Dan Bulwinkle

How I Use Streaming Services

8 November 2019
5 minute read

Participating in the transition from Blockbuster through Netflix online streaming service was an interesting lesson in change of market dynamics. Netflix realized you could be cost effective at sending DVDs through the mail, while Blockbuster snoozed assuming people would browse in store forever. Sure, browsing in real life is an experience, but it was also something of an annoyance for similar reasons why Amazon was successful1.

For a while, around 2012 or so, it seemed like Netflix and streaming were the future. But it, too, has had difficulty negotiating deals for desired content with the competition heating up from other services such as Amazon and HBO. Turning to Hollywood to create original content, it seemed like it was off to a good start with the series House of Cards.

But as A-list content dwindled, the pressure was on. Netflix had to produce more original content and it tried to hype up shows like Marco Polo which ended in failure. Shows like Orange is the New Black, Narcos, and Stranger Things helped, but rising subscriber costs contributed to its struggle2. In fact, it’s hard to see any recently widely talked about content as they ramp up efforts to try to see what sticks3.

Many people already had Amazon Prime when they launched Amazon Prime Video. Amazon has also had mediocre success with original content. Jack Ryan is probably the most talked about, but Amazon, too, has a lengthy list of never-heard-of-this-before original content4.

Another popular streaming service is HBO Now, which has been able to leverage its A-list content from the cable service with clout frequently advertised by hotels everywhere, HBO. Most well known content-wise here is Game of Thrones but has done well with newer series such as Westworld and Succession.

HBO Now is actually how I developed my current viewing habits. When it was launched I subscribed to the service just to watch Silicon Valley and then promptly canceled. An ancillary benefit was access to all the A-list content for the month.

I started doing this around 2015 or 2016, and fast-forward to 2018 when Amazon Prime was due to be renewed. Amazon had just increased the price for a Prime membership, and the benefits were questionable. Shortly after declining to renew Amazon Prime, I also axed Netflix.

I haven’t reactivated any of these services since, but I know the desirable content has started to queue up. Jack Ryan was indeed a worthy series. So at some point, just like HBO Now, I’ll spin up a Prime Video membership for the month before canceling. This will happen with Netflix as well. Ideally I’d subscribe to a service one month and cascade other services in subsequent months.

An exception here is Disney Plus. The content, at present, seems to be so good that it will be worth it to just pay for the service month to month without giving it much thought. Disney Plus is also interesting because one of Netflix’s pillars is children’s content. Imagine busy parents that need an hour a day and let their kids have some screen time. Would they prefer to just pay $10 a month for Netflix or risk subjecting their kids to content from randos on Youtube5?

In the end it may seem rather miserly to forgo a whole $3606 a year on content and services that could prove beneficial in situations like being stuck in an airport or on a long car ride. $330, however, is a lot of money for most people. You could go out to a nice dinner for two a few times over, or buy a nicer car, or contribute that money to Watsi7. But I think it speaks more about how the business model of streaming services is broken. It’s a commodity8 and the only reason to have the service is if you truly like content that hasn’t entered the zeitgeist like House of Cards or Game of Thrones, or if you really feel compelled to have water cooler conversations about the latest episode on Monday morning. Disney Plus will be an interesting service to follow. It seems like it has the hallmark of success with so much A-list content, and if you’ve been paying attention Star Wars is everywhere.

Update: I forgot I had wanted to contrast video streaming with music services (I wrote this post quickly because otherwise I wouldn’t have written anything). Music services like Spotify and Apple Music are perfect for platform lock-in. It makes sense to pay $10-$15 a month.

  1. Amazon took the pain away of not finding the book you want in bookstores. Similarly, Netflix took the pain away of settling for some B-list movie because there were no other options in the Blockbuster you were browsing. ↩︎

  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2019/07/19/netflixs-original-content-strategy-is-failing/ ↩︎

  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_original_programs_distributed_by_Netflix ↩︎

  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_original_programs_distributed_by_Amazon ↩︎

  5. https://theoutline.com/post/1239/youtube-has-a-fake-peppa-pig-problem ↩︎

  6. Services vary from $8 for standalone Amazon Video to $15 for HBO Now, but let’s just say the services on average are around $10, and for three services for 12 months it is around $360. ↩︎

  7. Do it! Right now! https://watsi.org ↩︎

  8. It’s a commodity in the sense that people aren’t loyal to a service (except perhaps Disney Plus!) but instead just want to “watch something.” ↩︎