Apple, Disney, WarnerMedia, and just about everyone who can configure a streaming server is getting into the direct-to-consumer (DTC) content business. There are many valid reasons for this, not the least of which is consumer demand.
Everyone Says They Want à La Carte
For years, people have been waxing poetic about the desire for à la carte video content. “Why do I have to endure the Paranormal Mansplaining Channel when all I want is Food Network and some news? If only I could pay for only what I want to watch.”
In a couple of weeks, you’ll have so many options to pay for content à la carte, you won’t really know where to start. And yes, you’ll be paying extra for the inconvenience.
Paying for Inconvenience
I never met anyone who had anything nice to say about cable television set-top box interfaces or user experiences (UX). But love them or hate them, all TV-based video content interfaces had one thing in common: convenience.
Every time you pressed the channel button, you got to see content from a different provider. And while each channel had its own business model (ad-supported, subscription, or a bit of both), none of that was your concern. You just had one (albeit large) cable bill to pay. Shows were on channels, and all you needed to do was press channel up/down to see them all.
Is that on Netflix or Apple TV+ or Disney+ or Hulu or Prime Video or – wait – is that a cable show? No. It’s on TV. TV? You mean cable? No. It’s on Newscenter4. Is that on Netflix? No. It’s on TV. Huh?
If playing “Where’s Waldo” with your programming isn’t annoying enough, wait until you add up your combined broadband, basic cable, and DTC bills. In honor of the biggest shift in television distribution since the advent of cable, get out your calculator and let’s see what your à la carte content is going to cost you.
You’ll stream through Apple’s recently redesigned TV app, which will be available on the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac. You can also download the app on select Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, as well as some Smart TVs from Samsung, Roku, LG, Vizio, and Sony. AirPlay 2 (from iOS to your TV) will also work with every model that supports it. Launching November 1. $4.99/month.
The Free Disclaimer: Apple TV+, one of the cheapest premium streaming services in the marketplace, is also the most likely to be free. If you’ve bought a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch, or Mac since Apple’s iPhone event this fall, you’ll get a free year of Apple TV+.
The Exclusives: Apple began with a budget of $1 billion for original programming but has since grown that number to more than $6 billion. (When you have more cash on hand than many governments, you can flex your financial muscles a bit more freely.) Apple is kicking off with four new exclusive programs (in addition to a few children’s shows), all of which have been greenlit for a second season already:
- Dickinson: Starring Hailee Steinfeld as Emily Dickinson, the series is an anachronistic and modern take on her story.
- For All Mankind: The newest sci-fi series from Ronald D. Moore (the mastermind behind Battlestar Galactica) is set in a world where the Soviet Union beat the United States to the moon.
- The Morning Show: With a two-season, 20-episode order setting Apple back $300 million, this show stars Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon and is about the making of a morning TV news show.
- See: Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard star in a series set in the far future, where humans have lost the ability to see and must begin to adapt to a world where twins are born with the power of sight.
Apple also plans to make a handful of “small-budget” movies every year.
Disney+ will be available on iOS, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, Roku, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 at launch. A glaring omission (for now, anyway): Amazon’s Fire TV platform. Launching November 12. $6.99/month or $69.99/year (Hulu/ESPN+ bundles available, too).
The Free Disclaimer: Verizon Unlimited customers and new Fios customers will get a year of Disney+ for free.
The Exclusives: This is where Disney+ shines. The Mouse House owns half of the known universe, and will feature hundreds of Disney-related movies and TV shows at launch. You can view a list of all of the available content, or watch this 3-hour-plus video that Disney put together. Here are some of the highest-profile originals:
- The Mandalorian: The first live-action series in the Star Wars universe will star Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian in a time between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Originals: Earlier this year, Marvel unveiled a slew of Phase Four shows in the MCU, all of which will be exclusive to Disney+. If you love Falcon, The Winter Soldier, Wanda, Vision, Hawkeye, Loki… just about anyone… you’re covered. None will be available at launch, but all will start streaming in 2020 and beyond.
- High School Musical: The Musical: The Series: The movie trilogy is back with a spinoff TV series with a brand new group of students.
How you will watch is TBD – but likely most major streaming devices. Launching in Spring 2020. $14.99/month.
The Free Disclaimer: HBO subscribers who live in the United States and are HBO subscribers will get HBO Max for free.
The Exclusives: Reports said HBO Max will feature 10,000 hours of content at launch, and we’ll learn more at HBO’s presentation on Tuesday, October 29, at 2 pm PT. For now, we know this:
- Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are each producing shows for the service.
- J. J. Abrams signed a massive deal with WarnerMedia for exclusive content.
- There are several Game of Thrones spin-offs coming, some of which could be ripe for HBO Max exclusivity.
HBO Max will also be the exclusive streaming service for the following:
- Studio Ghibli’s 21 animated features (like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away).
- Friends (leaving Netflix in 2020) and The Big Bang Theory.
- All WB-produced content for The CW (like Batwoman).
- All 11 seasons of the modern Doctor Who series, plus future seasons as well.
- Netflix – Basic: $8.99/month, Standard: $12.99/month, Premium: $15.99
- Hulu – Hulu: $5.99/month, Hulu (No ads): $11.99/month
- Amazon Prime Video – $12.99/month (includes free shipping on Amazon purchases) or $119 per year
- CBS All-Access – $9.99/month ($5.99/month with ads)
- HBO Now – $14.99/month
- SHOWTIME – $10.99/month
- Starz Play – $8.99/month
- YouTube Premium – $17.99/month
- Shudder (horror films) – $4.75/month
- Acorn TV (British TV and movies ) – $4.99/month
- ESPN+ (sports) – $4.99/month (or $50/year)
VMVPDs (Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributors)
Further complicating video-streaming decisions are all the companies vying for cord-cutters (and cord-nevers). Don’t want to pay Comcast or Fios? Any of these companies would be happy to take your money:
- Hulu + Live TV – $44.99/month, Hulu (No ads – but some shows have ads) + Live TV: $50.99/month – Watch thousands of shows and movies. HBO®, SHOWTIME®, CINEMAX® and STARZ® available as add-ons.
- Sling TV – Starting at $20/month – Watch live TV, sports, and movies as well as on-demand and Pay-per-View content and discover new content that fits your interests.
- YouTube TV – $49.99/month – Live TV from 70+ channels. Local sports and news. No cable box, contracts, or hidden fees.
- DirecTV Now – starting at $50/month – Stream the latest shows, catch the game, and track breaking news—from your phone, tablet, or TV. New AT&T TV NOW packages include HBO®.
- PlayStation Vue – Up to $75/month – Watch the best of live-streaming TV and on-demand shows on your favorite devices – no PlayStation® console required.
- fuboTV (for more hardcore sports fans) – starting at $54.99/month for fubo Standard – 100+ channels with local sports, news, and Cloud DVR included.
- Plex Pass (requires digital antenna) – $39.99/year – Plex Pass gives you the best of Plex, with exclusive and early access to awesome premium features.
Start adding this up. The numbers get crazy big, crazy fast. You can easily double your existing cable or satellite bill.
It’s Just a Few Bucks a Month!
Good marketers will tell you that price is not the issue, especially with a digital product. You simply put your service in market and test until you get an optimal match between consumer demand and the value you are offering.
Entertainment industry veterans will tell you that people will pay for entertainment, even in the most economically depressed times. In fact, some of the best years for the entertainment industry have been some of the worst years for the economy (in broad economic terms).
So even though there’s no “new” money in the world and even though the adjusted household income for the average American family has not increased in over a decade, most people believe that consumers will find the cash they need to purchase the entertainment they want.
However, we’ve never had a less convenient (or more expensive) way to assemble our entertainment. Are there opportunities for meta-services? Yes. New kinds of curators and packagers? Yes. New bundles like cable or satellite? Um … yes. But won’t that cost the same (or more) than cable or satellite video packages cost now? Probably, but – and this is a big but – assembling an on-demand, commercial-free, customized world of content will create the consumer experience that about half the population (and you know which half) will expect.
It’s a crowded field, and Apple, Disney, and WarnerMedia are making big bets. This is going to get very interesting, very quickly. As they like to say in the TV business: Stay tuned.
Take the Survey
If the survey is not visible, click here.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.