The market of streaming services has now entered a new age. There were gasps when Disney announced recently that they would not renew their licensing contract with Netflix when it expires in 2019. Instead, Disney will be launching their own streaming service. As of yet, it is unclear what form that service will take, and how much of Disney’s catalogue will find its way to that new platform. For instance, the future of the Star Wars franchise or the Marvel series hasn’t been decided. However, what is certain is that streaming services are now entering a phase of aggressive expansion.
The Disney empire strikes back
Netflix has been ahead of the game for years. It was strange when the DVD rental business decided to let go its mail services and decided to focus on its web platform. It was even more idiosyncratic when this “provider” decided to branch out into original content.
As we now know, they were simply ahead of the curve. Today, Netflix accounts for a third of all the internet traffic in the United States every evening. They were clearly aware that their head start could only last so long. They couldn’t rely on Disney and other studios to provide them with content forever. They were getting too big, therefore too threatening. This much was clear when they announced that they would start producing original content, with David Fincher’s House of Cards, no less.
This merely enacted a change which has now been made official with Disney breaking ties with the new titan.
The streaming giants
Of course, Netflix isn’t the only new kid on the block. Amazon has followed a similar pathway to Netflix, going from being merely a platform for consumers to access other companies’ goods to actually integrating the production of films and TV series.
These two, however, have very different approaches. Netflix could be considered the Disney of the streaming world: the faceless empire that engineers a global mainstream. Instead of doing so by forcing plush toys in everyone’s hands, they simply access the devices that are already in everybody’s hands. Amazon, has gone for the independent sensitivity, and recruited veteran indie producer Ted Hope to lead their studio.
News also broke that two tech giants, akin to Amazon, decided to branch out into original content creation. Facebook announced a new button, “Watch”, that will appear on the ubiquitous platform and show the company’s content. Apple announced at the same time that they were going to spend one billion dollars on original content. In an age when everyone is tied to, and is afraid of, GAFA, three quarters of that acronym will now be putting out original content. What a time to be alive.
The biggest companies in the world have tasked themselves with putting original content in their customers’ hands. This means: the war is moving to your mobile phones.
Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Facebook came to this market from having the tech capability but not the know-how. (This, they can buy, and they do.) Disney’s entry into the market comes from the other direction. They all are, however, on an equal footing. They all are titans with the tech capabilities and the means to put out great original content. What Netflix and Amazon have at the moment is merely a very small head start.
The clash of the streaming titans has only just announced itself.
Streaming for independent filmmakers
So what does that mean for independent filmmakers? In the world of no-budget filmmaking, what do Disney, Netflix, Amazon and the others whose currency is millions of dollars have to do with us?
Well, they’re on the hunt for know-how. They need people who have the skills to tell stories. That is why Netflix snatched Shonda Rhimes away from ABC. They have the means to do it, and she’s a great storyteller who wants to do things her way, have more freedom and reach a global audience. It’s a match made in heaven.
Independent filmmakers? We know how to tell stories. Not just that, but singular, idiosyncratic stories too. The stories that are different. This is the skill that the giants want. Their names may rhyme with mainstream and lowest common denominator today. But once all those conglomerates are on an equal footing, they will want to differentiate themselves.
Amazon understood that with Transparent and Netflix has followed them with Dear White People. This is the kind of stories that independent filmmakers live for. And because we thrive under constraint, we will know how to adapt to the global audience, to the requirements of short form content and whatever form entertainment takes in the future.
The independents are ready. The giants just needed to catch up.