(The home screen for the Disney + service, becoming available in the UK from 24th March 2020)
This time last year, streaming was the word on everyone’s lips. Netflix was a juggernaut in the entertainment industry, competing for Oscars and generally being the only company which could lay claim to be a legitimate rival to a studio like Disney. But even then, when the streaming conversation was hot and fresh, I don’t think many people expected the landscape to shift so much in one year. As we embark on a new decade, we’ve been greeted with a slew of new sites competing to take the streaming crown. Disney + opened in the US last November, with a UK release scheduled for the end of March. HBO Max is planning to launch their own service this year, with the hope of expanding their dominance of the prestige television landscape. And let’s not forget, Apple TV+ launched at the tail end of 2019 also, delivering their attempt at forging a name for themselves in the age of Peak TV.
It does make you wonder where the days of network television went. Of course, there is still some sentimental attachment to the soapy programming of yesteryear. NBC’s This is Us is a saccharin ode to the series’ that dominated the 2000s, the likes of Parenthood and Brothers and Sisters. Let’s not forget the continued influence of producer Shonda Rhimes, whose mega-hit Grey’s Anatomy is coming to the end of its 16th season, with no signs of stopping. But in all, regular scheduled programming doesn’t quite hold a candle to the emerging titan of streaming that we look to in 2020. Last year, the biggest show on the planet, Game of Thrones, came to an end after dominating the previous decade. With the flagship show that kept network and cable television on the map gone (and with its spinoff series set to air on a streaming service), will another emerge on a regular television screen?
My prediction as of now is a firm no. If there is to be an heir to the success of Game of Thrones, my guess is that it will emerge on a streaming platform of some kind. Let’s consider the evidence. Whilst there are hit shows still airing on regular cable like HBO (think Succession or Watchmen), the conversation that surrounds them are usually held on social media platforms which can inflate their perceived impact. For instance, Succession was one of the most acclaimed shows of last year. It won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series, was discussed on Twitter endlessly when airing, and was included in many critics’ best of the year list, yet it’s ratings have never once risen above one million viewers.
The competition for the attention of viewers is clearly the crowded streaming landscape. 2019 was filled with headlines of record viewing figures in shows that are released on Netflix and other sites. Stranger Things, still arguably Netflix’s flagship series, broke records as 26.4 million people watched in the first four days of release. Of course, there is the caveat that Netflix can manipulate their data to suit their favoured headlines. What counts as views differs from trade to trade, with some counting those who click on the programme and others only counting those who have watched at least one full episode. But even with this, the abundance of other television shows that Netflix has reportedly “broken records” with this year highlights how it’s undeniably in better shape than its regular television counterparts. At the end of last year, The Witcher exploded onto the scene and quickly became one of the service’s most watched shows within the space of a few weeks.
It’s clear that Netflix dominates the game (there’s also their growing market for movies, but that’s another debate entirely, let’s NOT go there), and with the emergence of the other streaming services over the course of this year, the monopoly that streaming is developing is only going to become more pronounced. Apple aimed to be the harbinger of this as the first of the flurry of new sites, and whilst The Morning Show has received buzz for its improvement over the course of the first season, and the quality of its star turn from Jennifer Aniston, it did land with a thud at the beginning of November critically and commercially. The real story here is Disney +.
Yes, the king of movie studios is also becoming the king of TV. With the launch of their service a few months ago, ten million signups happened in the first weekend, The Mandalorian became a smash hit, reinvigorating the disheartened Star Wars fanbase, and all Disney movies were compiled onto one site resulting in nostalgia memes flooding the internet. In the coming few years, Disney will be combining their most successful franchises, namely Marvel, with their television landscape, releasing Falcon and Winter Soldier, Wandavision, Loki and Hawkeye to the service. Unlike previous superhero shows, watching these will be vital in order to keep up with the stories on the big screen. Never before has TV and film been so intertwined.
In a year’s time, streaming will not only be the most popular way of watching television, it will be the new norm. Franchise encroachment into the world of television would have seemed impossible a decade ago. The rate of change and innovation in the world of entertainment is remarkable. Who knows where we will be in 2030.