Stream Wars

Sydney Fener

The Company That Changed the Game

When Netflix was originally founded, it struggled to the point where the company was almost forced to sell to the doomed Blockbuster. Now, just two decades later, it has set a worldwide trend in entertainment distribution leading to the development of over 200 streaming platforms. The resulting competition between each service has culminated in what has been dubbed the “streaming wars.”

For workers in the entertainment industry, actors and executives alike, these developments in the market have created shockwaves in their professional environment. Wendy Heller, an entertainment lawyer who represents Netflix and several other production companies, said her work has changed significantly due to the increase in different streaming platforms.

“Everyone in our industry is vastly affected by streaming services,” Heller said. ” [The] need for content has greatly increased, so there are many more buyers than a couple of years ago, when the buyers were generally just the four networks: HBO, Showtime and a few basic cable companies. All of them need shows and movies, so for a transactional lawyer, that means a huge amount of transactions.”

Heller also said the boom in customer demand has resulted in higher expectations from viewers for content production. 

“Although there is a greater demand for more shows, which means more deals for artists and for me, because the show needs to ‘hit’ so quickly, it is very difficult for a show to find its legs,” Heller said. “A lot of shows go off the air after one season. So that typically means less lucrative deals for most artists because up-front fees are less per project.”

Consumer Perspectives

The rapidly increasing number of streaming platforms impacts not only industry professionals but also consumers, Olivia Feldman ’22 said. 

“My family is subscribed to most major streaming platforms, which is very convenient because I can usually find the movies or shows I want to watch on one of them,” Feldman said. “The fact that there are so many makes finding a movie more inconvenient, though, and I generally have to look up which platform it’s on because trying to find a specific movie on each individual platform takes way too long.”

History teacher Peter Sheehy (Will ’22, Tate ’23) said he, too,  believes the spread of content can be unwieldy.

“I can’t imagine needing any more platforms and I am sure my life would be fine with just Netflix and Amazon Prime Video,” Sheehy said. “I do find figuring out what platforms to search for shows a bit confusing.”

Sheehy, who said he subscribes to six different streaming platforms, is among the 62% of adults in the United States who subscribe to a service. The average American household is subscribed to four different streaming platforms, and 70% of American households are subscribed to at least one.

Sheehy and Feldman are not alone in their experience. According to an article in The Rolling Stone, which details how users are affected by the inconveniences of streaming services, many other consumers are dissatisfied with how the streaming industry is evolving. Others, like Aiden Schiler ’22, said they are indifferent to the changes.

“We subscribe to Netflix and Hulu,” Schiller said. “I don’t really mind switching between the two. I am definitely nostalgic of the old days where Netflix had everything, but I do think that even with as many streaming services as we have today, it’s better and cheaper than what we used to have to pay for with services like Dish.”

The Appeal of Portable Entertainment

The convenience of streaming services as opposed to navigating cable television or other similar services is certainly a selling point, Schiller said.  However, Heller said the accessibility of content can be a double-edged sword for users.

“It’s great in a way because we are seeing so much, and there is something for everyone, and it’s on-demand,” Heller said. “But it’s also sort of numbing to watch all of those shows in a row. There was something special about waiting a week to see what happens. People would talk about shows more. Now, you watch them and forget them the next day.”

Daniella Goldrich ’23 said she agreed that the popularity of streaming has led to a more convenient viewing experience. She also said that the portability of media has impacted consumer habits.

According to Axios, teens spend 38% of their video time watching Netflix as opposed to traditional TV. In fact, teenagers spend just 9% of their video time watching cable.

“The most significant difference between steaming and TV is the portable aspect of streaming,” Goldrich said. “With streaming services, a consumer is able to watch a show from their phone or iPad without a need for a TV.”

In addition to the benefit of convenience, Tara Neil ’20 said she believes that the streaming industry will encourage innovation in entertainment.

“I think that the increase in streaming services is actually quite beneficial to the entertainment industry,” Neil said. “The fact that there are now so many platforms to make content has only created more opportunities for directors, actors and producers. I truly feel like the movie-going industry will never go away, so having so many more services is a really great addition.”