The streaming wars are about to get a lot more interesting.
It has been roughly five years since services like Netflix and Hulu started making original programming. So far, Netflix has been the clear winner. It spends billions of dollars a year and has seen subscriptions soar, especially internationally, with the critical and popular success of shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Crown.”
But Disney’s deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox changes things. Even before the deal was announced on Thursday, Disney had already announced plans to unveil two streaming services: one focused on sports that will begin next year and one focused on entertainment that will become available in 2019. The second service, fueled by Disney’s existing content and now 21st Century Fox’s TV shows and movies, promises to be a formidable entrant into the streaming world.
Here’s a look at some of the leading streaming services.
NETFLIX Partly as a result of rivals like Disney being reluctant to sell content to a service they increasingly see as a competitor, Netflix has recently shifted its focus to creating original content including scripted dramas, documentaries, children’s programming and movies.
Netflix is planning on spending between $7 billion and $8 billion on content next year, up from $6 billion this year. Over the final three months of this year, Netflix has released eight original movies. Next year it plans on making 80.
The streaming service has also brought in big-name Hollywood talent, making deals with the producer Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) and David Letterman.
And it still has the rights to old episodes of big TV shows, including some from 21st Century Fox. The first season of “American Crime Story” about the O. J. Simpson murder trial that was a ratings smash for FX and a big award winner? Netflix will continue to hold onto that.
HULU Hulu has had a big year. It finally found a signature show in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which won best drama at the Emmys. It introduced a live TV service. And its owners — which include Comcast, Disney, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox — also made a concerted effort over the past year to sell back libraries of their hit TV shows like “This Is Us” and “30 Rock” to Hulu rather than Netflix.
On the other hand, Hulu remains a relatively small business that bleeds money. The last time it disclosed the number of people who subscribe to the service (a year and a half ago) it was a relatively teeny 12 million. As a comparison, Netflix has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide, roughly half of them in the United States. And there are plenty of indications that Hulu’s growth has only inched a bit in the time since.
Still, Disney will assume Fox’s stake in Hulu, and will now own more than 50 percent of the streaming service. Whether that means Disney can simply merge Hulu’s enormous array of content into its forthcoming service is unclear. Some analysts are skeptical that NBC Universal’s parent company, Comcast, will allow Disney to simply buy it out.
“We see no reason why Comcast would want to enable Disney to have a more successful streaming service that hampers the legacy bundle that is vital to Comcast,” said Rich Greenfield, at analyst at BTIG.
AMAZON It’s been a difficult year for Amazon’s streaming service. Top leaders at the entertainment division were ousted this year, and Amazon has been undergoing something of a retooling after many of its original TV series failed to gain real traction.
But still, it is investing plenty of money. Amazon recently secured the rights to make a TV adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings,” a monstrously expensive deal that is estimated to cost somewhere around $200 million. And the comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which recently became available, scored several Golden Globe nominations.
Plus, even with leadership changes, Amazon sits on a mountain of cash. That has many Hollywood executives convinced that Amazon could become a real rival to Netflix if it deploys its resources in the right way.
TECH INDUSTRY TITANS Facebook and YouTube have both said they are prepared to spend $3 million an episode for a drama and Apple has more than $1 billion to spend on original content.
It’s the early days for the three digital titans, but all are expected to spend a lot of money to keep people hooked to their original programming. Currently, YouTube is putting its highest quality content behind a paywall, while Facebook is focusing on bringing in advertising dollars. It’s not clear how Apple will distribute its TV shows, but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from making deals. Last month, Apple secured the rights for a new drama starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon about a network morning show. Rival TV executives said they believed that Apple was prepared to spend north of $10 million an episode on the show.
Facebook and YouTube are still looking for a signature hit.
TV NETWORKS If you want “Game of Thrones” without a cable package, the only way to get it is a subscription to HBO Now. “Homeland?” That would belong to Showtime’s stand-alone service. And CBS All Access has likely seen some growth thanks to its streaming-only prequel series of “Star Trek.” Still, the number of people who subscribe to these services is small compared to Netflix and Hulu.
Meanwhile, there are live TV services for people who are just looking to shed an expensive cable package. Hulu and YouTube have offerings with a suite of cable channels, and so do services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now.