Streaming Services: Power Rankings Summer 2023, and What's Up With Paramount+

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
It is weird to me that people who play Lord of the Rings RPGs, where everything in them is completely non-canonical (unless you are really putting some restrictions on your players) are upset about the folks at Amazon doing essentially the same thing.

Pretend it's just a big budget actual play of someone's RPG game. Yeah, it's going to be wrong and some of the decisions will boggle you. But Jeff Bezos hasn't set fire to anyone's copy of the actual books. Ignore it the same way you ignore the folks who run One Ring games where the Blue Wizards are a big part of their campaigns.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
They could cut expenses in half and still produce a much better show by spending the money more wisely.

Here's the thing - if we (and by that I mean "humans, in general") could generally tell what would be popular and work well, we would do that, all the time. If we could actually tell what was a bad script well beforehand, all scripts that ever saw the light of day would be good ones.

The demonstrable empirical fact is that we cannot.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
So an update vis-a-vis the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Yesterday, while not all the numbers were good from Netflix, they raised their outlook for free cash flow this year to $5 billion (from $3.5 billion). This was due to the writers' and actors' strike.

A dynamic that I think that is underappreciated in all of what is on right now with the strike is this-

In addition to AI (and who know what is going on with that), a primary driver of the strike is the switch to the so-called Netflix model. There's a lot that goes into this - everything from shorter seasons and fewer episodes (requiring more downtime between gigs) to opacity of the data to the inability of creators of content to share in the success of properties. And while it isn't exclusively a Netflix issue, it's most certainly a model that was introduced by Netflix and benefits them immensely.

Which means that we have a bizarre dynamic playing out. Negotiations are between the guilds (writers and actors) and the AMPTP, which represents the major studios (motion picture and TV producers), including Netflix. The guilds want something that benefits the producers, but is of incredible value to Netflix.

Meanwhile, Netflix is in competition in the streaming space with the other companies. Putting aside Apple and Amazon for now, some of their primary competitors include Disney+, Max, Paramount+, and Peacock.

All of those streamers have struggled in different ways. And all of them are facing a future of the pipeline of content being massively curtailed due to the strike (they stockpiled some, but that only lasts so long). Netflix, meanwhile, invested heavily in international and alternative forms of content that will not be affected by the strike. Moreover, some of the other streamers (such as Disney, Max, and Paramount+) face the additional problem that their movie studios will be also be facing concomitant challenges.

In short, while Netflix might not be claiming to welcome this strike, they certainly would benefit from a lengthy strike.
 


Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Be very skeptical of any movies or films not derailed by these strikes. Unless they're extremely early or extremely late into production, they need both the writers and actors available. If they're doing other stuff without them, the work will suffer. And the non-union folks they can get aren't likely to have the same level of experience and qualifications.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Be very skeptical of any movies or films not derailed by these strikes. Unless they're extremely early or extremely late into production, they need both the writers and actors available. If they're doing without them, the work will suffer. And the non-union folks they can get aren't likely to have the same level of experience and qualifications.

SAG has granted waivers for several productions so its not absolute.

Aldo foreign productions.
 

One feature of conversations we often have here on EnWorld about geek media is that they get sidetracked into conversations about the various streaming services that are currently offering the content, instead of being able to talk about the content. So while you want to have a conversation about Captain Pike's piercing eyes or hot on-again, non-again romance of Spock and Chapel on Strange New Worlds, you instead end up discussing Paramount+. Or instead of being able to chat about the best show you're not watching, The Bear, you end up debating the merits of Hulu.

Therefore, as a public service, I have decided to create these series of threads - for talking about the relative merits of streaming platforms, as well as to all people to provide their own power rankings of the platforms. This is the fourth post on the subject.
The original post in August 2022 is here.
The second post in November 2022 is here.
The year-end 2022 rankings are here.
The first 2023 rankings are here.

I apologize but these posts are going to be US-centric. That's because I am reasonably certain that the 'Murika is the only country, and that every time I have flown "outside the US" I have actually just been to a really fancy food court with people approximating the accent of Maurice Chevalier.

As usual, the POWER RANKINGS are an excuse to talk about something in the news. As usual, we will be talking about HBO, um, HBOGo, um, HBONow ... er.... HBOMax.... MAX, yeah, that's the ticket. In addition, for the first ever, Paramount+ will be entering the chat for an extended appearance. Is that a good thing? WHAT DO YOU THINK?

How are power rankings determined? They are a completely subjective mix of my opinion as to how the service is doing currently, along with my belief in how the service will be doing in the future. In addition, I will provide a trend (up, down, steady).

1. Netflix. (2022: 1, Apr. 2023: 1)
A long time ago (really, it was 2013!), Reed Hastings, the visionary CEO of Netflix, said, "The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us." Well, while I don't want to anger the forces of irony, it's time to unfurl a "QUOTE ACCOMPLISHED" banner. Not only did Netflix become HBO before HBO became Netflix, Netflix actually outlasted HBO in the streaming era, until ... HBO is no longer even a named player.

There is a bloodbath going on in the streaming sphere, arguably marking an end to the golden era of content that we have gotten used to. Since I have begun these rankings, Netflix has been number 1. Now, it is number 1 and rising. With the rise of FAST (free ad-supported streaming television) and the large number of entrants and the rising cost of content, both because of the number of bidders and other factors (cost of production during COVID, for example), we see a simple truism today- Netflix is the only service consistently makes money, quarter after quarter, on streaming. And their investment in international, unlike the remainder of the mainly US-centric streamers, also allows them to continue pumping out content if Hollywood goes into full shutdown.

Is this a ratification of Netflix quality? Heck no. If anything, they have mastered the art of churning out low-cost engagement shows (aka, reality TV and the like) while sprinkling in enough "near-Prestige" TV and movies to keep it interesting. But they have a brand, a massive audience, a global reach, people watch it.

Will we see the advent of personalized "Snarf Is Awful," as predicted by Black Mirror? Will we see them continue to pump out titillating true-crime documentaries for people to gawk out, as parodied by Black Mirror? Will they continue to just subsidize Black Mirror to make fun of them? These are questions I can't answer. But I do know that as things shake out, Netflix continues to stand as the prescient winners. If you can only bet on one streamer surviving the current and upcoming bloodbath, it will be Netflix.

They are winning in revenue. They are winning in subscribers. They are winning in worldwide reach. They are winning in profits. Netflix is chugging Tiger Blood, and it doesn't look like they will stop #winning.


2. Disney+. (2022: 2, Apr. 2023: 5).
I am as shocked as you are! I thought about this one for VERY long time. D+ is not number 2 because they are in a good place- far from it. Instead, they are number 2 by default; the remaining services have other issues (as seen below).

Let's start with the negatives. D+ loses the parent company money. What once looked like an unending stream of hit content from Marvel now looks ... vulnerable. Heck, do you want to have an in-depth conversation about Secret Wars? I know I don't. The most interesting thing about the current phase of the MCU is whether or not they will need to recast their Big Bad. More importantly, they are cutting back costs on the content they are producing- so we will be seeing fewer prestige shows like Andor in the future. In short- the future looks rocky.

So why are they number 2? Well, they are DISNEY. That means that families with kids want it. And they also have an international reach already. They have a fairly massive library. Finally, this is pricing in two things- first, they will likely be purchasing Hulu in the near future, leading to tighter integration with the one area that they are truly lacking (more adult-oriented great content). Next, they own ESPN, which means they have the ability to pivot to offering live sports. Finally, because Zaslav ... sorry, the one who will not be named ... broke the ice with all the unpopular decisions on pulling shows, Disney was able to follow suit without taking the heat. Finally, with Iger back in charge and the change in the executive ranks, they have a long and proven track record of putting out popular content that people will want to see.

The losses aren't great. But of all the streamers other than Netflix, they look well-positioned to ride this out to the other side.


3. AppleTV+. (2022: 3, April 2023: 3)
Why is AppleTV+ so highly rated? Two reasons:
First, AppleTV+ isn't in the business of selling you content. They are in the business of selling you products. They are perfectly happy to subsidize AppleTV+. Would they like to make money on it at some point in the future? Sure. But they don't need to. They just need to ride things out.
Second, they are following the old HBO model. They don't put out a lot of content, but they try to make sure that everything they release is quality content. They have the Emmys and, yes, the Oscar (take that, Netflix!) to prove it. So unlike the next entry, they are building their library judiciously.


4. Prime. (2022: 6, April 2023: 6)
Last time we did a power ranking, we were all talking about the absolutely devastating article in the Hollywood Reporter. You know the one- detailing how the executives at Prime were basically taking trainloads of Bezos's money and lighting it on fire. That the most expensive acquisitions (cough Rings of Power) not only didn't drive subscribers to Prime, but also weren't even intriguing enough for people to finish watching the show. It was brutal. And don't get me started on Citadel. Basically, this service eats money and excretes terrible content.

Let's think about this- it's a service that puts out expensive and mediocre content. It has a terrible interface that means that many viewers (such as me) will never, ever open it unless we already know what we want to watch. It loses tons of money. So why is it ranked so highly?

Because it's not going to fail. It has the second-most subscribers world-wide behind Netflix. And people get it "for free" with their Prime subscription, that they use to have their $2 tchotchkes delivered to their doors in giant boxes. If they ever got their act together, they'd be a player. Until then .... until someone really starts paying attention to making Prime a real streaming service ....
on-the-waterfront-marlon-brando.gif



5. HBOMax (2022: 8, Apr 2023: 2)
Max has been jumping around a lot in the rankings. I'm going to make this really short-

What do they have going for them? Well, they have an amazing library. Seriously, one of the best. Assuming large chunks of it aren't removed. They are probably the only streamer that can regularly put out appointment television- sure, maybe The Idol flopped, but that was the shock. The HBO pipeline continues to pump out shows that people want to watch and talk about. And they have a fairly large subscriber base- it might be well behind Disney+, but it's well ahead of Paramount+ (and at a much higher price point). And, of course, it has the quality name of HBO.

Oh ... yeah. Not so much that, right?

Which brings us to the other other things. He Who Shall Not Be Named needs to replace his PR team, because whether it's the debacle at Cannes, or the debacle at Boston University, or the debacle with the credits for directors, or the debac.... well, let's just say that He only opens his mouth to change feet. And from the longer point of view, while the debt load has lessened somewhat, it is still massive and crippling and affects operations, and it is unclear if Max is simply being put into good financial shape for some type of sale.

More importantly, unlike Apple and Prime, and even unlike Disney+, Max doesn't get massive subsidies flowing in from other businesses.


6. Peacock. (2022: 7, Apr. 2023: 8)
I have nothing to say about Peacock. But Comcast will keep it afloat. And it has a few shows that people are fond of (such as Poker Face), and it has a popular tie-in with live sports. More importantly, with the Olympics coming up, and with the Olympics rights, we might see greater adoption of Peacock.


7. Paramount+. (2022: 6, Apr. 2023: 7).
If Paramount+ has the same ranking as it did last time, why do I consider it going down in the rankings? Well, because it is now below Peacock, and because I have removed one streamer (see below). Let's be clear- I think Paramount+ has some great content. Obviously, if you're a Star Trek fan such as me, Paramount+ is a must-have. They are also the home of Yellowstone spinoff series (but not Yellowstone, because Paramount signed some stupid rights deals before they launched the streaming service).

So what's the problem?

Well, everything. Paramount+ doesn't have some big company subsidizing the streamer. The streamer is losing money. The stock is tanking. They are removing original shows to save money. Their crdit rating has been downgraded. They are probably the streamer and entity most affected by the current writer's strike, and any additional Hollywood shutdown could prove devastating.

In short, Paramount was attempting to pivot from two businesses (movies and cable TV stations) to another (streaming). One (cable TV stations) is profitable, but clearly in fast decline. The other (movies) ... well, we all know what's going on there right now. At a minimum, the environment is choppy. And the place they have pivoted to has not turned out to be the land of milk, honey, and profit that was assumed.

For the sake of continued awesome Star Trek, I hope Paramount+ finds a way out of this, or, at a minimum, continues funding Star Trek shows.


REMOVED FROM THE BOARD UNTIL 2024: Hulu.
Sometime at the beginning of 2024, Comcast will likely sell its stake in Hulu to Disney. The announcement will most likely occur at some time this year. That means that Hulu will be fully integrated into Disney+.

So the only thing I'm going to say is this- if you haven't already watched it, watch The Bear.

Do it. Do it now. Watch The Bear. You'll thank me later.

Paramount+ has deals with Walmart+ and Delta Airlines who offer its services and its making a deal with Amazon Prime to offer the ad supported tier of Paramount+.
 

Gradine

The Elephant in the Room (she/her)
SAG has granted waivers for several productions so its not absolute.

Aldo foreign productions.
It's been clarified that SAG-AFTRA hasn't granted anyone "waivers"; it's just that independent studios (outside of AMPTP) have agreed to SAG-AFTRA's terms so there's no reason to strike against them.

We should expect to see pre-strike content drying up by the end of the calendar year, until then most of the stuff coming out were written/acted/filmed pre-strike, and there's been no call for a boycott of anything.

On an unrelated but more on-topic note, Peacock has every episode of every Law & Order ever conceived and is therefore the go-to streamer for those "it's too early to go to bed and too late to start anything meaningful" twilight hours.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
It's been clarified that SAG-AFTRA hasn't granted anyone "waivers"; it's just that independent studios (outside of AMPTP) have agreed to SAG-AFTRA's terms so there's no reason to strike against them.

We should expect to see pre-strike content drying up by the end of the calendar year, until then most of the stuff coming out were written/acted/filmed pre-strike, and there's been no call for a boycott of anything.

On an unrelated but more on-topic note, Peacock has every episode of every Law & Order ever conceived and is therefore the go-to streamer for those "it's too early to go to bed and too late to start anything meaningful" twilight hours.

I see residuals being a sticking point. I don't see SAG getting much movement there. Or if they do the streamers will just pill content even more.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
It's been clarified that SAG-AFTRA hasn't granted anyone "waivers"; it's just that independent studios (outside of AMPTP) have agreed to SAG-AFTRA's terms so there's no reason to strike against them.
Yeah, I was just reading that Dropout is working on a separate non-AMPTP contract so they can keep going. They apparently have content for at least some of their shows through the end of the year. (The most recent season of Dimension 20 was apparently filmed in March, based on what one of the cast members said in an aftershow, so I'd guess we have at least one, maybe two more seasons of that in the can as well.)
 

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