Over two years ago, I wrote an article about how streaming services managed to garner so much attention and money from their captive audience and how it was used to produce lower quality content that some people would still end up streaming. I took specific aim at Netflix and their abysmal content and confusing cancellations, while also mentioning a few smaller issues occurring at then-newcomer HBO Max.
Two years later, these issues have come to a head in a much more public space.
In the past several weeks, the entertainment industry has been abuzz with controversy as Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav made several cuts to the already struggling HBO Max. These changes ranged from writing multiple family and animated series off for tax purposes – such as Owen Dennis’s seminal animated anthology series Infinity Train and the coming-of-age comedy series Gordita Chronicles – to shelving nearly-complete projects such as SCOOB!: Holiday Haunt and the much-anticipated Batgirl. Not only that but multiple streaming service companies, primarily Netflix, have announced they are considering plans involving ads being played during programming. A lack of commercials was seen as one of the key advantages of streaming during its initial “boom” phase.
Now what’s causing all of these sudden drops in money and content?
Plain and simple, it’s because that captive audience is being let go.
With COVID-19 restrictions lifted throughout most of the United States and in some parts of the world, people have been returning to their normal lives. As a result, people are unsubscribing from these services in an effort to focus on their reinvigorated lives. Netflix’s second quarter earnings report showed that 1.3 million people had unsubscribed from the streaming giant in the second fiscal quarter of 2022 alone, and Disney reported that they were lowering their trajectory for Disney+ subscribers from 245 million minimum to 210 million minimum by 2024. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. Discovery has chosen not to disclose how many subscribers HBO Max has either gained or lost in light of the controversy, but the trend of a substantial subscriber loss over the next several years has slowly shown itself.
Another big reason people aren’t subscribing to streaming services was something I discussed lightly last time but has become a much larger issue now: a lack of compelling content.
David Zaslav built up Discovery on decades’ worth of reality TV shows meant to appeal to more casual viewers as opposed to critics and fans of long-running franchises. This was unfortunately reflected in the infamous earnings call presentation from August, which included the 90 Day Fiancé Universe, Property Brothers and Fixer Upper as some of the “most iconic” series in Warner Bros. Discovery’s larger lineup.
With that in mind, the most notable addition to HBO Max’s lineup since this reveal is content from the Magnolia Network, a sister network of Discovery owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame. The push for more reality TV has not just come for HBO Max’s content but Netflix’s as well. New shows such as Hype House, which focused on the TikTok-based collective of the same name; Snowflake Mountain, in which hopeless “snowflakes” are put through challenges both extraordinary and mundane; and Sexy Beasts, a dating show where prosthetic makeup is used to disguise various daters as different monsters, all reflect this shift towards content produced for the lowest common denominator and in an easily digestible format. While this content isn’t costly to produce and attracts a decent number of viewers, it shows a distinct move away from the focus on original scripted content that drew people to these streaming services in the first place.
The numbers may suggest more people want to watch these casual shows, but the vocal amount of dissenters on social media say otherwise. The crews on these productions affected by this shift have spoken out against the treatment. Several showrunners and other staff members on affected animated series, such as Infinity Train and Craig of the Creek, have publicly stated they weren’t told about the cancellations until the day they happened. One incident in particular comes from Final Space creator Olan Rogers, who was left in the dark for months about whether or not his show had been renewed, only to find out through an official announcement. Former cast and crew members of these shows have come to the support of those affected and stirred up trends on Twitter calling for people to unsubscribe from these services and for the people responsible for these actions to be fired.
Even with all of these cancellations and criticisms, it won’t be enough to save streaming services from the downward trends mentioned earlier.
In addition to the heavy loss of subscribers, Warner Bros. Discovery has already buried itself in over $60 billion worth of debt, and its cancellations of certain productions have barely made any of it back. Netflix similarly has about $14 billion worth of debt, and the dropping subscriber counts and costly productions similarly have barely made a dent in repaying it. With the captive audience let go and compelling content growing in scarcity across multiple platforms, it is only a matter of time before streaming services end up falling off a waterfall and into the possibilities of shutdown and even further loss of content.
This stream still holds hope, however.
As I said in my previous article, the best way to show support for those affected by the various lay-offs and cancellations is to support their current and future endeavors and preserve as much media as possible. Anything can be taken off out of nowhere leaving content hundreds of people worked on and hundreds more watched lost to the sands of time.
Unfortunately, as more of this information comes to light, it seems less like the content streaming services were known for will return. Time will tell whether or not the people running these streaming services will listen, but the waterfall at the end of the stream doesn’t provide much hope for what’s to come.
…also, what kind of a monster takes Sesame Street off a streaming service?
Darryl Kelly is a Communications major at UT Martin. A geek and a writer by trade, Darryl often tackles reviews of the latest films and shows that he’s watched.
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