What Disney’s Full Control of Hulu Means for the Consumer and the Streaming Wars

Big news today on the subscription streaming services front! Yet another battle was fought and won in the ongoing saga of the Streaming Wars. Effective immediately, Disney will assume full operational control of Hulu. It’s been an interesting ride the last few months, but up until this morning, NBC Universal (the division of Comcast that includes NBC, USA, Universal Studios, and MSNBC) owned 40% of the streaming service while Disney owned the majority stake with 60%. It appears Disney wasn’t happy with just 60% and wanted the full 100%. While the good news is that Hulu can now be distributed internationally, the bad news is that a lot of content will eventually go elsewhere. Though this is great for Disney’s bottom line, it is bad for the consumer.

Disney is planning to release its own new streaming service later this year with Disney+, so initially one might be inclined to believe that owning a second one would be cannibalizing. However, Disney has let on that their plan is to host more family-oriented content on its own service and stream their adult-oriented content on Hulu. If a consumer could only pick one of the two, they certainly still have that option. On the other hand, the unfortunate truth for the consumer is that these developments ensure that streaming content isn’t as cost-saving as it once was. For a number of years, if you wanted to cut the cord in favor of streaming, the go-to choices for subscription were Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video. Just having internet and these three services gave you access to a ton of content and was cheaper than paying for an expensive cable bundle full of channels and services you would never use. Other niche services have come along and tried to cut into those Big 3 but have never been anywhere near as popular.

Today, Netflix is losing a sizable chunk, upwards of 20%, of its content while simultaneously creating an overwhelming amount of its own programming and increasing subscription prices. Disney now exclusively owns Hulu along with Disney+. No one knows what Amazon’s plan is, but their UI still looks like it was built in 2011. Meanwhile, Apple is ramping up their eventual service, CBS All Access is (kinda) going strong, and today’s developments almost assuredly mean that NBC Universal is planning to release their own service in the near future. And I haven’t even mentioned DC Universe or WarnerMedia. While today’s developments mean that we, as consumers, will have more choice and availability of content than ever before, it also means that cord-cutters will be squeezed dry so that it’s not as viable of an option as it used to be.

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After Marvel Cancellations, Netflix Missing Out on Prime Crossover Opportunities

There’s no denying the fact that the Defenders on Netflix a failed experiment. The entire concept was grand, meant to give people a TV version of the MCU’s Avengers concept. Unfortunately, since the hugely anticipated team-up miniseries was a dud, that lead to a precipitous decline in viewership for the other related Marvel series. Once the streaming giant essentially gave up on future seasons of the Defenders, the spirit behind all the solo efforts fizzled out as well. Now that all 6 series to come out of that original agreement have been cancelled, we can look back and appreciate what an immense endeavor it was from the start. However, instead of lamenting about what could have been or analyzing what went wrong (it was actually a confluence of many things), I prefer to look to the future.

Though Netflix is not a fan of releasing numbers, subscriptions likely increased in anticipation of the superhero crossover. People were initially excited for the Defenders when it was announced. Perhaps that same excitement is what led to its downfall as subscribers were less impressed with the result. But maybe there is a lesson in here for the company. Maybe they tried to go too hard, too fast into their first crossover when they should have gone small. It is a fact that audiences love crossovers and ratings spike with them, so there is no reason why they couldn’t or shouldn’t try it again on a smaller scale. They could draw people to the service who still watch live TV exclusively. Or they could simply cross-pollinate some of their original series to help keep subscribers entrenched in the service.

Here are just a few ideas I have for the next great Netflix crossover:

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina/Riverdale

This one is the most obvious on this list because the two series take place in the same universe and are made by CW. They even have the same showrunner! Though I haven’t seen Riverdale, I have seen Sabrina, and the characters mention the rival high school a handful of times. I’m not familiar enough with the source material to guess what a crossover would look like, but even a proper cameo from Riverdale might suffice, though they kinda did that already. As recently as October, the showrunner spoke favorably about the idea, but questioned whether it would ever happen. Get on it people!

Stranger Things/Big Mouth

I know it seems silly, but stranger things have happened. (See what I did there?) Ahem. This idea was actually inspired by a GQ article I read recently about how the monster in season 3 of Stranger Things is puberty. You what show is entirely about kids going through puberty? Big Mouth! I see no reason why the cast of the former can’t be animated and shoved into the plot of the latter considering the Supernatural/Scooby-Doo crossover was a thing that happened. All the teenagers’ puberty monsters can battle each other or have an orgy or something.

The Crown/Downton Abbey

I know Downton Abbey as a series is over and a film is being released later this year. I also know that The Crown takes place about 40 years after the show. But hear me out on this one. The film will possibly reinvigorate an audience that will have missed the Crawleys, so why not ride that wave of enthusiasm? Characters depicted as children in the show could be fully functioning (and scheming) adults taking care of their parents in their advanced age. It would be a first for historical dramas, which I don’t believe have ever crossed over. We know that not everything in The Crown is completely factual, so the Crawleys meeting the Queen wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary.

Grace and Frankie/Queer Eye

This script practically writes itself! Obviously Grace or Frankie gets into a rut and needs to be saved by the Fab 5. Everyone is supportive, doing personal interviews like they do on Queer Eye, and the makeover is amazing, giving the recipient a new lease on life. Or everything goes wrong and one of the leading ladies causes a huge scene. Honestly, I could see it going either way, but the resulting episode would be must-watch TV. Even better if the effects are felt for the rest of the season.

House of Cards/Orange is the New Black

This one isn’t a serious suggestion, merely bemoaning a missed opportunity for two of Netflix’s first, and at one point best, original series. Orange is the New Black was created with the premise of showing how truly unjust the prison system is. Having a politician from House of Cards show up to tour Wakefield (or whatever prison) could have been a powerful statement. Sadly, both series took a nosedive after a couple seasons. Today, one has already been cancelled while the other will release its final season later this year. C’est la vie.

Santa Clarita Diet/Get Shorty

This one probably couldn’t take place in Get Shorty’s world because it’s more grounded in realism, but it would be so easy in Santa Clarita Diet for a Hollywood film crew, led by gangster cum movie producer Miles Daly, to show up in town for filming. Miles meats Sheila and wants to cast her in the movie. Somehow her secret gets out and Miles wants to use her to complete a job that he has in town. Hilarious horror ensues.

The Oscars Should Add a Streaming Film Category

As a rule, I generally don’t watch awards shows. Though I love seeing all the men on the red carpet in their best eveningwear, the silliness that follows which substitutes for entertainment is usually so dumbed down and spread out that I’d rather do something constructive than tune in. The Academy Awards are the most lauded of the bunch yet are also the most egregious offenders. As if the show itself wasn’t bad enough, the process by which award-winners are chosen is so ridiculous and political that it makes the purpose of the award, acknowledging artistic achievement in film, a little dubious. Of course, I realize that if not for the Oscars, the general public wouldn’t know about many of the great movies released the prior year.

So the 2019 Academy Awards show is over. Whether you agree or disagree with their controversial choice for Best Picture, that boat has sailed. Every year seems to stir up new controversies, which is notable for a show that should be bringing people together to celebrate artistic achievement. This year, between having no host, being amused by Lady Gaga’s affection for Bradley Cooper, and getting mad over how the Academy appealed to a racial reconciliation fantasy against its better judgment, it would have been easy to miss another underlying contention: the role of streaming media in the film industry.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, many great movies are being made these days exclusively for streaming platforms. The Salesman, I Am Not Your Negro, The Big Sick, Manchester by the Sea, The Handmaiden, Beasts of No Nation, The Meyerowitz Stories, Mudbound, and Private Life, not to mention 2018’s multiple Oscar-winner Roma, have all been great movies and that’s just skimming the surface. Many of these were first shown at film festivals, then picked up by Amazon or Netflix for distribution. Others were financed by said companies with small releases on the big screen. Either way, there’s no denying the power of these two platforms for their ability to create and distribute films that even the snootiest critics love (yours truly included).

This is why Steven Speilberg’s comments and movement in favor of adding more rules for Oscar consideration leave me a little irritated. Speilberg is proposing the addition of even more rules as a barrier for the award, specifically geared toward keeping streaming movies out. In his mind, the theatrical experience is sacred and can’t be replaced by a television. He feels that the theater is the pinnacle of a director’s career and as such that streaming movies should only be Emmy territory, akin to the made-for-TV movies of old like Parent Trap II or High School Musical. Traditionally, if you wanted to see a good movie, you went to the cinema; if you wanted to see good TV, you turned on the boob tube. But times have changed and those lines are blurred. “You kids get off my lawn!

But seriously though, there are many reasons why Speilberg is (gasp!) wrong. Foremost is the sheer state of the film industry that, like any other, is constantly changing and now doesn’t have to revolve around the cinema. The fact is that many people get a superior experience from their TVs vice a movie screen–better picture, better sound, a more comfortable environment, no one checking their phone or talking in the row in front of you, available 24/7–so more people will choose to watch from home instead of go out. Sure, you lose out on some of the social aspects, which I would argue is essential for any art form to be appreciated, but most people would rather take their chances. The movies being released via streaming are also not made with commercial breaks baked in, so they really aren’t made for network television.

Consumers shouldn’t have to drag themselves to a specific location, which can be halfway around the world, in order to enjoy a movie the “proper” way. Moreover, whether or not a streaming movie was ever viewed via analog means does not degrade its artistic merit or messaging, which is purportedly what the Oscars reward. What we see here with the Academy mirrors what is also taking place in American politics; an organization previously run by rich, old, white men is having to reconcile with a younger, less wealthy, more diverse generation. In both situations, it seems like the old guard has a knee-jerk reaction when they think their relevancy is being threatened. Thus, they dig in their heels to prevent newcomers from completely changing the system they cherish.

Instead, they should come to terms with the change and figure out how to thrive within the shifting landscape. At this point, it’s not a matter of if the Oscars will transform but rather when. With many new streaming services just on the horizon, the award show may have anarchy on its hands within a few years if it doesn’t quickly and correctly adapt its rules to survive. If a large number of objectively great movies are left on the cutting room floor instead of being recognized simply because they didn’t reach a high bar of entry, more and more people will turn away from the show as they realize it is nothing more than a sham for ad dollars.

This is why, in lieu of their proposed Best Popular Film category (What exactly constitutes a “popular” film anyway? And is it something that really needs to be rewarded? Like Prom King?), I propose that the Academy create a Best Streaming Film category. Instead of completely shutting out a viable form of media, the best thing to do is embrace it as an equal artform separated only by its means of distribution. This would also be better for the entire industry as legitimate studios won’t be forced to show their movies unnecessarily in some random theater, film festivals excluded of course.

With the Academy having such a sordid history with diversity and inclusion, combined with ratings that continue to decline, the organization needs to lower the bar to entry, not raise it. Otherwise, people will stop giving the show the small amount of credence it currently receives and it will fade into obscurity. The Academy should go back to the premise of rewarding artistic achievement and build their rules in support of that objective with a much broader definition of the word “film”.

Why Can’t a Series Be Just One Season?

Today I want to address an ever-present issue. As everyone is certainly aware, we are deep within the Golden Age of Television. While it is complex understanding how we got here (perhaps the subject of another post), there is no question that networks are continuing to churn out quality content that leads us to experience genuine emotions. The serial drama in particular has become something of a default genre for most shows worth watching. Though it was once assumed that films had all the greatest stars, times have changed as many actors who previously frequented the silver screen have switched over to the small one.

As is frequently the case with any type of medium, some of the best series to watch originated in another form, most often as books or graphic novels. I have to admit that I prefer most forms of art, including movies and TV shows, in their original forms, but with life being so short and all, who has time to read all those great books when you can get basically the same experience from watching it in a fraction of the time? It is debatable how truly “original” a work can be when it is actually an interpretation of another person’s work, but my issue is that there is a growing number of shows being made where the conclusion of the original source material coincides with the derivative’s first season finale.

On its face, this is not really a problem. TV shows made from books often don’t translate well to the screen unless certain liberties are taken. This is left to the showrunners, directors, and producers to figure out. As we see with Game of Thrones, a series can continue to flourish after it surpasses the source material. Sure, more events are occurring at a lightning fast pace (how did they get a fleet of ships from one side of the continent to the other in one episode?), but some would say that is preferable to the leisurely pace the show had taken up to that point. One could also say that this example doesn’t even really count because George RR Martin is still alive and plans to (eventually) finish the last two books. But what if he doesn’t? In the end, what if these last three seasons of the show are all we have to see of Mr. Martin’s vision? Will we be satisfied?

I give Game of Thrones a pass because even when I was reading the first book, I imagined that it would make a great TV series. When it was picked up by HBO, everyone assumed that the books would be finished before the end of the show, so as the situation changed, the network had to adapt. There are many other examples where there was no intent other than capitalizing on people’s ignorance. Therein lies the issue. Network executives are so quick to greenlight subsequent seasons of this new type of show that they don’t stop to think if they should. They think if the rest of the series can ride the coattails of the first successful season long enough, they will make more money through advertising before people wise up and realize the show is garbage. They just cross their fingers hoping that they can at least break even.

Let’s look at another example. Wayward Pines was a mildly creepy science fiction mystery based on a trilogy of books. The series itself was pretty competent though it was obvious M. Night Shyamalan was adding in his signature twists. The first season deftly covers all three books by the conclusion of the finale. In fact, the show was initially intended to be just a one season mini-series. But then Fox renewed it for a second season to the bewilderment of literally everyone. Viewership was reportedly not so high that they had a potential hit on their hands, so its anyone’s guess what the executives were thinking. The first season provided perfect closure, so no one watched the second season. I admit that I watched a few episodes until I felt like my time could be better spent. Pointless characters, horrible acting, no direction…it was a mess. The show was subsequently put on an 18-month “hiatus” until Fox finally made the announcement this past February that it was cancelled.

The almighty Netflix has even fallen victim to this trend. Thirteen Reasons Why was something of a hit when it was released for streaming as it was an unflinching examination of teenage suicide. Again, reviews were positive but not outstanding and the first season provided closure as it coincided with the end of the popular young adult novel. Sounding familiar? For some reason, the streaming service decided that it would renew the show for a second season. I haven’t watched the season myself, but from what I’ve heard and read, the show went off the rails and doesn’t have any reason to exist. They also end each episode with a PSA to the effect of, “If you are considering suicide, please get help,” which is a reaction to the uptick in real-world teenage suicides attributed to the first season’s release. It almost seems as though the second season was made as a plug for the PSAs, like Netflix was apologizing for itself.

“But Craig,” you might be saying, “The Leftovers was a book and the show was amazing.” Let’s unpack that. I agree that the show was great. I was on the edge of my seat most episodes. I still don’t totally understand everything that happened in the plot. But that’s the difference: The Leftovers only used the idea of the book as a jumping off point, going in a completely different direction. They weren’t looking to create a literal interpretation of the book or the world. This is exemplified in the series finale, where you don’t know if what is being described actually happened or not. The show never went out of its way to explain anything; the whole plot was up to interpretation. Some of the events from the first season were taken from the book, but I’d say they actually reimagined the book in TV show form. By taking such liberties with the source and providing a strong visual narrative, the showrunners were able to create something entirely their own and the result became an iconic must-see show, thus surpassing the book.

The same might be said for The Handmaid’s Tale (which ironically costars Ann Dowd who was also in The Leftovers). The first season was tremendous when it was released, and was a pretty faithful reworking of the source material from what I’ve heard. When the second season was announced, with the showrunners saying they’d show us more of their world, I was skeptical. I have to say that, though most people seem to be enjoying the new season now that it’s out, I didn’t really warm to it until the back half. Though the first season was dour, it remained hopeful. June (Offred) had a sort of rebellious charm about her, which made the show not so bleak. When the second season started, it just seemed to go nowhere and only wanted to show the audience how horrible everything is in their world. Everything just kept getting worse. Now that June’s rebelliousness is back in full force, it is more interesting, but I don’t agree that it is as good a show as it was when it was interpreting the source material.

We will have to wait and see what happens with Big Little Lies when its next season is released as even the first season had a few issues with interpreting the source. The second season may rectify some of those mistakes, but it seems the most critical factor contributing to the success of a show of this type is the talent and vision of the individuals at the helm. The goal of continuing beyond the bounds of the original book needs to be established in pre-production, not after the show is renewed. There are precious few examples of these kinds of series actually being worth watching past their first seasons. Something needs to change.

As we are in peak TV, there is no shortage of great shows to watch, and personally, I’m tired of the attempts to trick the audience into watching a substandard show that can’t live up to the hype of its first season. These efforts to take advantage of what the executives believe is an ill-informed public result in wasted time by both the people making the series and the people watching the result of their work. My guess is that if someone doesn’t like a show, they aren’t going to be buying any of the products in the advertisements anyway. Perhaps the problem isn’t that talented people aren’t involved in making the shows but that most of these shows should simply stop at the end of their first season, when the source material concludes. Only the truly successful, high-quality shows are picked up to full series. The Brits do this. The Japanese do this. America should do it, too.