“Why Do We Need This Streaming Service?”

In a world populated with dozens of streaming services, many of them appear redundant, a question asked by people in response to a new streaming service being revealed is: “What’s the point of this streaming service?” Sometimes this inquiry stems from a place of frustration, largely because people are asked to subscribe to yet another streaming service when some of their favorite movies or TV shows migrate from Netflix to the new platform. Most of the Big Five movie studios (the Big Five includes Disney, Warner Bros., Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures) launched their own streaming platform to distribute their contemporary and classic film and television libraries. Sony Pictures is the odd one out because they would rather license their newest films with a multiple platforms. However, these media conglomerates realize that the market would likely not favor these streaming services unless they provide an interesting hook.

Even Disney+, the most successful platform of these new services, had to offer something more than their existing entertainment library, hence the inclusion of original series and films that build upon massive franchises like Star Wars and Marvel. Every major streaming platform, despite situating themselves as the “all-in-one” entertainment hub, deliberately caters to their core demographic: the group that invests most of their time using their platform. In theory, all streaming platforms could be qualified as enthusiast hubs because there is a niche out there dedicated to one or more series exclusive to any platform.

Without getting too philosophical, I will break down which specific groups of people the big players in the “streaming wars" directly cater to based on which films and shows they promote most aggressively both on their platform and marketing campaigns. The players that will be focused on in this article are the following: Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and Peacock.

This one should be most obvious. Upon opening the application or website, you will either be greeted with Loki or Black Widow first. The home screen also contains links to the five main hubs that redirect you to the appropriate entertainment brand. Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and National Geographic are the five pillars of Disney+. Interestingly, Disney seems to value these brands in a different order: Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, Pixar, and National Geographic. While Pixar’s Luca occupies the poster for Disney+ at the moment, shared by Marvel’s Loki, Disney often markets the Marvel properties far more than any other brand.

The reason for this is simple: the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best performer on Disney+, as it regularly beats viewership records for every new series premiere. The service literally crashed during some of the new episodes of Wandavision. Not even the Mandalorian achieved that level of attention. As far as the release pipeline goes, the MCU will enjoy four new film releases and three new television series releases for the rest of the year. Simply put, this is Disney±’s bread and butter.

Of course, new movies from other brands and subsidiaries receive the marketing spotlight, Cruella and Luca are both examples of that, but those are the appetizers to the banquet of the MCU. When the Mandalorian makes its annual return and another live-action Star Wars series catches fire, like the Boba Fett spin-off, Disney will naturally pivot to amplifying that franchise when the time is ripe. Disney+ subscribers come to expect the service as an essential addition to their entertainment fix because it houses the franchises they adore. Disney+ does not need to experiment to thrive. The three major pillars (Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney’s internal properties) are what made Disney+ a 100 million subscriber platform in the first place.

Unlike most streaming services, Netflix lacks a reliable selection of properties that defines the platform. Aside from Stranger Things or the Witcher, most subscribers to Netflix aren’t subscribed to the service because of a certain franchise, but rather a collection of shows they heard about that may not otherwise be considered, in business terms, “franchises”. Because of this, Netflix does have the advantage of having a more diverse and robust exclusive library of films and television series than its competition. Because of this, Netflix can easily appeal to a wide umbrella of people, not just those who are interested in a few big franchises. This distinction allows Netflix to attract a formidable subscriber base of over 200 million people, basically double the amount Disney+ has.

Netflix’s amplification largely hinges on data because of the quantity of original content they possess. Their film lineup includes a new release every week, so Netflix is forced to subscribe to a “Popular Item of the Week” mentality when it comes to promoting their content. Consequently, they are not required to target a specific demographic for a prolonged period of time, instead they are required to highlight whatever most people are watching at the moment. This could include something your friends or family may have mentioned in passing or something you saw trending on social media. Netflix fundamentally thrives on this sort of marketing scheme. This explains why “Popular on Netflix” and “Trending Now” are the two categories that are first to appear on the home screen.

Due to their immense size, Netflix is an impossible platform to consolidate and concentrate to a specific niche on a universal level. They rely on their ubiquity as a streaming platform to divorce themselves from a distinguishable brand identity. Netflix is almost democratically governed by the subscriber. Whatever the majority are watching, Netflix also wants you to watch. If you personally are interested in some other genre, Netflix will automatically curate it for you with the “Top Picks for You” or the “Because You Watched” categories. Sometimes a certain genre category will appear sooner if it suits your watch history. Netflix is functioned more like YouTube rather than a Disney+ or HBO Max because of their obscenely gigantic library.

Take what you read of Netflix regarding content curation and multiply it by ten. Following the opening banner featuring the newest movie or show that Hulu produced or purchased from a third-party, the first few rows are dedicated to your interests and watch history. Hulu has one major demographic target in the market based on their home page alone: those who are looking for an extension or replacement to their basic cable service. Historically, Hulu has always been the alternative solution to cable. You could receive all of the popular cable television shows such as Law and Order or Grey’s Anatomy while also enjoying original series and films exclusive to Hulu. Movies are not the reason why people subscribe to Hulu, which is why television series are positioned at the forefront of the platform and why the movies category is placed in the next-to-last horizontal row.

Like Netflix and unlike its sister platform Disney+, Hulu is also heavily governed by an algorithm, which is why the service constantly bends towards the user’s expected interests and watch history. Hulu effectively encourages binge-watching from the get-go because of the amplification of these expansive television shows like Law and Order. The platform knows its audience largely uses the service as a vehicle to get unlimited access to many of broadcast television’s most popular shows, in addition to some movies and shows exclusive to the platform. Hulu was a recognizable platform since its inception, as far as its purpose goes. Hulu’s initial proposition was to provide an alternative method of watching the same content that cable television offers for a fraction of the subscription cost. Today, it still strives to accomplish the same goal, but now it has manifested into a more sovereign entertainment platform that has its own exclusive library of films and shows.

Hulu could also serve as a general entertainment hub thanks to the add-on feature, wherein you could include other services on the same application such as HBO Max and ESPN+ without needing to jump to different applications. While you don’t save any money this way, it does provide an additional layer of convenience of simply logging into Hulu and watching everything from Hulu originals to live television broadcasts. In other words, Hulu swore to kill cable, yet inevitably became an imitation of cable as it matured. Funny how that works.

Similar to Hulu, Amazon Prime Video (APV) functions like an entertainment hub rather than an individual streaming platform thanks to its Channels feature. APV goes the extra mile by allowing users to rent and own individual movies and seasons of television shows not available on any streaming platform. APV also offers a lot more add-ons than Hulu by offering practically every subscription platform in existence on the service. If it did not become obvious enough, Amazon Prime Video is designed to work best on Amazon’s own Fire TV line of devices (perhaps because so many applications are poorly optimized on the Fire TV, such as the one that has Game of Thrones). Amazon doesn’t necessarily use its exclusive library of films and television shows to sell people on APV, but rather it uses their other services, mainly Amazon Prime.

APV is treated as a bonus to Prime members, which makes sense because Prime is basically as big as Netflix in terms of subscription numbers. APV doesn’t need to build brand identity and spread awareness through viral marketing campaigns when the Prime brand evokes value alone to the average consumer. There are instances in which a show becomes big enough that Amazon aggressively markets it, but those are only circumstantial moments in the year. APV is merely an extension of the interconnected Prime ecosystem, just like Prime Gaming (the premium Twitch service) and Amazon’s music service, among other services labelled as benefits.

In other words, Amazon Prime Video is for those who want to subscribe to Amazon Prime and those who want to invest in Amazon’s multiple services, no matter the human cost. While there are exclusive shows and films available on the service, the totality of the Prime ecosystem ships with APV, which fundamentally differentiates it from the rest of the competition. Amazon, like Apple, participates in the streaming gauntlet as if it were an accessory to their greater business empire. This explains why people don’t typically associate APV with the Amazon business, but they do so for Prime at large. That is not to say APV has no compelling entertainment on offer, but Amazon itself situates the service as a mere perk for the more expansive Prime brand.

Unless we are discussing platforms like the Criterion Channel or Mubi, people often don’t use the word “prestige” when describing a streaming service. While all platforms do have critically-acclaimed films and series, HBO Max makes an effort to maintain its HBO brand image as a resource for high-quality entertainment. Whether it be the HBO original series, the “Max Original” library, or the acquired library of TCM or the Criterion Collection, HBO Max has a more robust collection of entertainment considered “high-brow” than most of its competition. Despite parent company WarnerMedia is predictably highlighting Space Jam: A New Legacy, HBO Max has a surprisingly compelling library for cinephiles. While HBO Max has a fair selection of blockbuster franchises and series, it remains one of the more attractive platforms for the film enthusiast, for those who love the art of film.

While many cinephiles would subscribe to the Criterion Channel and purchase physical copies of films that are meaningful to them, HBO Max would also be on their radar. Outside of the cinephile and film student demographic, HBO Max caters to a variety of niches, such as those who are nostalgic for old-school and classic cartoons, those who want to watch the latest HBO series, or those who want to watch the new theatrical releases from Warner Bros. There are plenty of different entertainment reasons to incentivize people to subscribe to HBO Max, thanks in large part to its library’s diversity. Of course, the software itself could use some work as it struggles to run on some devices and some basic features like skimming through the video and watching the next episode are more troublesome than they should be.

That being said, HBO Max is designed to be a conglomeration of entertainment, similar to Netflix. What differentiates HBO Max from Netflix is the consideration for quality control (I recognize I am talking about the platform that is promoting Space Jam: A New Legacy, but hear me out.) HBO Max carries the HBO moniker, a premium label that bears a library of some of television’s greatest shows. There is an expectation from consumers that HBO Max should offer a certain level of quality. That expectation is, for the most part, met with a decent collection of acclaimed films and television shows from a diversity of creators.

This is a strange platform. In technical terms, Peacock has all methods of monetization down to a tee. There is a free ad-supported plan, a premium ad-supported plan, a more premium ad-free plan, and a live television section that is ad-supported. They have a dedicated WWE, Olympics, and Sports section as well as a dedicated news and Latino hub. They have a “stories” feature where small one or two minute portions of news stories or shows or sports events are sprinkled throughout like it’s a social media platform. They of course have original shows exclusive on the platform, much of it is paywalled behind the premium plan. While Peacock has so much to offer to so many different audiences, it’s clear that the service has too much to handle in order to sustainably market itself.

Currently, Peacock is known in the public mindshare as the WWE platform, and it can find a lot of success from that brand alone, but NBCUniversal has spent large capital on other properties, so they would need to invest marketing into stuff like The Office, the Olympics, and the multiple other sports brands such as the Premier League and Motocross. From a content perspective, Peacock is a surprisingly robust platform that hosts a genuinely good selection of films and television, but the user interface must accommodate for it and it generally struggles to do so. It’s hard to understand what demographic Peacock is really trying to penetrate as it addresses several of them, yet fails to hook them into being long-term users. It’s an exercise to even navigate through Peacock, let alone try to understand what NBCUniversal is trying to accomplish with the platform, despite the library being quite good in its own respects.

So, to answer the question of why subscribe to Peacock, I can only suggest to take a look for yourself. It could very well be your replacement to Hulu as it is priced competitively and offers similar content to boot as it conglomerates shows from NBC’s own channels. Maybe the sports content convinces you to use Peacock instead of ESPN+. Maybe the movie lineup makes you reconsider subscribing to HBO Max. Peacock needs no introduction because it is difficult to describe what kind of platform it is. That could be a benefit to the service in the short term, but the long term is another story. Only time will tell whether Peacock will find its identity or not.

At the end of the day, your own personal needs determine which platform best suits your tastes, regardless if the platform positions itself towards your interests in the first place. That being said, many, if not all of these platforms have a distinguishable identity that is defined by the library as a whole and what type of content they choose to highlight. Netflix is defined by its immense diversity and scope. While their originals can be hit or miss (usually miss, in my opinion), there is a healthy amount of comedy specials, anime, foreign films, documentaries, indie films, and so much more that generates community interest. These platforms don’t just need the quantity of content, but they need an appropriate strategy to build a sustainable coalition of consumers. Every platform has their own individual strategy and some are more successful than others. Sometimes the power of a franchise outweighs everything else, other times the platform needs to leverage new ideas to keep the portfolio fresh and interesting to consumers.

Of course, one strategy does not fit all, which is why these platforms often speak to different audiences. Sometimes a platform struggles to produce a compelling argument and fails to build a solid consumer base; Peacock is an example of this phenomenon. While there are over 40 million users, only 10 million of them are paying for the premium plans, which does not bode well for the shows and movies that NBCUniversal locks behind the paywall. Beyond the differences between the multitude of streaming services, a platform’s outreach efforts are more important than the library’s quality. It is the responsibility of the platform to know which audiences it should focus on and how to intersect that knowledge with their long-term game plan. With a lack of direction, the platform may become desperate and decide to merge with another company or go the way of Quibi.



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Peter Finaldi

Graduate at Rutgers University. Writes about movies, video games, and anything else that I find interesting. My twitter: @PeterJFinaldi