Netflix has long stood atop other streaming services, continually gathering subscribers even as it has increased the cost of monthly subscriptions. But a surge in competitors is going to put a stress test on the strength of Netflix’s original content, which will ultimately determine how well the service can compete against the likes of Disney+ and NBCUniversal.
Increased competition isn’t a new problem for Netflix — it’s been running against platforms like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video for years. But Netflix has always been able to lean on the depth of its catalogue and the strength of its original programming as two major reasons to keep it on your monthly bill. In the past four years, for example, Netflix has won twice as many Emmys and Oscars as Amazon for its original content, which adds an element of prestige to its offerings. For many people, the equation was pretty one-sided: Do you want to choose the service with the most award-winning original content and popular older series like “The Office”? Well, yeah … you probably do.
However, the streaming landscape is changing in a way that will make it more difficult for Netflix to navigate. The most obvious difference is that the competition is growing: Companies like Disney and NBCUniversal have plans to launch their own services, following the footsteps of CBS and HBO. Consumers will have more options to choose from, and thus more things that might pull them away from Netflix. On its own, that might not be a terrible threat given how well Netflix has fended off the competition so far. The far bigger challenge is that these new services are taking their content with them.
A recent NBCUniversal press release announced “The Office” will stream exclusively on the company’s upcoming streaming service, starting in 2021. Disney is also expected to take most of its content off of other services to stream exclusively on Disney+ — a necessary step for a company that needs to take a quality-over-quantity approach to content because it isn’t pulling from the same breadth of studios as Netflix and Hulu are. As these major titles are pulled from Netflix, subscribers are left with fewer reasons to stay.
And viewers won’t just be choosing between Netflix and Hulu anymore. They’ll have to weigh how many subscriptions they’re willing to pay for if they want to stream all the shows and movies that interest them. Contenders include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Go, and soon Disney+, Quibi, and the as-yet untitled NBCUniversal service. Even Apple is prepping its own streaming service with a heavy dose of original content. Those costs will add up quickly for people who subscribe to more than one service, and with the changes in where content is available, Netflix might not be such a shoo-in anymore.
Content isn’t the only thing leaving Netflix, either. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix’s former director of original film is joining Disney+ in the role of senior VP of international content development. While we don’t know the full list of factors that lead a person to leave one company and role for another, the move doesn’t paint an inspiring picture for Netflix.
The streaming service wars are coming. The skirmishes so far have been limited to a few combatants, but more challengers — and more experienced content producers — are entering the fray, and Netflix’s original content will have to take up the vanguard. But that might not be so easy when competing against, as one example, a handful of superhero shows spinning out of the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. If we measure by award wins, sure, Netflix has been able to outdo studios like Amazon in content quality. But now it will be competing against Disney, a studio that has been making content for almost a century and also owns some of the most in-demand franchises, including Marvel and Star Wars. Netflix hasn’t had to fight a studio of that caliber yet. It may not want to.