Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Golden Age of Streaming is Over

I didn't wake up this morning with a powerful urge to watch A Fistful of Dollars, but I did arrive at such an urge via a rambling route that began with news of Robert Forster's death.

I'm sure that I watched it no longer than two years ago on one of the streaming services (I'm pretty sure it was Amazon Prime Video). Wherever it was that I watched it, I know that I didn't pay a premium above and beyond my subscription fee at whatever service I watched it on.

Now if I want to watch it, I have to pay out extra -- rent it, buy it, or add a subscription to STARZ on top of my Amazon Prime. Ditto The Magnificent Seven (the original, not the recent remake), which I last watched "free" a few years ago as well.

That seems to be happening a lot lately.

"That" being: Content formerly available via single-subscription-payment "all you can eat" streaming services moving back behind various "additional payment" walls.

I have some notions as to why that's happening.

Back when Netflix started their streaming service, it was speculative. The owners of older intellectual "property" were happy to license their stuff for peanuts. It's not like VHS/DVD sales of older westerns were bringing in fat stacks. This streaming fad was found money.

Then streaming got popular, as did "no added cost" on-demand video via cable networks.

And since each streaming service (two new big ones now out or coming soon -- Disney and Apple) and cable network wants to be able to offer stuff that can't be found anywhere else, they're bidding up the prices to license all that old stuff and moving it either onto their own services as "exclusives" or completely behind "additional payment" walls.

The same thing happened with cable. First there was basic cable. Then here came HBO for a little more per month. Then "want to watch X? Only on Showtime. Or Cinemax. Etc." With every new entrant, one of two things happened -- you forked over a little more, or you got a little less.

Looks like we're getting back to that way of doing things.

Netflix and Amazon saw it coming. That's why they started producing their own content and working out the "add channels" deals. The value proposition for subscription-based streaming is changing from "bazillions of movies and TV shows you remember and would like to see again for one flat price" to "you can only see Bill Burr's latest stand-up special on Netflix, and Bosch is just for Amazon Prime subscribers."

Personally, I have no intention of adding any more streaming services, or buying any premium channel add-ons to the ones I have. I've got Netflix and Amazon Prime, and occasionally consider dropping the former (Prime has the advantage of offering other benefits). My household also has Hulu, which I'm not interested in and which my wife pays for because I won't.

I suppose I might change out one of those services for another if one of the old ones starts sucking and a new one looks better. But I never really fell for the cable TV version of this trend, and don't plan to fall for the streaming version either. The few times over the last few decades when I've taken an "add HBO free or for only $X/month for Y months" (basically when I've moved and changed cable providers), I canceled when the free or cheap deal ended because the added value seemed like a fraction of the added price.

I guess I'll either go back to not watching as many different things on a whim, or buy a DVD player (my last one died years ago) and let my whims be driven by 50 cent garage sale / thrift store finds.

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