Public Media Arts Hub

Why more media companies want in on the expensive 'streaming revolution'


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: The battle between media giants over the future of video streaming services ratcheted up today.

As John Yang tells us, the Walt Disney Company jumped in, as companies are spending tens of billions to try to lock in your entertainment dollars.

It's part of our ongoing series on arts and culture, Canvas.

John Yang: A highly anticipated new Star Wars spinoff, "The Mandalorian," was today's debut offering of the Walt Disney Company's new streaming service, Disney+.

But the launch of the latest entry in the intensifying streaming wars wasn't without glitches. Users were greeted by long loading pages and error messages that Disney blamed on higher-than-expected demand.

Disney+ boasts programming from across the media giant's brands, Marvel and Star Wars movies, Pixar animation, Fox TV shows and classic Disney films. The introductory price, $6.99 a month.

Disney enters an ever-growing field.

Jennifer Aniston: The part you guys never seem to realize is that you don't have the power anymore. And, frankly, I have let you bozos handle this long enough.

John Yang: Earlier this month, Apple jumped in with nine new programs on Apple TV+, spending about $240 million alone for two seasons of "The Morning Show," starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell. More new shows and original movies are expected in coming months. Two more newcomers are to debut next year.

HBO Max from AT&T's Warner Media will offer all of HBO's content. And NBC Universal's Peacock will include longtime favorite NBC shows like "The Office."

They are all taking on long-established rivals. Netflix and Amazon Prime both have vast libraries of content and tens of millions of subscribers. And Hulu, also controlled by Disney, has made a name for itself with shows like "The Handmaid's Tale."

One big question is how many of these services consumers will pay for. Monthly fees vary from about $7 to $15 a month.

TV critic Eric Deggans follows all this for NPR. He joins us from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Eric, thanks for being with us.

What's going on? Why all these streaming services starting now?

Eric Deggans: I know. What's going on? People are drowning in television.

Well, there's a few different things going on here. Firstly, I think there's a lot of media companies that don't want to miss out on the streaming revolution. They realize that this is a major way that people are choosing to experience television, and they want to carve out a piece of that medium. And they want to control it.

So, in the past, they may have sold reruns of valued shows to Netflix, "The Office" and "Friends" and "Big Bang Theory" and shows like that, but they realized that that was making Netflix very powerful and allowing Netflix to control a huge corner of the TV industry and dictate terms in a way, how much shows are worth.

And so some of these companies have decided to pull back those episodes and build streaming services around them, so that they can control their own platforms, they can control their own piece of this medium.

And then the other reason is that it's a part of some of these media companies' strategy to lure customers into a universe of media products that are all connected to their company.

So, for Apple TV+, if you get involved with Apple TV+, it encourages you to become part of the Apple family. So maybe you watch it on an Apple iPad or on an Apple laptop. Maybe you use Apple software in order to engage it. Maybe you buy an Apple TV device in order to watch Apple TV+ original programming.

It makes you a part and connected to the company in a way that you otherwise wouldn't be.

John Yang: Are we seeing a shift from cable the streaming, in the same way that years ago we saw a shift to cable from over the air?

Eric Deggans: Yes, without a doubt.

I think -- I have talked often about what I call on-demand attitude amongst consumers. People want to have TV content when they want it, where they want it, how they want it.

And cable TV offered more flexibility from broadcast television. You could see more things, and there was more chance that you might stumble on something that you wanted, and then some cable systems gave you some on-demand programming. But streaming gives you even more flexibility. You can buy smaller bundles of channels.

You can buy services that are directly tailored to the content that you're interested in. You can start and stop those subscriptions with a few clicks of a mouse button. And you get content that you can watch on your phone, that you can watch on your iPad or on your laptop whenever and wherever you are.

John Yang: How should consumers think about navigating this new marketplace of streaming services?

Eric Deggans: Well, I did a piece for where I talked a little bit about this, how you can pick the streaming service you actually want.

And one of the things you have to do, I think, is be honest about what you watch. I encourage people to do -- you know how some nutritionists tell you to figure out a dieting diary to see what you actually eat, write down when you have lunch and dinner.

Well, I expect that you should write down what you watch on television. Don't try to guess what you watch, but actually write down what you watch, so when you watch those "Law & Order" reruns, be honest about what you watch.

And then once you have a sense of what you're watching day to day and week the week, then you can cobble together a strategy for what kind of streaming services will get the most of what you want to watch.

Now, you shouldn't be shy about trying some services and dropping them if they don't work. You can -- a lot of services have a week free trial. Sometimes, you can try them for a month. You pay $6 or $7 and you get a month's service. And then you can drop it if it's not working.

We're used to the in the past having these TV structures that are pretty permanent. You put up an antenna or you buy cable service or you buy Netflix, and then you don't do anything else, and you just experience whatever that platform delivers to your home.

But now you have more control than ever as a consumer. It means you have to do a little bit more work. You have to do some research. You have to figure out what you want to watch. You have to figure out how much you want to spend on these streaming services, and then you have to try them.

But once you put together an ecology of media outlets, you will be much more satisfied with the media that you're consuming, and I bet you will spend less money.

John Yang: Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR, thanks very much.

Eric Deggans: Thank you.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.