It’s been a busy few days in Hollywood: the historic 20th Century Fox studio was absorbed into the Mouse House, and Apple announced its long-anticipated foray into video streaming services. Streaming platforms – mostly Netflix – have been major troublemakers in the film and television industries in recent years.
Film festivals are not quite sure what to do with films that were made for streaming platforms (Cannes hates them, most of the others like them). And it’s been debated what type of awards considerations those films should get – but more on that later. Now that the biggest company in the world is entering the arena, it looks like the war for the viewer’s attention has begun for good.
The streaming services market is crowded
Apple’s arrival in the streaming services market has been anticipated for some time. When it hit the trade papers that Reese Witherspoon had sold a series to the biggest company in the world, eyebrows were raised – with concern more than surprise. If established talent like that goes to Apple, does that mean that Netflix is no longer an exception?
In this case, there are several factors that we need to take into account. Netflix has been a major troublemaker in the film and television market since it moved its service online, and dramatically more so since it started creating content. They convinced major cinematic talent that the grass was indeed greener on a smaller screen, with David Fincher being the first to hop the fence to make House of Cards. It was only a matter of time before they moved into movies, and later into prestige movies, movies that were actually good and award-worthy. Resistance to this has been staunch, recently led by legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
Amazon also moved into the market with Amazon Prime Video, albeit with much less truculence than Netflix. Those two are the only major legal options for SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) that operate on a global level. Netflix boasts that it can drop content in 190 territories in a heartbeat – and they won’t let you forget it.
One thing we have to remember, however, is that this market is very much run from the United States: an American ecosystem with a global impact. The streaming market in the United States is more fragmented than in the rest of the world, as viewers have to choose between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO. And soon there will be more choice.
The new kids in town
Netflix has an edge when it comes to the cultural impact of its content: its need for content is, if anything, as much of a reason for their broad range of films and series, as their political stance to showcase diversity. You don’t “Amazon Prime Video and chill”. One thing you also don’t do is “Disney and chill” unless you want to utterly destroy your and someone else’s childhood memories.
But it will soon be an option. Disney announced the launch of Disney+ in late 2019, the Mouse House’s streaming services, where all of its historical content (and now Fox’s as well) will be available. Disney is emblematic for distributing American content worldwide, thus being the main culprit for global tastes becoming mainstream, and it is certain that it will continue to be so once it rolls out Disney+ globally. TV shows based in the Marvel and Star Wars universes are already in the works. What will happen to Hulu, which Disney now owns 60% of, is up for grabs.
And now Apple has officially announced its launch around the same time. It has recently been Apple’s strategy to expand from hardware to services, as people are realising that it may not be necessary to spend £1,000 each year for a new phone. Apple Music was the first foray into those services. It was fitting for the company, as music is in its DNA, and it was the main agent of the disruption that the music industry underwent fifteen years ago. It is now an agent of the similar disruption affecting the film and television industries.
Apple is stepping into the arena with heavy artillery: for its announcement, Tim Cook enlisted the support of Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, and the big guns: the high priestess of daytime television Oprah Winfrey, and the legendary Steven Spielberg, producer of prestige television entertainment.
The latter’s appearance was a pointed slap at Netflix: Spielberg has been a vocal critic of Netflix’s foray into filmmaking, and his partnership with Apple (while indeed just in television) certainly sheds a different light into his recent statements against Netflix.
The war begins
2019 is the year where the global war of streaming services will begin. The US market is already crowded, and the rest of the world is going to experience what that’s like when Disney and Apple roll out their services in the autumn. No one knows the power of an a-ha moment like Oprah, and she’s about to get the whole world to experience it. The Queer Eye guys will no longer be the only ones to make us ugly cry.
It is going to take a lot for Apple to get as zeitgeisty, but its starting position seems incredibly strong to challenge Netflix. We also shouldn’t forget that Apple has an advantage: they already are in everyone’s hands with iPhones and iPads, and can roll out its television service instantaneously to their existing customers. This is an advantage that they have with Apple Music and that Spotify recently complained about to the European Union arguing it was an unfair advantage.
Disney doesn’t lack might when rolling out films or television series either. We’re getting ready for the clash of the Titans.