Who Loses in the Streaming Wars?

While everyone focuses on who is going to win the streaming wars, I want to stop for a moment to consider who the losers might be. Barring significant changes, I suspect HBO, now part of the WarnerMedia Entertainment conglomerate, is going to be a loser in the streaming battles…

I used to pay $15/month for HBO as part of my wildly overpriced multi-room DVR Dish Satellite service. That bundle does not lend itself to direct pricing/content comparisons (pricewise, its more like leasing a small car). But the fight over carrier fees between Dish and HBO has led to new insights about both – and in this battle, each is a loser.

Online comparisons can do that.

Like so many consumers I have Netflix for most of my streaming needs, and Amazon Prime by default for all the rest. I replaced my Apple TV a few years ago with an Amazon Firestick (then upgraded to FS with Alexa voice recognition) and its great — no more messing around with those awful letter by letter search boxes from the 1990s. (Get one on Black Friday or Amazon Day when they go on sale).

There are two other streaming service contenders worth discussing also: Disney+, and HBO Now/HBO Go. (I have not had much interest in Hulu, CBS All Access, YouTube TV, BritBox, Crackle, SlingTV, Showtime, Apple, etc.)  One will be a giant winner, and the other – unless they make significant changes to their pricing and access models – could be a giant loser.

Disney+ already looks like a winner. They offer an impressive catalogue mix: Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, plus classic Disney films, all for $6.99 month. Its downloadable to 4 devices, and ad-free. If you have kids in the house, Disney+ is an automatic, and nearly a gimme even if you don’t. The new series The Mandolorian alone will have people signing up in droves.

First off, the HBO catalog of shows is far less impressive than it once was when compared to its competitors. Netflix shows us what a near infinite collection of NEW content looks like.

But the bigger takeaway is HBO is way too expensive versus its competitors. HBO gets $15 for its streaming HBO Now, and another $10-$20 for HBO Go if subscribers care to view content offline. (When I first encountered this on a long flight, I assumed I was doing something wrong; it took me like an hour to comprehend the sheer chutzpah of this pricing scheme, born in the earlier cable-TV era). [NOTE: HBO Go still requires an internet connection; none of the content is downloadable].

Cancelling HBO and giving up that big catalogue means that I don’t even think about twice about renting movies from Amazon. HBO’s monthly costs are about the same as a weekly rental at $2.99 -$6.99 per, versus my prior HBO budget, and given the wealth of other content, I don’t come close to that. I did a month of Showtime for Loudest Voice in the Room; I could see doing that with HBO in the future as well — if necessary.

Game of Thrones is over; the replacement is years away. Curb Your Enthusiasm is doing what looks to be the final season in 2020; VEEP is over. Perhaps Watchman will evolve into must-see TV, but that has yet to happen. Bill Maher, Barry, and Last Week Tonight are also no longer appointment TV.  After Silicon Valley ends its run, I expect my HBO Go will turn into HBO Gone.

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That’s the thing about anything online: It lends itself to instant comparison shopping. Television has now experienced that, finance/investing has as well. Imagine what will happen once health care has transparent public pricing available online?