Note: This article only tackles the popular U.S streaming services.
What was life like before streaming services? For those of you who don’t know, it involves a lot of hours spent mindlessly browsing through different cable channels until you find something interesting to watch. It involves rushing home from school or work because your favorite movie is going to premiere on television at exactly 7pm. It involves buying a variety of DVDs from a store and hoarding them in your cabinets to ensure that you always have something different to watch depending on your mood. We might not consider it a hassle before, but looking back at it now definitely makes you realize how much streaming services have revolutionized media consumption.
Netflix is the most popular streaming service today, and it’s also the first streaming service to ever exist. It was founded by Reed Hastings and Marc Rudolph in 1997, and it started out as a DVD rental service that delivered DVDs straight to your doorstep for a monthly subscription fee of $20. Hastings and Rudolf’s goal was to make home entertainment more convenient, as there used to be no other way for people to watch movies, unless they went to a theater or to a video rental shop. However, they ended up doing more than that when their DVD subscription service evolved into a full-fledged digital library of media that can be accessed anytime and anywhere. You no longer have to sprint to the bathroom whenever your favorite show goes on a commercial break. You no longer have to find a place to store your stacks of DVDs. You no longer have to subscribe to expensive cable packages that come with channels that you barely even watch. Now, all you need is a digital device and a subscription fee, and then you have access to an unlimited amount of content.
For years, Netflix dominated the streaming industry, and it was better this way because it meant that all the movies and shows that you could possibly want to watch can be found on one platform. Although Hulu was one of Netflix’ competitors at that time, it was mostly focused on old shows and indie movies, meaning both platforms had their respective niche content that was vastly different from each other. However, we live in a capitalist society, and when companies see that something is profitable, the tendency is they would want to make a version of their own. To this day, there are already too many subscription services to keep track of, with some notable newcomers being HBO Max, Disney+, AppleTV+, and many more. The streaming service industry is already oversaturated at this point, but the list would only continue to grow now that the pandemic has further changed the way media is consumed.
Multiple streaming services might seem fine on the surface-level because it gives the illusion that users have more freedom to choose which service they want to subscribe to. However, it also means that each specific streaming service is no longer a comprehensive digital library. The existence of competition gives rise to different strategies that would help make a company stand out, so every month, there are movies being pulled out from one platform only to be transferred to another. There is also a lot of original content that can only be streamed through one platform and nowhere else. Suppose that you’re subscribed to Netflix, and you’re in the mood to watch a Disney movie, but then you discover that Disney pulled out all of its property and made it exclusive to their own platform. This made you decide to subscribe to Disney+, but you still kept your Netflix subscription because your favorite shows can only be streamed there. Even if you’re subscribed to two platforms, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have access to all the content you need because you might be interested in another show that is exclusive to a different streaming service.
Having so many streaming service options is both impractical and pricey. The subscription fee might seem worth it at first, but the costs tend to add up every month, especially if you factor in the number of services you’re subscribed to and the amount of time you spend watching them. There’s always the option for a free trial, but the fact that streaming services ask for your credit card information before giving you the free trial makes it easy for you to fall prey to forgetting to cancel your subscription. Of course, there are people who find ways to cheat the system, either through piracy (which is strongly discouraged) or password sharing (which is the more practical route), but lately, major streaming platforms have been pushing for a “no password sharing” policy to ensure that people are paying full price for their own accounts.
The bottom line is: streaming platforms have made home media consumption more convenient and affordable. We no longer have to leave the comfort of our homes to buy or rent DVDs, and we can also access an unlimited number of content whenever we want. However, if streaming services continue to multiply and content continues to be dispersed, we’ll end up right back to where we started, with what is essentially another version of the expensive cable package filled with channels that we barely even watch.