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Are streaming platforms about to slow down?

BY James O'Malley

11th Aug 2023 Technology

Are streaming platforms about to slow down?
Been feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of high quality TV out there? Things might be about to change as the streaming wars seem to be cooling down
Have you seen Succession yet? Or what about The Mandalorian? Perhaps you haven’t had the time as you’re still watching Ted Lasso, The Last of Us, Poker Face, Beef or The Diplomat? 
Don’t worry, you’re not imagining it: There really is too much TV these days. According to Variety, in 2022 there were 599 scripted, adult-oriented shows being made for American TV (and by extension, British TV). This is a huge increase from a mere 182 twenty years earlier when the so-called “Peak TV” era began with the likes of The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Mad Men. 
"So what happened? Why has TV got so out of control?"
So it’s perhaps understandable that even the most square-eyed of television viewers can’t possibly hope to catch everything, especially when it comes to those prestigious, big-budget American dramas that your friends keep talking about. 
So what happened? Why has TV got so out of control? The answer is, of course, at its heart a technology story. 

The Streaming Wars 

The big shift that is still on-going, of course, is the move to streaming. Instead of relying on a satellite dish or a Cable TV subscription to get "content" to our eyeballs, the internet has led to the rise of the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ as the most important new players in the TV industry. 
Scene from Succession. Image: HBO
Have you got around to watching Succession yet? Image: HBO.
And this, in turn, ignited a new competition as all of the major streaming firms competed to pick up customers. The theory goes that even if there are potentially countless new streaming services, ultimately customers are only going to pay for a handful. So the last few years has been a mad-dash by the streamers to pick up as many subscribers as possible, so that they may rule TV for the foreseeable future. 
"Just this year, Netflix has spent a staggering 17 billion dollars on new shows"
And this fierce competition has led to a huge ballooning of budgets, as the streamers spent big on new shows to try to entice people in. 
Just this year, Netflix has spent a staggering $17bn on new shows, and Amazon is estimated to be spending $10bn, with Disney spending a similar amount on its streaming service. By contrast, the little old BBC is spending just £1.75bn, or $2bn over roughly the same period. That’s why every time you open Netflix there’s twenty other brand new shows, starring big Hollywood celebrities, that you’ve nevertheless somehow never heard of. 

The end of the war? 

At least, this was the case. Over the last few months, something strange has been happening in streaming: Films and TV shows have been disappearing. 
For example, Disney+ has removed the Spider-Man movies from the early 2000s, and in America, one of its biggest streaming platforms, HBO Max, has removed big-budget sci-fi drama Westworld. To be clear, none of the really big shows have been removed—you can be confident that you’ll be able to watch Avengers or Squid Game for some time yet. But many of the smaller shows are finding their way to the chopping block. 
Scene from Westworld. Image: HBO
Smaller shows like Westworld are starting to disappear from streaming platforms. Image: HBO.
And it isn’t just the back-catalogue that is shrinking. The big streamers are making less new stuff too. 
For example, for the last few years Disney has been pumping out an almost endless flood of superhero shows like Wandavision and Loki, to try to persuade viewers to pull out their credit cards. But more recently, Disney has now said that it will cut the flood to just a trickle of new Marvel shows. And similarly, Netflix’s head of Global TV recently told an industry conference that it too would be easing spending on new shows. 

So what’s changed? 

Essentially, the numbers have stopped adding up. The streamers have realised that paying to continuously licence these shows and pay royalties to their creators is expensive. And making a big-budget superhero show that looks like a fully-fledged film is an eye-wateringly expensive endeavour—so even if it might bring in thousands of new subscribers, it is still costing more than it is earning. 
"Making a big-budget superhero show that looks like a fully-fledged film is an eye-wateringly expensive endeavour"
And worse still, in a cost of living crisis, people are less willing to part with their cash—meaning that going all-out to hook in new customers becomes more expensive on a cost-per-customer basis. 
So say it quietly, but maybe the streaming wars are finally over. In the future there may be less to watch online. But hey, at least you’ll have plenty of time to catch up and find out why everyone was raving about Succession!
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