Column: As the Streaming Wars Heat Up, Why Are Consumers Losing Out?

Brett Danaher
Brett Danaher, Ph.D. is assistant professor of management science and economics at Chapman University's Argyros School of Business and Economics.
Column: As the Streaming Wars Heat Up, Why Are Consumers Losing Out?

Want to watch the next season of "Stranger Things" when it comes out? I know I do, so I pay for Netflix each month. "Jack Ryan"? That's over on Amazon Prime. "The Handmaid's Tale"? Hulu. If you think Picard was the best Star Trek captain, you'll need CBS All Access – but at this point in your budget you may be choosing between that or "The Mandalorian," for which you'll need Disney+. And let's not forget the new content exclusive to HBO Max, Apple TV+, BET+, and NBC Peacock.

Most of us are aware of the recent fragmentation of content across subscription streaming services, and we've either had to make some hard choices about which content we will watch or else we're now paying bills for streaming services that resemble the bundled cable bills we paid before we cut the cord. And it's not just the cost that bothers us. When nearly everything was on one of just a few services, we knew where to find it. Now, keeping track of which services have which content – and whether we currently have that service – seems like a job in itself.

I don't think I need to convince most readers that this scenario isn't ideal for the consumer. So why are we here?

It's not that producers and distributors of entertainment content don't want to satisfy customers… they certainly do! But over the last decade or so, movie studios and television networks have seen the incredible power of using data analytics to inform decisions about what content to make, how to market it, to whom to market it and more. Subscription streaming services (like Netflix) observe everything that their viewers watch, and in turn use that information to determine what content to suggest to each viewer next. They even use it to inform decisions regarding what content to license or produce themselves and then to market that content most efficiently. They effectively create a series of personalized channels for each of their viewers, helping to connect you with content that you would love but might not be aware of. And in doing so, they can make investments in content in ways that differ from the traditional models and they reduce the inherent risk involved in bringing new shows and films to market. If you don't believe me, just ask the two professors from Carnegie Mellon who wrote a book about this.

In an era where there is more quality content – both old and new – available to us than ever before, it feels increasingly hard to know what to watch and where to watch it.

The problem that a traditional television network (or movie studio) has is that they do not get this kind of personalized data on each of their over-the-air or box office viewers – nor do they usually get these data from the subscription services that license their shows and films. Even if they had such data, they don't have a platform that serves as a direct connection to the consumer, and so they cannot personalize which shows they market to each viewer and how they market them. That's what subscription streaming services have been able to do. And for a while, networks and studios have felt pretty left out of the new data-driven entertainment revolution. This largely explains why so many major players in the industry want to have a successful streaming service now — to gather individual data about each viewer and have a personalized connection / marketing channel to every one of their customers.

If you are a major network or studio trying to get into the streaming game and you need to compete with an established service like Netflix – who consumers already know and like – what do you do? You fall back on what you are already great at and make content that everyone wants to watch, and you make it exclusive to your streaming service as a draw to new customers. Or you stop licensing your best catalog content to the established streaming players and make it exclusive to your new service (sorry, "Friends" fans, you'll need to pay for HBO Max!). Hence, nearly every one of the subscription services out there has at least a few shows that you probably want to watch, and great content feels fragmented across a plethora of services for which you struggle to remember all of the names.


Watchworthy's app is one of several trying to make it easier for viewers to find the content they're looking for, across services.

But even if the current fragmentation of content across so many services can be explained as a form of business competition, that does not make it ideal for the end consumer. I've already mentioned the obvious result that consumers are back to facing the choice of paying an ever-increasing multitude of subscription fees, missing out on content, or else turning to piracy. But there is another, less obvious consequence for the customer. When most content that was online was centralized on just one or two services, those services observed most of what a customer viewed online, and thus had a strong understanding of each consumer's preferences. Those services also had an incentive to recommend or market to you the content that you would like most.

Now, however, if you only do 15% of your online viewing on, for example, Hulu, they observe a lot less about your viewing preferences than when you did 50-60% of your television and movie viewing there. They just don't know you as well. Moreover, a service like Netflix or Disney+ only has the incentive to recommend to you the content that is on their service, even if there are shows or films that you would meaningfully prefer on other subscription services. And this leads us to the irony that in an era where there is more quality content – both old and new – available to us than ever before, it feels increasingly hard to know what to watch and where to watch it. By fragmenting content across so many services in an effort to draw in customers and have a more personalized relationship with them, players in the industry have unintentionally left customers struggling to search for and find the content that is best suited for them.

One of the most commonly offered solutions to streaming fragmentation is that we should just bundle the services again – some have suggested that you should be able to pick up a bundle of Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, etc. for perhaps half of what it would cost to buy them each separately. This may partly solve the customer's budget problems, but note that it does not solve the problem outlined above – if our viewing is spread out across a multitude of services, then the underlying viewer data are still fragmented. No one service knows us particularly well, and no service has the incentive to connect us with the content that best matches our preferences.

Where this eventually leads is a subject for another article – perhaps we will see the failure or consolidation of some of these services, or perhaps a third party can solve the problems I have described even while a number of subscription services retain exclusive content.

There are examples of companies trying to address this issue such as Likewise, Justwatch, or WatchWorthy, but it is not clear whether or not they will succeed (disclosure: I myself am involved in a stealth startup working on a solution to this). Either way, I see this problem as one that requires a consumer-friendly solution, and I fully expect that the market will provide this one way or another.

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Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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