When streaming services like Netflix first became mainstream, viewers commented on the various ways these platforms freed you from the limitations of cable or traditional TV.
But over time, new players in the market and streaming services from major networks are making the distinction between cable and streaming less stark.
In fact, here are some of the ways streaming services are regressing and becoming more like cable TV.
1. Exclusive distribution and availability of content
While regional distribution of content has always been subject to licensing agreements, there used to be more collaboration and duplication between networks.
For example, Netflix offered Disney and Marvel content to many viewers. The networks often allowed users to stream their shows and movies on more than one platform.
But with many entertainment companies launching their own standalone services, and acquisitions and mergers of studios and networks by companies like Amazon and Disney, the market has become much more segmented.
It is noteworthy that before the launch of Disney+ and expansion into new markets, the Walt Disney Company pulled some of its content and movies from other services. For example, Disney has removed its Marvel shows from Netflix even though those shows were created in collaboration with Netflix.
The emphasis on creating a concentration of exclusive content that can’t be seen anywhere else has made the streaming market more like cable television. This brings us back to the era of having to subscribe to a certain network in order to view any of its content. As a result, some people feel that there are too many streaming services currently.
Some users share passwords to save money on multiple subscriptions, but streaming companies struggle with this too. For example, Netflix plans to make you pay for password sharing outside of your family so it can make more money on shared accounts.
2. Weekly serials
The era of streaming has changed the way we are used to watching TV shows. Dropping entire box sets and seasons at the same time became the norm, with many viewers choosing to binge watch content rather than spread it out over weeks or months.
But since the pandemic began, it looks like more services have returned to weekly releases. At first, this could be attributed to the impact of the pandemic on production. But even after many of the lockdowns ended, the trend of weekly releases continued.
This is likely also a tactic to keep users subscribed over time. Some users try to save money on streaming by only subscribing in the months when new episodes of their favorite series are released.
For those who don’t want to follow storylines and multiple episodes over the course of a few weeks, this regression to a more traditional release model takes away some of the immersion.
3. Subscriptions with ads
One of the worst things about traditional television is that shows and movies can be interrupted by commercials. Many of us thought that with the transition to paid online streaming services, commercial breaks would become a thing of the past.
But entertainment companies are now advertising on some subscription levels while others are mulling over the idea. For example, Disney+ plans to introduce an ad-supported tier. There are already many existing ad-supported tiers for streaming subscriptions to other services such as HBO Max and Hulu.
Given that online content is already filled with product placement and paid partnerships, it’s frustrating for users to have to pay even more if they don’t want to advertise on their streaming platform.
4. Cancellation of the show based on limited performance
Another disadvantage of cable television is that networks are canceling series as viewership decreases with the season, even if the content itself is still well received.
One of the nice things about streaming platforms when they first started making noise was their willingness to experiment with different formats and fund ideas that might never have been discussed on traditional networks.
But that period seems to be over.
Netflix is now notorious for canceling many shows after one or two seasons. Reported reasons include rising production costs as each season is extended, including actors’ salaries.
As such, platforms like Netflix are increasingly focusing on cost and viewership, limiting the number of seasons a show will ultimately be given, no matter how good it is. Later seasons of shows with a loyal following are also reportedly unlikely to attract new subscribers, leading the platform to release new series rather than new seasons.
5. Consolidation of subscriptions
The current streaming market, especially in countries such as Europe and the US, has created such a large segmentation and abundance of choice that platforms are starting to revert to packaged services.
Bundled packages give you access to multiple platforms with the same subscription or account. You can see this in the Disney Bundle offering, which includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.
Hulu also allows you to choose from various add-ons for your subscription that will give you access to content from other streaming platforms.
As the cost of streaming rises and content continues to be exclusive to the platform, we are likely to see more companies opting for these bundled offerings, especially among their subsidiaries. However, you’ll likely have to subscribe to niche streaming services for now, as the entertainment giants around the world don’t seem to be very focused on them.
6. Live content
While streaming services usually provide video-on-demand, some have begun experimenting with live content.
So far, many of these live channels seem to focus on sports or news content. But that could expand to other areas, such as Netflix’s live streaming plan, which includes comedy shows, reality TV meetups, competitions, and music concerts.
Whether this is a disadvantage will depend on how the platforms implement them. For example, people may enjoy the ability to watch live sports, but may not want to deal with live commercial breaks. Also, the introduction of round-the-clock channels with diluted content is one of the problems of traditional television.
Steaming is becoming less and less distinct from cable TV
Let’s hope the streaming giants find a way to balance their growth strategies without bringing us back to the traditional TV subscription market, which has many flaws.
Cutting the cord freed us from the limitations of television service, so it would be a pity to simply replicate this market in an online format.