaming outlets? Like with anything involving television, we’re just going to have to watch and see.

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