As 2022 nears its end, pop culture consumers who enjoy their entertainment from home are experiencing a fork in the road, regardless of whether they are Canada or U.S.-based. It’s perhaps more fitting to say they face multiple forks in the road. The multitude of online streaming services to binge-watch one’s preferred movies or series is borderline vertiginous. But that isn’t the sole sour spot content consumers must reckon with. Rising costs, ad-supported price plans, and an economy navigating a maelstrom of bad news for months have some people making tough choices about what they choose to watch or not. So much so that one may be forgiven for picking up a cheap Blu-ray player and simply watching physical media.
Is going back to physical media a realistic choice? That depends on how many of those old discs one has kept in storage, or how much one accepts to spend over $30 for a single 4K disc if one upgrades to Ultra HD. Is today’s world better or worse than back in the olden days when physical media dominated?
Back in MY Day…
This article won’t bore readers to death with romantic opining of yesteryear when Blockbuster was all the rage. There are enough podcasts, YouTube channels, pop culture articles, and people on social media that do just that. Fair enough.
There is merit in recalling how things were from a more holistic approach. When one wanted to consume a film or television series, they either rented or, probably in the case of a lot of people reading this (as film fans and such), purchased said piece of entertainment on disc. Even further back there was VHS, or video cassettes.
It genuinely was a simpler time. True, there were some “format wars” that complicated matters for brief spells. Some may recall when VHS and Betamax engaged in market warfare. A couple of decades later, it was between Blu-ray and HD-DVD in a short-lived tête-à-tête.
The point being made here is that, if one wanted to own a copy of Star Wars, or The Godfather, they simply bought the disc. That was it. No one was shunned from watching George Lucas’ classic space opera if they didn’t cough up $11.99 every month.
Stream the Dream
The 2010s saw a big change from the consumption of films and shows on discs to streaming them off of online media services. Even Netflix, mostly known today as a streaming service, at one time mailed DVDs to customers (they still do, if anyone cares to know). Today of course they are a streaming empire that not only licences plenty of content from other studios but produces an unfathomable amount of its own original content.
When streaming grew in popularity and became more and more commonplace, it was like a dream. No need to stack DVD cases on the bookshelf anymore, many of which started to collect dust. Streaming was so easy. Simply sign up, pay a monthly or annual fee, and enjoy all the platform’s content at the click of a button.
About a decade ago, there was a lot of money to be made when studios leased their own product to companies like Netflix. But as the 2010s crept closer to the 2020s, things began to change. For one, as previously stated, Netflix started creating its own movies and shows. But more importantly for our purposes here is that other players entered the proverbial ring. Some of them, like Disney, Amazon, and Apple, wanted to start their own platforms to diversify their capital and earnings. Others, like HBOMAX (Crave in Canada), Paramount+, and Peacock (NBC-Universal Unavailable in Canada) were studios who grew tired of leasing out their stuff to other companies. They wanted to bring their creations home, so to speak, and “get in” on the delights of streaming revenue. After all, the numbers don’t lie.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
The article acknowledges that the prior sections were incredibly simple, drive-by explanations of how the cultural consumption landscape arrived at where it is today. That said, consider what the market looks like in 2022.
One can subscribe to Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, HBOMAX/Crave, Paramount+, Discovery+, Shudder for horror hounds, Apple TV+, and Criterion Channel for art house lovers. If one lives in the United States, add Hulu and Peacock to that. None of those include the streaming versions of television stations or sports.
As per the Cloud Awards article linked above, the percentage of U.S. households that have at least one subscription to a streaming service (86%) is higher than those with a paid TV subscription (67%). That’s a remarkable statistic but corroborated by the upward trend in streaming’s popularity for the past decade, as well as its multiplicity.
There’s a catch, however. Remember the VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray eras. One bought a movie (or rented it), and that was the end of the story. These days, a Trekkie needs Paramount+, an MCU disciple needs Disney+, the Bergman maniac needs Criterion Channel, and Dahmer “fans” must subscribe to Netflix. It’s simple, yet it isn’t. Sure, sign up, pay a monthly fee, and click “play.” But how many of these services can one sign up for?
It’s like cable TV all over again. Different channels duking it out for the public’s attention span and hard-earned dollars. There was an evolution from relatively cumbersome little DVD boxes and discs that can break and scratch to the simplicity of streaming. That, in turn, has devolved into a complicated and increasingly expensive market.
Tilt Magazine is not the place to discuss national or world economics, but the news these days isn’t great. Wallets are tight. Food costs more. Gas costs more. Guess what else is about to cost more: streaming services.
Several of the major services have recently announced price increases with caveats. At the time of this writing, rivals such as Netflix, Disney+, and Paramount+ have or will soon begin implementing ad-supported plans that cost less per month, and ad-free plans that cost more per month. Remember the comment about it seeming like cable TV again? Want to watch Dahmer with commercial breaks?
Canadians spent on average $52.58 a month on cable TV in 2017. In 2022, if a Canadian subscribes to all the big streaming platforms, ad-free, and with the maximum number of screens permissible. It would cost $103.17 every month.
Netflix ad-free and 4 screens: $20.99
Prime Video: $8.25
Disney+: $11.99 (the ad-supported version does not come into effect in Canada until 2023)
Crave (Canadian HBOMAX): $19.99
Paramount+ ad-free: $9.99
Apple TV+: $8.99
Criterion Channel: $10.99
Not everyone is willing to pay that. These days not everyone can. It isn’t even a matter of those services not providing a plethora of content. They certainly do, much of it quite good. However, there are economic realities that make the situation difficult to navigate for both content producers and content consumers.
Streaming Births Nostalgia
Netflix has been losing subscribers, Disney isn’t making its earnings targets, Warner Bros. Discovery is in penny-pinching mode given its situation, etc. It isn’t looking great, neither for the public’s wallet nor those providing the public with its entertainment. Surely solutions will be found. They always are. As the wilderness of streaming gets wilder by the year, it does make one reminisce about those DVDs and Blu-rays. So simple. Just turn on the machine, put in the disc, and press play on the menu screen…