Everyone has–at some point in their lives–done it. Crawled into a comfortable chair with their computer or tablet innocently expecting to watch just one episode of a show and then, three or four episodes and around 250 minutes later, found themselves clawing at the screen trying to skip the credits to jump start yet another installment in a series. For some of us, that may have happened as recently as last weekend, while for others it may have been over spring or summer break.
There are a variety of platforms people use to stream their favorite shows. In fact, many families in America are deciding to ‘cut the cord’ and stop paying for satellite and cable TV, instead choosing to use online streaming services solely. Some streamers use Netflix, others use Amazon Prime, even Hulu and YouTube have recently reached peak popularity for streaming. For years these services have steadily grown their usership, in part because for many people having one service just isn’t enough, especially when each service offers different content. Generally, whatever Netflix doesn’t have is on Amazon, and what Amazon and Netflix don’t have is on Hulu. The increasing demand for more and more content (movies and TV shows) is fueling an epic battle between the providers that will surely continue for some time to come.
Each month Netflix and Amazon buy more and more server space to accommodate expanding content selections for their viewers. However, buying more server space is not always enough and sometimes is not even an option, forcing companies to remove titles that have low viewership and replace them with new content they know will attract consumers to their platform.
Sometimes, this creates an ugly backlash. For example, last April, Netflix faced staunch criticism over a rumor that it was planning to remove the popular American television series, The Office. Then, in November, the service again faced criticism for deciding to remove the popular show How I Met Your Mother. However, this results in some duplicate content for providers.
With so many options, some with similar selections, many have wondered: which service is best? The answer lies in original content.
Game of Thrones, House Of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Boardwalk Empire are all examples of original series that were purchased and produced exclusively by online video streaming companies like Amazon, Netflix, and HBO. In recent years original content has proven to be just as, if not more, successful than network shows. Last year, original series took home a combined 32 Emmys, beating out network TV shows in spades, snagging highly coveted awards such as best drama series, best actress in a drama, and best direction of a drama series. Some experts say this marked a turning point in the entertainment industry.
Now, high profile actors such as Will Arnett, Matt Bomer, and Aziz Ansari have all signed on to do original shows with Amazon and Netflix. Likewise, the companies that have seen the biggest return for these original productions are now investing more and more in original content. Four years ago, Netflix spent $2.4 billion on original content and they plan to spend $6 billion dollars in 2017 on original content — more than NBC ($4.3 billion) and CBS ($4 billion). Netflix and Amazon are not alone in their original content expenditures. New companies, including Apple, have entered the battle. Apple has pledged $1 million dollars toward creating original content in the coming year.
So, when will there be a clear winner in this battle of online video platforms? The answer is sooner than you might think. Recently, award-winning actor Daniel Craig revealed that he has agreed to return for yet another James Bond movie. With pre-production of the movie beginning as early as next year, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and other online content creators have all jumped in, looking to fund the next installment of the historic franchise. With Skyfall having grossed nearly $800 million dollars worldwide, it’s not surprising to see these companies battling it out. Still, profit is not the only motivating factor. In exchange for funding the movie, the service would receive exclusive distribution rights to a piece of content that would finally crown a winner in the battle of the online streaming platforms. A streaming service could choose to only release the movie on their platform, forcing users to sign up just to view it. More likely, the service will sell the distribution rights to theaters or other streaming services–like Amazon, for example–for a hefty markup. Although not everyone is a Bond fan, this new installment to iconic franchise would start a domino effect causing other iconic franchises to follow suit — think Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park.
These platforms are also attractive to iconic movie franchises because they can increase viewership rapidly, far faster than it takes to build a loyal following on network television. These platforms cater to a new type of audience who would prefer to binge watch Stranger Things for six hours at a time rather than having to wait to watch shows week to week.
Time is just one factor that drives increases viewership. Additionally, these services are simply more affordable than paying for cable/ satellite and individual movie tickets. On average, it costs $17 for two people to see a movie, not including drinks or food. But if two people want to watch different things on one Netflix account…it amounts to only $11. While the $6 in savings may seem small, the real difference comes when the movie or show ends. Online streaming platforms provide users with thousands of additional options as soon as their episode/movie has concluded, while movies in a theatre are a ‘one-and-done’ form of entertainment. You can’t go back and watch a movie without paying for it and you don’t have access to more shows whenever you want.
For the foreseeable future, these services will continue to battle it out over original content, but as it stands currently, it would appear Netflix is winning the fight. Although the platform has recently fallen under fire due to accusations made about Kevin Spacey, they have been able to drown out most criticism by releasing new seasons of original shows like Narcos back in September and Stranger Things more recently in October. Now the platform is looking to continue their dominance with the release of the highly anticipated 2nd season of The Crown in December. Still, Amazon’s deep pockets and previous back-to-back Emmy wins for best lead actor in a comedy (Transparent) are not to be underestimated, so don’t be surprised if the platform goes for broke and creates another award-winning original series or if they land the next Bond movie.