Scott Hardie | April 15, 2023
Any thoughts on the new streaming service Max (well, new in that it combines other streamers under a new name), or thoughts on the state of the streaming industry?

Erik Bates | April 15, 2023
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Samir Mehta | April 16, 2023
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Scott Hardie | April 18, 2023
Who in their right mind would want to launch an all-things-to-all-people streaming service in 2023? Max already went through a period of bad publicity in 2022 when the plan was for HBO Max to be folded into the Discovery+ app that hosts reality shows, some of the main problems being that they have very different audiences, very different production and release cycles, and very different business models. The final something-for-everyone form that Max is now taking seems like a pre-2022 idea where their objective is to maximize subscriber counts, but that's not how the industry works now: Ever since Netflix's subscriber growth plateaued in early 2022, shareholder focus has been on the profitability of each service, not its size. It has become commonly accepted that spending lavishly on expensive new productions and operating at a deficit, solely in order to drive growth at all costs, is not sustainable and has to stop, except for the most deep-pocketed companies like Amazon and Apple that have cash to burn.

Warner Bros. Discovery (the company) possesses a wealth of popular content: Game of Thrones, DC, Harry Potter, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Warner Bros, HBO, Sesame Street, Turner Classic Movies, Discovery, and lots more. Imagine being able to license all of that to other streamers at a premium, while no longer having to operate your own service and justify its underperformance to impatient shareholders, not to mention no longer having to produce your own splashy "Max Originals" and no longer having to pay lots of money for licensed content like Friends, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, South Park, Studio Ghibli, and whatever else Max is bleeding money to host. You could even launch cost-effective mini-streamers that focus on specific niches, like DC Universe used to do and Discovery+ currently still does, if your analysts identified some specific opportunities. I know which path I'd take if I were in charge of the company today.

Most tech industries follow the same pattern: A new technology emerges, one company bets big & early on it and grows into a powerhouse, many other companies copy that playbook and enjoy rapid growth of their own, then the growth potential is exhausted and a period of consolidation follows, leaving 2-3 major players in the end. Netflix once enjoyed a monopoly on the streaming side of distribution and could negotiate very favorable licensing deals, and I totally get why every company in Hollywood wanted a piece of the streaming action for themselves, but there's not enough money to sustain them all and some shrinking is now inevitable. I think it's better to get out in front of that problem than spend big-time trying to fight it. As long as we don't return to a single big player, competition between the surviving streamers should make licensing profitable again.

Plus, on top of all that, there's the problem of brand identity. Despite the diversity of its content from Marvel to Star Wars to NatGeo to the Simpsons to the Muppets, Disney has spent a century building a strong overall brand identity that repels some customers but attracts many more, and Disney+ is well-positioned to survive if it can control costs. (Hulu is a goner. I fully expect its content to be folded into Disney+ within three years.) Netflix also has a strong relationship with its customers, though too many premature cancellations have damaged that brand identity lately, which should help to sustain them. Beyond those two services, do any other streamers have a meaningful relationship with customers? Do people have strong positive associations with "Max" or Warner Bros. Discovery? People like specific content such as Harry Potter and DC and HBO, but the streamer itself just feels like a means to an end. The same goes for Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+, which are owned by well-liked companies but don't seem particularly well-liked themselves. Peacock and Paramount+ feel like mere distribution channels for their respective studios, and I don't expect them to survive for more than a few years. On the other end of the scale, niche streamers like Crunchyroll and BET+ will probably last because they serve specific audiences with small budgets and don't have to be everything to everyone. And who knows, maybe more production companies will seek to control distribution themselves; Mystery Science Theater 3000 launched its own micro-streamer and I doubt that they'll be the last.

Scott Hardie | April 18, 2023
As for my household, we subscribe to all of the major streamers, and yet I'm continually disappointed that when I want to watch a particular show or movie and I go on the ever-valuable Reelgood to look up where to watch it, maybe half of the time it's still not available. How ridiculous! It makes me long for the heyday of Netflix's DVDs-by-mail service, which was inconvenient but at least the selection was nearly comprehensive.

My quick impressions of the streamers in my household, from most-watched to least (all running on our PS4):

• YouTube Premium: Far and away the thing we watch most, maybe an hour a day on average. There are so many funny, informative, interesting channels, and the tools to manage them all are great (every streamer should allow multiple watchlists), and the app is the most stable around. I wish only that the algorithm was not so comically dumb at predicting what I'd like, or that (like Facebook) it would let me clarify that no, I don't actually like so-and-so topic that it mistakenly associated with me.

• Disney+: Great for MCU. The rest is well-made but of limited interest to a childless couple with only a passing interest in Star Wars and Pixar. Too much of its "content" feels merely like brand cross-promotion without inherent appeal.

• Paramount+: Holy crap, buggiest app by far. When it works, we enjoy the various Star Treks; Picard season 3 is shockingly good. I somehow still watch Survivor. We haven't tried much else.

• HBO Max: The app's buggy. Last Week Tonight is the best show on TV and mandatory viewing here; its YouTube clips leave out a lot. I somehow still watch South Park. We've tried other shows but stuck with none long-term.

• Hulu: Only Murders in the Building and What We Do in the Shadows are fun. I've been very slowly watching The Golden Girls and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for years. I don't watch Hulu often but I'm glad to have it.

• Peacock: The Traitors is exceptional. The Amber Ruffin Show was mandatory viewing; sadly it's now all but over. We're tentatively watching the listless Night Court revival in hopes that it shifts gears and gets funnier. We didn't make it far with anything else.

• Netflix: The cancellations burned me; why start any new show now? I plan to finish Stranger Things, Queer Eye, and The Sandman and then cancel it. The app would be perfect if not for the damn auto-playing (which persists despite me turning it off in Settings).

• Apple TV+: Ted Lasso is wonderful. I've watched nothing else on it. When Ted leaves, so will I.

• Amazon Prime Video: We only have it as a free add-on to Amazon Prime. I've used it maybe 10 times, to see obscure stuff not available anywhere else.

• Fandor: We just recently subscribed to this to see a couple of specific titles. We'll probably drop it.

Samir Mehta | April 18, 2023
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Samir Mehta | April 19, 2023
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Scott Hardie | April 19, 2023

Paramount is rocking the Star Trek franchise.
Definitely! The new era got off to a bumpy start but the shows are now consistently good to great.

it is quickly becoming the case that Netflix, Hulu, etc. are becoming the new NBC, ABC, CBS, etc.
Great way of putting it!

A big part of why I don’t care for this offering is it adds nothing I lack. I have HBO content, and great fiction content. I genuinely DISLIKE reality tv (excepting nature stuff) so the add is a negative.
Yeah, that's a problem with the Max launch: Everything on it already exists. It's just combining two other streamers, HBO Max and Discovery+, into one. The company has promised new shows like a Harry Potter series, but those are mostly in the distant future. Again, I'm glad I'm not the CEO trying to make this thing a success.

Speaking of that Harry Potter series as a non-fan: Ugggh. Adapting the seven books into a film series made sense because they're different mediums with different audiences. But adapting them again into a long-form TV series that just tells the same story as the movies but with new actors? Who is the audience for this? Is there anyone who would watch the TV series and who wouldn't watch the films, especially when the films are quite prominently available on Max already? And that's not even getting into the culture war over J.K. Rowling and whether it's OK to like Harry Potter in spite of her, which is exhausting and seemingly endless and just a little bit dishonest (in that people refuse to acknowledge that it's a tiny proxy for the much larger and more difficult conversation that we really should be having about transgender people), and I dread the TV series bringing up another million repetitive opinions about it, privileged though I am to get to feel that way. :-\

I wonder a bit about whether this world of streamers will break people more and more in cliques.
It might indeed, especially if the streamers increasingly pursue a branded strategy rather than an everything-to-everyone strategy as I predict. The era of "peak TV" has produced so many new shows, on top of the generations' worth of old shows still available, that it seems we can never run out of the shows just within our favored genres.

It makes me long for the heyday of Netflix's DVDs-by-mail service, which was inconvenient but at least the selection was nearly comprehensive.
No sooner do I say this than Netflix announces the end of its DVD-by-mail service, a business that they've clearly wanted to exit for a very long time. I wonder how long Redbox's kiosks will last.

What I want to know is what is on YouTube Plus? I know so little about it!
Same content as YouTube, but with no ads, the ability to download videos to watch offline like on a long trip, and the YouTube Music phone app that acts like a traditional music app for all of the songs on YouTube. We pay for it for the commercial-free feature alone, given that we watch 10-30 videos a day and got to a point where we couldn't stand the endless repetitive mandatory ads any more, but the other features are nice too.

But clearly there's a lot of good stuff?
There's a wealth of great content on YouTube! We began watching it just to laugh at a few silly videos after finishing a "real" show if we didn't want to get off the couch yet, but we gradually discovered more and more good stuff, and now there are nights when it's all that we watch, often just by subscribing to channels that we like and seeing what new stuff they produce. If you'd like some recommendations, here are sample videos from some of our favorite channels.

For informative videos, we love The Tim Traveller, a Paris-based Brit who travels around Europe teaching about geography with gentle humor; Tom Scott, another Brit who has a gift for turning science topics that sound boring into really interesting videos; and I've previously mentioned Beryl Shereshewsky, a New Yorker who tries recipes that her viewers send her and learns a surprising amount about different cultures in the process. Beyond that, Pop Culture Detective does a great job of breaking down the misogyny that permeates pop culture. Vox tells neat stories about important things quietly happening in the news, and their producer Phil Edwards has his own good channel about neat overlooked topics. Also, Allen Tsai tells rapid-fire movie trivia, sometimes with a joke at the end. and Corridor Crew is a team of Hollywood VFX specialists who explain (and sometimes invent) amazing new technology.

For silly videos, we love Daily Dose of Internet, which collects clips of neat and weird and interesting videos from around the web; HiHo Kids, in which kids have funny reactions to new foods and experiences; and Southern-themed comedians It's a Southern Thing and the related channel Matt Mitchell (their former head writer). Joel Haver makes weekly skits but he's really hit-or-miss. The Graham Norton Show publishes many clips of their often-hilarious celebrity cross-talk. And there's a weird niche genre of editing pop-culture characters into video game footage; Pertinax and eli_handle_b.wav are my favorites.

Why wouldn't there be some rational limit on sharing of passwords? And if they let friends/family have modified plans, isn't that a fair outcome? What am I missing? I THINK Netflix allowed some sketch behaviors to develop and people decided sketch behaviors were totally kosher?
It's probably that last sentence. People don't like free stuff being taken away from them because they very quickly come to feel entitled to it. One could make an ethical argument (certainly not a legal one) that Netflix themselves are to blame for normalizing the sharing of passwords because they looked the other way for so long, and thus they're now in the wrong to start enforcing that policy. One could even take it a step further to argue that the free sharing of passwords allowed Netflix to grow so popular, and now it's inappropriate for them to "cash in" on this growth by betraying the password-sharers who made it possible, an argument similar to the avalanche of criticism that befell Metallica after they sued Napster users, having spent their broke early days begging metalheads to pass out copies of their demo tapes to gain attention. Then again, people always seem to be pissed off at Netflix about something; the subject literally has its own Wikipedia article.

Scott Hardie | April 19, 2023
To clarify: When I say, "Who is the audience for this?" about the new Harry Potter series, the answer is obviously "Harry Potter fans." But are there enough Harry Potter fans for the series to be successful? My reasoning is that the movies had mainstream appeal and managed to sell tickets to people like me who weren't already fans of the material, and now that those movies have satisfied that wider audience, it seems to me that the only people left who will want to sit through the same very long story again are the hardcore Potterheads. But Rowling's poisonous public reputation has depleted their ranks, and this will probably have to be one of the most expensive shows on television, so can it possibly be a financial success for Max? I am skeptical. There is also potentially a generation of young new fans, but again, the already-existing movies will be right there on Max already, so why would those kids also want or need a show?

Scott Hardie | April 19, 2023
Speaking of criticism of Netflix, I'm glad that when I screw up in Celebrity Goo Game and use a photo of the wrong person, it probably won't cost me $1 million.

Samir Mehta | April 19, 2023
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Scott Hardie | April 28, 2023
Yep. Everything you said is how I feel too. I hate to use the pejorative "slacktivism" to describe the opposition to Rowling because I'm sympathetic to the cause, but isn't that what it is? Pretending otherwise just seems dishonest.

Regarding YouTube, I'll mention two things if you're going to make a real go of watching it:

1) Subscribe to any channel that you find that has good videos, then routinely check the Subscriptions page for new content. This makes a world of difference in finding good stuff.

2) To compete with TikTok, YouTube has started aggressively promoting "shorts," which are phone-optimized videos in a simplified player with no progress bar nor volume control. That would be annoying enough, but 90% of the shorts that I come across are just clips taken from longer videos that I've already watched or saved to watch later, making them redundant. Avoid shorts, I say.

Regarding how the streaming services compare, I should have mentioned my disdain for the services that make you sit through ads before each episode, even when you pay extra for the premium tier. Hey, Paramount+ and HBO Max: When I pay a few dollars more for the ad-free version, that does not mean "only play ads for other shows on our service instead of for outside advertisers," it means "NO ADS."

Scott Hardie | May 5, 2023
Minor pet peeve: People saying that they miss DVDs because "they had extras that the streaming services today don't have, like original trailers, directors' commentaries, and deleted scenes."

OK, that's fair about directors' commentaries, which sadly only the Criterion Channel seems to offer, and part of that streamer's mission is to be picky about what content it carries.

But if you want to see original trailers, they're on most of the major services: Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu, Paramount+, Peacock, Plex, and Vudu by my quick count, plus Netflix has trailers for their own originals.

If you want deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, and other supplementary content that you used to find on DVD, Disney+ preserves most of it. They even offer some of the alternative audio tracks, like Frozen's sing-along mode and Finding Nemo's Navajo-language mode. I wish more streamers offered these.

Plus, the streamers have some features that DVDs don't. Amazon Prime, Disney+, and Hulu offer "watch parties" so that you can sync up with friends online to watch simultaneously. And a neat little unadvertised feature in Amazon Prime is that, when you pause a movie or show, it will list the actors in that scene with links to IMDb, which is great for those "where have I seen that guy?" moments.

Scott Hardie | June 6, 2023
Shout out to Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube for being the only streaming services that let you see a complete history of what titles you watched and when. (Hulu offers it only if you export a PDF of all data that they have collected about you, which is limited to twice yearly.) I wanted to count how many episodes we watch on each service to do some bang-for-the-buck price comparisons, but the data isn't available for most services. I was surprised that the family-oriented Disney+, which offers ample parental controls, doesn't offer a way to see what your kids have watched. :-\

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