First STAR TREK, then THE EXPANSE, now THE ORVILLE…is this the beginning of the end for “free” TV sci-fi???

Before I begin, let me explain that the purpose of this unique blog is to bring folks up to speed about what the HECK is going on with all of these new streaming TV services that are suddenly appearing like clowns getting out of a Volkswagen. I’m going to focus mainly on how this is affecting the sci-fi genre of television shows…although the impact is pretty much across the board. Then I want to explain why it’s happening so fast, why it’s not going away anytime soon, and then speculate on where this is all heading in the future.

I began working on this blog a month ago when Seth MacFarlane announced the The Orville would be moving from the FOX broadcasting network to behind a paywall at Hulu. Since then, I’ve been researching like crazy! And each time I thought I’d gotten the blog finished, there’d be more “BIG” streaming announcements from folks like NBCUniversal and, just last week, Disney. Eventually, though, I just needed to pull the trigger…knowing that parts of this blog are gonna be old news almost as soon as I hit “Publish.”

I do want to apologize if this is a longer blog than usual, but there’s just SO much going on, and I want to help you folks process it all like I just managed to do…mostly. Also, I’m going to focus mainly on America only because, once you head internationally, the shows and services all shift around and this poor blog would be six times as long!

Remember when automated teller machines (ATMs) first started being installed at banks? I can’t remember if it was still the 1970s or the early 1980s; I only remember that hardly anybody used ’em. Why risk your hard-earned money on a “fallible” computer when you could deal with a competent human being you could talk to?

The same thing happened when e-commerce first appeared. The idea of entering your credit card information onto a website in order to buy something seemed…overwhelming! Was it safe? Would the thing I just ordered even arrive? How long would it take? Why not just go to the store like everyone else, buy something, pay for it, and take it home?

We were so naive back then, weren’t we? It just took us a decade or so to get used to the “new normal,” and now everything is so much easier, faster, and more convenient.

So is paywall streaming TV the “new normal”?

Actually, it appears that the correct term is now OTT (Over The Top) media services and it refers to the streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, and a growing list of others where you pay a monthly subscription for exclusive video content that can be played on your TV, computer, mobile device, or anywhere that has access to the Internet.

The OTT world used to be pretty easy for most of us in America to figure out. We still had cable or satellite TV with thousands of channels and all the broadcast networks, 24-hour news, sports, shopping, kids programming, and constant reruns of Friends and Everybody Love Raymond. Maybe you subscribed to HBO or Showtime (or both!), and maybe you added Netflix in order to watch House of Cards and some of the other movies and shows it offered. Sure, Netflix was a little more effort to sign up with, requiring a SmartBox or SmartTV and an additional subscription that you couldn’t simply pay to your cable or satellite company, but for millions of subscribers, the extra hassle seemed more than worth it.

Later on, some people added Hulu as another OTT service, and when Amazon bundled their OTT service with free 2-day shipping on anything you ordered online, well, what’s another few dollars a month, right?

But then things started getting complicated—to say the least!—and for sci-fi fans, the worst may be yet to come. All of the best shows suddenly seem to be behind a paywall! Don’t believe me? Where have the must-see sci-fi shows that everyone is talking about been airing?

  • Game of Thrones, Westworld – HBO.
  • Stranger Things, Lost in Space, Black Mirror, Punisher, Daredevil and the rest of the Marvel TV line-up – Netflix.
  • The Man in the High Castle and the just-launched The Boys – Amazon Prime.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Hulu

Sure, AMC is home to The Walking Dead franchise, The Badlands, Preacher, The Terror, and a handful of others. And the CW is DC superhero headquarters with strong shows like Arrow, Flash, Legends, Supergirl (which couldn’t survive on CBS’ main network), and Black Lightning. There’s a few other decent sci-fi shows here and there (and I’m sure I forgot to list your favorite…sorry), but the really good stuff is quickly disappearing from broadcast television.

Now, up until recently, the list of decent sci-fi on broadcast TV was much more, er…expansive. This included The Expanse, SyFy’s first truly decent sci-fi offering since the new Battlestar Galactica ended a decade ago. And of course, we can’t forget The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s excellent homage to Star Trek (with a dirty jokes thrown in that pretty much no one liked…and they eventually went away).

And then there was Star Trek: Discovery.

CBS seemed to be trying to have it BOTH ways. They wanted to charge fans a monthly subscription to All Access to watch the first new Trek TV series in a dozen years, but unlike Netflix and all the others, they weren’t going to release the 15 episodes of a season all at once to binge-watch over a weekend or two. Instead, the new episodes would come out once a week, forcing fans to subscribe for at least three months at $5.99/month. Yuck! And to add insult to injury, also unlike Netflix and Amazon and Hulu, that $5.99 option INCLUDED commercials! Pay three bucks more, and then you get commercial-free.

Oh, the laughter from the Orville fans who hated CBS and disdained Discovery was deafening! “Nyah, nyah! Our show is better that yours…and we don’t even have to pay to see it!” Yeah, um, watch out for karma, guys, because…

The Orville is no longer going to be free. Disney bought Fox Studios, and the plans are right now to turn the FOX network into all-reality-TV-all-the-time (except Sunday nights where The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers will be looking for a decent fourth half-hour cartoon show until your grandchildren’s grandchildren are in a nursing home). This strategic realignment to the much-cheaper-to-produce reality-TV format led to the cancelation of Gotham, Lucifer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and a few other sitcoms.

Now, Gotham was already a dead series walking, slated for a final 13-episode season. But the axe hitting Lucifer was completely unexpected. But with all the carnage, The Orville actually got renewed for a third season. We just all assumed it would be on the regular FOX network. But at San Diego Comic Con in July, it was announced that The Orville would be moving to Hulu (also majority owned by the Walt Disney Company) and now available only by subscription. Suddenly, the “Nyah, nyah!” was coming from the Discovery side of the Facebook flame-wars.

But The Orville wasn’t the only FOX show to find its future behind an OTT pay-wall. Although Brooklyn Nine-Nine was picked up by NBC for a sixth season, remaining a “free” show (technically, we pay for satellite and cable, so nothing’s really “free” anymore), Lucifer was unexpectedly saved from cancelation hell by none other than Netflix, ordering a 10-episode fourth season.

And remember I mentioned The Expanse earlier? It was one of the best shows on television (sci-fi or otherwise!), but apparently everybody EXCEPT SyFy got the memo because they canceled it after three seasons! But then a grass-roots effort by fans convinced Jeff Bezos and Amazon to pick up The Expanse for a fourth season, which will premiere this December. And just a couple of weeks ago, Amazon announced that there will be a FIFTH season of The Expanse, as well.

So let’s stop for a moment and do a sci-fi census of what subscription services I now have to subscribe to…

Netflix for Stranger Things, Lost In Space, Black Mirror, and probably a bunch of other amazing shows. Netflix, our love is eternal.

Amazon Prime for The Expanse, The Man in High Castle, maybe The Boys (haven’t checked it out yet but I hear it’s amazing), and because my wife and I are hooked on it, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (not to be missed, folks!).

Hulu for The Orville and The Handmaid’s Tale.

All Access for Star Trek: Picard and (maybe) Discovery…and later for the other Star Trek series if they don’t suck.

HBO for any Game of Thrones sequels, Westworld, and (likely) Watchmen.

Is YOUR head spinning yet? Mine is! That’s FOUR different subscriptions in addition to my DirecTV satellite service. And with this many shows to watch, will I even have time in my life to eat, sleep, and breathe?

But wait, there’s more!!!

I watched the first episode of Doom Patrol as a free preview and LOVED it…possibly the best-done superhero TV series ever! Where can you find Doom Patrol? An OTT service called DC Universe. They’ve got lots of DC sSuperhero content, including new live action series Titans and Swamp Thing (which was just canceled after one episode…just two days after I wrote this sentence…ARGH!!!!).

I haven’t subscribed to DC Universe because…well…TOO MUCH ALREADY!!!!

But wait, there’s even more!

I haven’t even mentioned Disney+ yet, have I? That’s the 5 million pound gorilla about to take over OTT. Coming on November 12 will be every Disney movie, every Pixar movie, every Marvel movie, every Star Wars movie…and new series for all of the above franchises!!! All in one place. As a sci-fi fan, how can we all not subscribe to that???

And to make that service even more enticing, Disney just announced last week that they are going to bundle a non-commercial-free Disney+ and Hulu and ESPN+ for just $12.99/month…about the same as Netflix. Now, I don’t really give a mouse’s tush about ESPN+, but bundling Disney+ and Hulu seems like a no-brainer.

Oh, did I mention HBO Max? It’s not just HBO or HBO GO (the OTT for HBO). HBO has teamed with WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks (TNT, TBS, truTV), Adult Swim, Boomerang, CNN, Cartoon Network, The CW, Crunchyroll, DC Entertainment, Looney Tunes, New Line Cinema, Rooster Teeth, Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. Got all that? WANT all that? It’s gonna have about 10,000 hours of content at launch, including new series AND Doom Patrol.

Wait, I thought Doom Patrol is on DC Universe.

It is. But DC is owned by Warner and Warner is a content partner for HBO Max so Doom Patrol gets to be on both. The only major Warner Bros. movie franchise you won’t see on HBO Max is Harry Potter because that’s still licensed to Universal though 2025 and…

STOP THE INSANITY!!!!!! PLEASE!!!! It’s…hurting…my…brain…!

Oh, wait, did I just say Universal? I forgot NBCUniversal! They just announced a new OTT streaming service coming next April, still unnamed, that be be the home of every NBC show being rerun (just like All Access is for CBS shows). That includes The Office, which used to be one of the most popular streams on Netflix, but NBC didn’t renew that license in order to have that show back all to themselves!

RERUNS???? WHO HAS TIME FOR FRIGGIN’ RERUNS????


Okay, breathe, Jonathan, just breathe. We’ve gotten through the hardest part of this blog: reality. Now let’s calmly look into our crystal ball at…the future!

Aw jeez, if I knew what was gonna happen in the future, every OTT service would be paying me millions of dollars—because the world of streaming services is potentially worth TENS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS right now…and even more in the future! And that, my friends, is why all of this madness is not going away anytime soon…if ever!!!

I’ll be honest with you. When CBS first put Star Trek behind a paywall, I prayed at night for All Access to fall flat on its $5.99/month-with-commercials face. And while their numbers are still minuscule next to Netflix (over 40 million accounts streamed Stranger Things 3 in the first four days after it premiered while All Access is still trying to top 5 million subscribers total), the fact is, there is still solid growth for CBS…and streaming is a cash cow. MOO!!!

While broadcast gets its money from advertising, All Access gets money from both advertising AND direct subscriptions. Assuming 5 million subscribers are paying 6 bucks each even for just four months out of each year, that’s $120 million in direct revenue! And CBS is still building up a subscriber base. Imagine what happens when they reach 10 million subscribers or 20 million. Can you say “printing money”?

This was the chart from a year ago. But even 1% or %2 of $22 billion is hundreds of millions of dollars. CBS wants to be in this race…and so does everyone else!

That’s why The Orville has been moved from FOX to Hulu…and why Amazon picked up The Expanse after Syfy canceled it. The people who watch sci-fi are, by and large, more likely to be adopters of technology and also loyal enough to follow a show even if it leads them to a paywall.

Also, because sci-fi shows are typically more expensive to produce, they “live better lives” on OTT than on broadcast TV. By this, I mean that most broadcast shows need to produce 20 to 26 episodes per season. That’s what Star Trek used to do back when Paramount produced it. But Orville‘s two seasons on FOX each ran only 13 (actually 12 and 14) episodes. Discovery‘s two seasons were 15 and 14 episodes, respectively, and season one of Star Trek: Picard will apparently run for 10 episodes. The Expanse ran 10 episodes in season one followed by 13 episodes in the next two seasons, and season four will have 10 again.

While those numbers of episodes are typically “too short a season” for broadcast TV, they are perfect for OTT, especially if all episodes drop at once and can be binge-watched over a weekend. Fans actually love that, and it’s becoming the new normal. Meanwhile, budgets for just 10 or 13 episodes (or even as few as 6 or 8) are much more manageable than budgets for 20 or 26 episodes!


All of this is to say that sci-fi on OTT is probably here to stay, folks…just like ATMs and eCommerce. Get used to it. Netflix just spent $12 billion (yes, with a “B”) on creating original content in 2018 and is upping that number in 2019…so they don’t have to worry about companies like Disney and NBCUniverse pulling their licenses for movies like The Lion King and shows like The Office, leaving Netflix with nothing competitive. Netflix is sparing no expense to stay at number 1, and Disney+ definitely wants to steal that spot. So does Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, and a host of others.

But the question is: will you end up having to juggle a dozen or more different OTT subscriptions each month just to see all of the best shows that everyone is talking about? As I said, I can’t predict the future, but I suspect (hope, pray!) that the dog finally starts wagging the tail again at some point rather than vice-versa…meaning that the marketplace starts determining content again rather than the content determining the marketplace.

Put another way, right now it’s a gold rush, with everyone and their subsidiaries and their networks and their studios and majority and minority corporate partnerships trying stake a claim. Some veins will come up golden while others will just require more money to be poured down the empty mineshaft.

I suspect that, eventually, the big fish will start eating the little fish. You can already see the first taste of this with Warner mirroring Doom Patrol on both DC Universe and HBO Max because they know it’s a winner series. But what winners will NBCUniversal have besides The Office? Will their service quickly wither and die? And how about everyone else trying to squeeze onto this crowded dance floor: SlingTV, Philo, FuboTV, YouTubeTV, and others?

I just don’t know. None of us does.

My hope is that we will eventually see some kind of consolidation. Maybe HBO Max will absorb DC Universe. Perhaps Disney will eventually merge Disney+ and Hulu in some way. And there’s currently speculation that AppleTV will somehow aggregate all of this disparate content—where every show is currently living in a different “silo”—back into a single access point…something we used to have to begin with before we began cutting the cord with cable and Satellite providers. Wouldn’t THAT be ironic if all of this just brought us full circle!?

Right now, it’s all in the experimental phase, and the madness shows no signs of stopping. And the reason isn’t just revenue. Convergence Research estimates that, by the end of this year, nearly 1 in 3 American households will have “cut the cord” and no longer subscribe to a cable, satellite, or telco provider. At the end of 2017, it was only 1 in 4. So while subscriptions to OTT services are growing, traditional television is slowly but steadily on a downslide. Which elevator would you rather be on?

This doesn’t mean that cable and satellite TV will be going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. But the writing is certainly on the wall…and OTT is the inevitable future, folks…at least in these five minutes.

So if you’re frustrated by all the really good sci-fi and genre shows migrating behind paywalls and scattering across multiple different services, I’m sorry to tell you that, yes, this is the “new normal.”

Welcome to the future. The revolution will be televised…you’ll just have to pay a monthly fee to watch it.


Author’s note – In this article, I purposefully did NOT mention the elephant in the living room: video piracy. There are three reasons for this:

  1. I do not condone such illegal activity.
  2. The article was long enough already.
  3. It’s not clear that piracy is going to be much of a factor, at least not in the near future. It seems that most people are inherently honest…or perhaps just too lazy to go through the hassle of pirating videos.

Oh, I am certain many, many people do pirate videos, just as they pirate songs. But this has, by no means, crippled the music industry. In fact, purchases of songs and subscriptions to music services remain quite robust. And I suspect the same will be true with OTT streaming TV services for a while yet. The revenue estimates are still in the tens of billions per year despite the existence of pirating services. So my guess is that the big corporations consider piracy an unavoidable speed bump on what is otherwise a well-paved highway to unimaginable revenue. We shall see…


LATE BREAKING UPDATE – Remember when I said the news comes at a frantic pace these days? Well, just hours after I published this blog, the announced merger of CBS and Viacom (reuniting the television and movie ownership rights to Star Trek under one roof for the first time in over a decade) became official. What this means for Star Trek isn’t quite clear yet. But what is clear is this statement from the heads of the new ViacomCBS that this merger will “…accelerate CBS and Viacom’s ability to deliver an array of compelling content to important and diverse audiences across both traditional and emerging platforms around the world.” Emerging platforms…yeah, OTT is here to stay (at least for now).

59 thoughts on “First STAR TREK, then THE EXPANSE, now THE ORVILLE…is this the beginning of the end for “free” TV sci-fi???”

  1. “As a sci-fi fan, how can we all not subscribe to that???”

    The answer for me is easy – I won’t. I agree with the basic thesis of this blog posting that OTT is exploding. But not everyone has the budget to pay 5? 10? 20? OTT outlets or even 2. As someone who’s retired and trying to run out of money and die on the same day, I’m being very selective.

    Since I’m already an Amazon Prime member for other reasons, they make the cut automatically.

    But then I need to consider both costs and time. I’m a very active retiree including, of course, correcting all the errors that people make on the Internet. So my time is also limited.

    So what do I have time for? I would have time for both The Orville and Star Trek: Picard assuming the later is as good as the trailer seems to make it.

    But then cost comes into play so I’m very liable to choose one over the other after I make use of any free trial offers being available when they come out.

    I also also have a reflection on consolidation. Yes, from one perspective it’s great. But with consolidation competition will go down and the possibility of a few companies jacking up prices goes way up. So in some years we may be back to what we had a long time ago – 3 outlets for shows but this time OTT outlets with high prices.

    1. Yes, monopolies and business collusion are not good, in fact they are illegal aren’t they? They were in the 80s. Remember Bill Gates being hauled to Washington DC after the buyout of Netscape? Here in Poland there is a word for monopolies: Communism. What’s after monopolized industry? Planned economy. On paper these Communitarian ideas sound fantastic but I have a real life up close view of what happens when the theory of Communitarian/Communism hits the road. It is soul sucking.

      Aside from all else, I take the creation-innovation industry of Hollywood entertainment as a barometer. The more monopolies are formed, the more entertainment becomes propaganda.

      1. I don’t see the OTTs as monopolies…just the opposite, in fact! Now, if consolidation eventually changes that, so be it. But I doubt we’ll ever see Netflix merge with Amazon. Maybe I’m wrong…

  2. I’ve written about this more than once. The increase in monetization comes about only because consumers cooperate. If instead of posting articles with statements like “this is the new normal” and “you’ll just have to pay a monthly fee to watch it,” we can post about refusing to support this kind of change. If enough people say “no,” it goes away.

    Television is entertainment. SF&F is only a genre. Watching SF&F television via whatever medium is just recreation.

    Television over the air is free. You watch commercials to pay for it. Rabbit-ears are still inexpensive, and are a sound long-term investment with a great pay-off. I get about sixty channels over the air in my area. Sixty. No monthly fee. At the moment I’m watching two shows, both on the CW, Pandora and The Outpost. When those two summer shows are over, most likely I won’t be using the rabbit-ears again until next summer.

    I’ve had an Amazon Prime membership for the past couple of years. Because I order just enough from Amazon in a year to make it a worthwhile investment. And if they keep raising the price, I may drop it. But it comes with Amazon Prime Video, and since I got it without paying anything extra, I check it out now and again. So I’ve seen The Man in the High Castle, and The Expanse, and the Battlestar Galactica remake. I may even watch the upcoming Middle Earth series, if I can stomach whatever they decide to change from the mood of the books. But if I end up not getting value from the shipping side of the membership, I’ll drop the service. The videos just aren’t enough of an incentive for that annual (or monthly) cost.

    I’ve had cable TV on and off over the years. Most of the time it was included with my rent, or belonged to a room mate. I’ve only subscribed once, and when I moved, I never signed up for another account again. Know what? I don’t spend any more hours watching cable than I do rabbit-ears.

    I tried Netflix back in the day when it was just about movies. When they raised my monthly rate three times in one year, I canceled it. No plans to ever renew it. Again, because I don’t watch any more hours of TV, regardless of the medium.

    “But what about Stranger Things?! What about Game of Thrones?! Are you insane?!” Um, no. I have waited to watch those until my local library got them on disc. I wasn’t too impressed with Stranger Things, and after binge-watching enough GoT I just returned the rest of the discs unwatched.

    At the end of the day, IT’S JUST TV. It’s not worth any more money than it was when the only option was FREE. As a life-long SF&F fan, I get enough of my fix so that I don’t in any way NEED to pay to have access to more hours of TV than I’m interested in watching.

    And your life won’t end if you don’t see season four of The Expanse. No, really.

    Now let’s talk about the cost of living, loss of buying power, and living beyond your means. OK, let’s not, I’m sure you see my point. The monthly price to watch what “everyone is talking about” just keeps snowballing, and will wind up costing you more than that bloated cable bill you laughed at when you finally cut the cord. Well, the laugh’s on you, bunkie.

    And let’s not forget that you’re also already paying premium dollars for that internet connection. Talk about double- and triple-dipping.

    So, why make this monetization-on-steroids “the new normal?” How much money does a company need to make off of you? They can’t do it without you.

    Let’s not encourage them.

    1. While you’re welcome to “fight the system,” you might be sitting at a small table, Shelby. That’s not to say that I like (or dislike) what is going on. It’s simply that that tide is coming in. Already, this is a $22 billion/year industry. That’s a LOT of people you’ll have to convince to just say “no”…and it appears they’re not listening.

      As with ATMs and internet commerce, there are still those who prefer to do it the old, reliable way. And heck, my own parents (in their 70s and 80s) STILL won’t use an ATM…although they do order a lot on Amazon.

      Anyway, the purpose of the article was simply to say that this is happening…whether we like it or not. And simply saying “no” doesn’t appear to be an option as hundreds of millions of people are saying “yes.”

      1. What used to drive me nuts is my husband absolutely positively would NOT cancel premium channels we were not watching. I did NOT watch them during the day. We watched them only when that must-see whatever aired on them, then we NEVER watched them for months or years on end. He would NOT cancel them no matter what. He’d argue it’d cost ten bucks to cancel each channel. I’d argue it cost money to rent the box, remote and pay for each channel month after month. He would NOT see the light. Nothing moved him. He would NOT budge.

        1. As I was preparing this blog, I told my wife Wendy that we’d have to subscribe to Hulu now that “The Orville” was going to be on that service. “Oh, we already have Hulu,” she told me. WHAT???? “Yeah, I wanted to watch the last season of ‘The Mindy Project’.” So we’ve been subscribed to a service I didn’t even know we had! 🙂

    2. Shelby,
      I quite agree with you. I have told Jonathan about a year ago that I prefer my daughter to watch the older stuff. Back in those days when there was more competition – for “free-range viewers” who are no longer free when they lock themselves into a subscription, and for advertising to support the channel (and its affiliates) just like the old penny press days relied on advertisers to publish – there was more quality programming. Saturday morning cartoons no longer exist for comparison but this September’s line-up of Saturday morning TV (I program on the computer) for my daughter include Bullwinkle, Underdog, Land of the Land, Ghost Busters (Forrest Tucker), Valley of the Dinosaurs, Batman, and Tennessee Tuxedo. Compared to the fare on Youtube (product commercials like Ryan’s Toy Review, and Hobby Kids TV, and, well, some very sinister sexual content aimed at children too extreme for a comparison to ye old Saturday Morning) the old stuff kills it. My daughter is engaged with it, whereas, even at this moment on my wife’s phone, she is a zombie when watching Youtube.

      Rabbit ears definitely signals a highly competitive market much better than subscription.

      But I wanted to add to your comment Shelby that, in Canada, it is now ILLEGAL to use rabbit ears. I know this sounds crazy but it is true. The only content allowed is digital piped in on cable. Were we back home in Canada now, I would definitely still be using my computer to entertain my family with content of my choosing.

        1. Not overlooked, Richard, simply put aside for later. I like to thoroughly read through and consider every comment and, if warranted, provide a thoughtful response. The longer posts often get saved for later when I can take the time necessary to give them the attention they deserve.

  3. Disney didn’t buy the FOX Network – only the studio,The FX Networks and 20th’s Share of HULU. FOX Broadcasting is still an independent entity. (They Bought The Studio, but FOX Broadcasting kept The Century City Studio Lot and Disney is renting space as well.

    1. Ah, yes. Thanks for the correction, Herb. I forgot that the broadcasting part of that deal was a no-no as Disney already owns a television network (ABC), and the law says a single company can’t own two different major broadcast networks. I’ll fix that part of the blog.

    1. TOTALLY!!!

      Some of the best TV in the history of television is being made now, but the price we’re paying for it is this awkward transition that requires more money, the hassle of setting up new OTT services, and the pain of having to go through a gauntlet of different user interfaces to find and watch a show rather than just changing a channel or selecting something from a DVR list.

      Anyone remember TiVo? 🙂

  4. The real issue is going to be profitability. With Netflix spending Billions, how are they going to get that money back? Netflix’s stock is already dropping.

    With a number if the OTTs being publicly traded companies, their viewership will finally get some real scrutiny. And then like many cable channels in the past (anybody remember the Nashville Network, G4, or Tech TV?), some will fold. But which ones and how soon? We have already seen some effects of this with the early cancellation of Swamp Thing.

    History shows that in most Gold rushes (real or tech), only a few make money. The rest starve or die. The real monies were made with support businesses (real and tech).

    So, place your bets. Time to start a death pool.

    1. I think it’s spelled “dead pool,” Jerome. 😉

      The reason Netflix is spending so much is the same reason that Disney paid $4 billion for Star Wars a decade ago. In this world, content is king. You need to OWN something that can make you money in your sleep…but sometimes you’ve got to pay for it (most times, in fact). Netflix saw the writing on the wall years ago when it first produced “House of Cards.” They knew that, eventually, the other content owners would wake up and see the value of their own content (like “The Office” and the Marvel movies, etc.) and realize they could do what Netflix was doing and deliver their own content directly…MUCH more profitably than just licensing it to Netflix to stream.

      Eventually, Netflix will trim down its spending a bit…but only after there’s enough content to keep people paying that monthly subscription. That’s the problem CBS is facing right now: not enough content. The majority of those 4 million subscribers they claim to have (actually a lot less, as they count those who have canceled–like me–as merely being “on pause”–also, like me) aren’t watching “Star Trek” or “The Good Fight” or “The Twilight Zone” or the Tony Awards or “60 Minutes” or T”he Big Bang Theory.” They’re watching the NFL…by a factor of 4-to-1 or more. That’s why CBS is throwing so much money into creating four-to-five Star Trek series. It’s all about getting content “in the bank.”

      Will there be consolidation eventually? Of course. But Netflix has already been including future cost savings from not having to pay licensing fees against current expenditures. Sneaky, yes, but Netflix still remains the 5 billion pound gorilla. 🙂

      1. As I was reading your comment to Jerome, I was reminded of the early days of Hollywood when the studios not only had contracted actors but also owned the distribution of film outright and many cinemas as well. I get the feeling we’re going back to those days.

  5. The main selling point of 1 or 2 streaming services being available was how cheap it was compared to cable with all the desired content being in 1 or at most 2 places which helped lead to the advent of cord cutting. Now with the streaming services being fragmented it could cost more to pay for all the streaming services than staying with cable. These streaming services are killing demand by killing convenience and increasing overall costs.

  6. Fascinating read ─ thank you Jonathan. For me, my approach to TV has similarities to Shelby, above. My interests are plentiful and diverse, so whilst if at home for the evening, that time is most commonly spent in the home cinema, only following a long day, typically 3 am to 6 pm. And I have plentiful resources for the evenings without any need or desire to take on board ANY form of subscription service.

    I realize that for a young person they may well be coming from a different position where, as starters, I have a very large DVD/Blu-ray library of movies and TV series etc built up over the years. Also, one of my greatest loves is classical music. So that’s an “already owned” viewing component.

    In the evenings, while I literally never watch any of the commercial broadcasters, here in Australia we have the government-funded but totally independent ABC (nothing to do with ABC in the US) that provides a wide range of news and current affairs material that has minimal bias. They also broadcast a wide range of entertainment programming, much of which is excellent (including quite a bit from the UK). So that’s the TV component.

    YouTube is a massive source of top-class classical concert and operatic material as well as a comparable resource of documentary items (although there needs to be much weeding out of rubbish!) ─ so I’m continually expanding a collection from this source (currently 2 TB of mainly HD material).

    Then there’s the large collection of CD/SACD discs.

    So, there’s more than enough to draw on, whatever my mood. OK, I’m missing out on the latest in television programs, but really, is that important? ─ of course not. Sure, I would like to watch The Orville, but there’s no way I could find time to pursue everything I might like.

    While I continue to find from the resources I’ve listed far more quality entertainment than I can ever hope to exhaust, there’s absolutely no need for following any subscription service; I’m not interested on keeping up with the latest simply for the sake of doing just that. At the same time, I’m certainly not residing in the past. If what I learn about a modern TV series seems as if I would really like to enjoy it, I just wait for the DVD ─ I’m patient, (although DVD releasing will progressively diminish). And, of course, there is YouTube (where I do use Adblock or similar)!

    The future that you reveal to already be happening is perhaps more for those (particularly the young) who have not built up collections of their own resources (admittedly adding significantly to household clutter) and more impulsively must keep up with the latest, frequently showing at the same time a lack of patience in the need to “binge watch”.

    Then, of course, the home cinema is not the only entertainment option.There is the phenomenon called “social interaction” (that means “spending time with friends”). And not to forget that I have a large book collection ─ remember books? On top of all that there’s a piano, a digital “pipe”-organ, and a good keyboard; all for making music.

    Subscription TV? ─ nah!

      1. Correction; “older” not “old”. Although the verbosity and loss of focus in my comment (unintended ─ I got carried away) would argue that your word choice was correct. While our brains remain active, while we continue to have the need to expand our knowledge, while our curiosity ever leads us to boldly g…. oops, that’s enough!

  7. Your post nicely sums up the challenge of being a TV viewer in today’s “multiverse” of content providers from across the spectrum of broadcast TV, basic cable, premium cable, and streaming platforms. Getting access to all of the content you want to watch (whether as a general TV fan or specifically a sci-fi/fantasy fan) without breaking the bank requires careful planning these days.

    For the moment, I’ve settled on the strategy below:

    * DIRECTV satellite service – for TV shows my family watches week to week and occasionally for spectacular 4K content. Pro tip: Be sure to renegotiate your contract every year with the retention department of your cable or satellite provider.
    * Netflix – for their great original content and deep (but diminishing) well of older TV series and movies.
    * Amazon – for a few of their Amazon Originals TV series and the occasional movie.
    * Redbox – for renting new release movies that my son and/or I want to watch right away before they hit streaming. (With their frequent promotions, Redbox disc rentals are far more affordable than renting new releases from Vudu, FandangoNow, Amazon, Google, Apple, etc.)
    * Hoopla and Kanopy – for the once in a blue moon occasion when these free streaming services (integrated with your public library) actually have a movie I want to see.
    * Rotating streaming service – at any given time, I may also subscribe to one other streaming service to catch up on their exclusive content:
    – HBO NOW
    – CBS All Access (strictly for Star Trek)
    – Hulu
    – In the future, Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus may join the rotation.

      1. Factoring in my $10 discount for having a TV & Internet bundle with AT&T, I am paying the same or less as the option of cord-cutting and going with YouTube TV or Hulu + Live TV. I have the entry-level DIRECTV package (since I don’t care about sports), at a negotiated rate, so my premium is pretty low. Also, I do not always have a subscription in the rotating spot (e.g. just finished one month with Hulu and won’t take HBO again for another two months as they amass more new content since my last subscription). I don’t need to subscribe to CBS again until early next year when Picard arrives. Overall, I suspect I pay quite a bit less than the average American with a cable subscription and one or two premium channels.

  8. “AppleTV will somehow aggregate all of this disparate content—where every show is currently living in a different “silo”—back into a single access point…something we used to have to begin with before we began cutting the cord with cable and Satellite providers. Wouldn’t THAT be ironic if all of this just brought us full circle!?”

    Aside from not wanting Apple to get any bigger than they already are, I do hope that the future is one where you buy whatever content you want directly from the creators (or the studio that backed them.) That would make a whole lot more sense for consumers, especially those of us with varied tastes who end up having to subscribe to multiple services.

    Perhaps the feds could bring some antitrust laws to bear–wouldn’t be the first time. Originally, movie studios owned cinemas so they could freeze out the competition. I could see the feds using the same approach to open up the playing field among OTT services.

    1. It didn’t happen in the music industry, Steve (the antitrust thing) so I doubt it’ll happen with OTT.

      As for buying per title, that might not be any cheaper. A single song might cost $1.99, but the production of that song is WAAAAAAAY less than the cost of producing an entire season of a TV series.

      1. There actually have been a number of antitrust cases brought against the music industry (particularly ASCAP and BMI which manage royalties), and while it’s far from Nirvana, you have much greater freedom of choice when it comes to how and where you get your music than you do with streaming video.

        With a few exceptions, I can listen to one of my favorite bands on any music service: Spotify, Apple, YouTube, etc. However, I can only watch a streaming show on one service (with a few exceptions. Hey, thanks for letting me know about Doom Patrol. Now I can ditch the DC service.)

        The next step with music would be to stream it directly from the musician or a web site they set up and cut out the middlemen, who add no value to the musical experience.

        Doing the same with video would be trickier, but still do-able. What I’d like to be able to do is just Google a title like “Metropolis,” get a link to the current copyright-holder, and be able to stream (and pay) them directly. They could offer alternate cuts of the movie, “DVD bonus videos,” and set it up to include ads or not. Technologically, it’s 100% possible (heck, that’s how Phase II did it before making their episodes available on YouTube.) Consumers win, studios still get their money.

        1. The question with your idea is one of cost to the consumer. Never forget the distribution piece of the puzzle. You can make the best movie ever, but without a distributor putting their marketing muscle behind it to help cut through the clutter and providing a pipeline to the consumer.

  9. I heard on a YouTube video today as the amount of streaming services increase so will the demand for piracy especially since people are not given the option of paying only for their desired content and are forced to subsidize the entire catalog of shows and movies. When Netflix was the only streaming service it drove down piracy but now having dozens of streaming services will drive it back up.

    1. Perhaps. But I think a lot of people are still morally uncomfortable with piracy, don’t know how to do it safely, and/or don’t have the drive space to store that many shows. Granted, there’s also a lot of people who are quite comfortable pirating, it’s apparently not that complicated to do, and I just bought an 8TB hard drive which wasn’t that expensive. So who knows?

  10. Shoot! I’ve been considering “cable cutting”. I’m out in the country and stuck with satellite TV and satellite Internet. (Reception of “free” TV is non-existent.) This article is giving me pause for thought. I’m still struggling with the idea of cutting my landline phone as cell phone reception is so poor here. Sigh! After so many years of being an early adopter in the computer world, this is making me feel like a Luddite!

    1. They’re probably thinking of you as ancillary revenue, Barb. You’re “ol’ reliable” buying the DVDs and Blu-rays. But the real money these days is in all those subscriptions! 🙂

  11. I haven’t had a moment (or longer) to read the entire post. Man, you have put a lot of effort into it! But I get the gist by halfway through. But you have missed the biggest story of OTT this past year with the continuing saga of The Karate Kid, Cobra Kai. This is a monster hit on Youtube which had it behind a paywall for two years and is now taking that paywall down. https://www.dailydot.com/upstream/cobra-kai-free-youtube/

    Is this ahead of the curve?

    Now I know Cobra Kai is not your beat but media is where my head was at for so many years back home. And the changes Youtube is implementing on their Premium channel could likely set the pace for all.

    If you have not seen Cobra Kai, I cannot more highly recommend it.

    1. I’ll need to add “Cobra Kai” to my watch list…right after “The Boys” (which I just watched the first episode of and was instantly hooked). YouTube is part of this whole experiment, and they just discovered a valuable lesson: people are much more likely to watch something for free than to pay for it. Now YouTube just needs to figure out more ways to monetize giving away stuff for “free.” 🙂

      1. Well, as I understand the situation with Cobra Kai specifically, Youtube financial was through the roof on this show. It was a success. And it ran for two years. I only just heard about it late last month. I am not what you may call up on anything current as you can understand given my situation in Poland. I was attracted to the show because of its counter-message to what I have paid attention to and seemed to be ongoing for some time. Engineering culture was a part of my tool kit when I worked as a public relations strategist so I was not coming to it for nostalgia. I remembered William Zabka from The Equalizer. So I binge watched the first season via browser once I started because it was so good (and browser TV has a nack for being shut down).

        Anyway, Youtube was selling subscriptions and making money. First rule of opening a business: have a client ready. Surprisingly, they have taken down the paywall after it was working for them. The upcoming season (3) is going to have location shooting in Japan so that’s not going to be cheap and the entire series has had feature film production values for a Net show – my gold standard being Star Trek Continues.

        It seems to me that Youtube is running in the opposite direction of the Networks. Were I doing public relations strategy for the “big boys” (well they were when I left Canada 18.5 years ago) I would take a true sounding of fan sentiment towards the shows on offer before I start fiddling with things like pricing and distribution. Many of the shows in trouble have terrific packaging in terms of strong franchise branding (GoT, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, &c.) but they’re failing. Disney decided to up price at their theme parks and, well, that was not the answer. Playing with OTT not only interrupts distribution but increases cost.

        Looking at the money being thrown at writing… suggests the idea that selling the story as a premium bought product and selling the service delivery at a premium is some kind of psychological halo effect they want consumers/audience buy-in. Aside from the obvious economic realities when 7/10 households are unable to afford an emergency, I also believe entertainment value is lacking (see aforementioned TV shows, &c).

        I’ve not drunk the cool aid on that decision to go OTT even though they are going down that road for some reason, perhaps unrelated to any traditional Nielsen concerns. Maybe they just want to report high numbers and try to, “tell a great lie”, as Goebbels put it. Maybe to use social pressure to drive a certain younger demographic into their entertainment-message. I am sure my voice would not be popular at a BoD meeting.

        1. Actually, Richard, I simply think this train is now speeding down the track, and nothing is going to stop it. Netflix wasn’t afraid to be first and got laughed at for it when they initially gave up their “mail you a DVD/you mail it back” business model and started a subscription service like HBO that was separate from cable/satellite. Then they were laughed at for trying to produce their own content when everyone knew Netflix was only a way to watch previously released movies and some TV shows. But folks stopped laughing when “House of Cards” began winning Emmy Awards and subscribers kept growing.

          Yes, Netflix wasn’t afraid to be first, but now everyone wants to be second! 🙂

          1. Yes, I agree with you. What you’re saying I think is indisputable fact. I am saying that a me too strategy is not a good marketing strategy. And I see this as a me too strategy from a marketing perspective and, worse, from my own perspective of public relations a rudderless strategy.

            It’s like they’re all tuned into a message from space and blithely following along. Does Youtube stand in the place Netflix once did? Have they taken the position of “indirect approach” to quote Liddell Hart? Time will tell, and in short order I suspect.

            By the way, as for the American House of Cards…. you ain’t seen House of Cards until you have watched the original smash hit from Britain. Like The Office, Three’s Company, and good PBS shows, the best of the remakes are the originals. You might say that they have their test marketing done already and simply need a tweak and release in the larger US market. Not a real gamble, IMHO. Just another me too but on the creative side rather than the marketing side. [My wife and I watched Murder on the Orient Express (1974 & 2017) the other night on browser and, unfortunately, it seems to me when making even a remake Hollywood has lost itself.]

          2. Remakes and reboots are typically not worth it, but you do get the occasional “Battlestar Galactica” or “A Star Is Born.” As for the “me, too” strategy in general, Richard, remember that I live in Hollywood. This is the land of being second in the pool. No one ever got fired from a studio for finding a successful business example and deciding to copy the same approach. Has this led to miserable failures like UPN and the Prime Time Entertainment Network? Sure. But then there’s also the Fox network and the CW. So it’s a crap shoot. The alternative in this town is being original and coming up with a winning idea of your own. Do such things happen? Sure. Netflix is a prime example (no pun intended). But the risk is greater, as is the effort involved in trying to sell the idea to the decision-makers…which is why “me, too” is so often the rule rather than the exception (and I’m not just talking Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves when I say “me, too!). 😉

  12. I’ve just read a large batch of posts, absorbing the diversity and, at times, complexity of all these subscription services. My choice to forgo subscription TV has been validated. Virtually all of the programs referred to are entertainment; keeping up with the latest light entertainment is hardly essential material for living. Why is it seen to be so important not to miss out on the latest offerings if you are in a position similar to mine where I supplement my library (which includes BOOKS) with material that is either free-to-air or available on YouTube, add-free via computer. My resources provide high-quality entertainment ranging from the lowest of low-brow to the highest of high-brow. The only material that is important to keep up with is news and current affairs (if you have an unbiased source) and that arrives free-to-air. As you responded to one comment, why is watching TV so complicated? – a response applicable to many comments. I’m not yet old just older, but this really makes me feel sorry for he younger generations.

    1. “this really makes me feel sorry for he younger generations.”

      Tell me about it. My son spends hours watching videos of other people playing Minecraft! What’s up with THAT??? On the other hand, he’s reading, too…and we watch Star Trek together each night while I do cardio (just finished “Sarek” last night…Jayden says he really misses Spock). 🙂

  13. Jonathan, I don’t see you as typical ─ although the question of what is “typical” potentially plunges significant psycho-social depths. The diversity and vitality of Jayden’s upbringing is apparent to anyone who consistently follows your work. And in your case, the very nature of what you do with your blogs makes it rather necessary to know what’s going on in at least the sci-fi aspect of the industry.

    This gives me the chance for a PS. I don’t entirely eschew modern TV, I just “work around the fringes” to access what might interest me. My exploring mind is still active, just cost-aware and with a “keep it simple stupid” approach. [Hope this is typo-free]

    1. Typo-free as far as I can see, Bryan!

      As for your approach to TV and other forms of entertainment, it’s laudable and certainly seems to be working for you. The studios, meanwhile, make their plans based on predictions of what the masses will do. At this point, though, those predictions–and what ultimately ends up happening–are anyone’s guess! 🙂

  14. You don’t talk about what happened with “Renegades”. Here was a crowd sourced film run by top SciFi talent who chose to start their own “Atomic” OTT network. I stopped reading their RSS feed when it was all commercials. I wasn’t interested in another streaming service. Not sure what’s going on with them now.

    1. It’s hard to figure out these days, but Atomic TV is about to start crowd-funding their second episode of Cozmo’s. At this point, I feel that Atomic is too small an endeavor to make the list of major OTT services like Netflix and Hulu and the rest….kind of like all of the Democratic candidates who are running who aren’t included in the list of the top 23 primary candidates. Yep, if you thought there were “only” two dozen or so candidates, guess again. There are a bunch of perennial crackpots who always try to run and never get anywhere. Not that I’m calling the Atomic Network a crackpot, mind you! But they haven’t quite made it to the debate stage yet. 🙂

  15. Interesting to see this mentioned. Am I the only one who failed to get a single laugh out of the first Cosmo’s episode? Did I miss something?

    1. I didn’t laugh uproariously, but I smiled and also marveled at the quality of the make-up, lighting, and production values in general. I’m hoping that episode 2 has more of a unifying, cohesive plot to tie things together (rather than disjointed skits and sketches), but I still enjoyed Cozmo’s first episode.

  16. If you’re unaware of the youtube produced scifi show (10 eps) called “Origin”, I highly recommend it (don’t watch trailers or read about it, it spoils the mystery). Something else I didn’t see mentioned, “Altered Carbon” season 2 is coming out soon, and if you haven’t watched season 1 of that yet, yeah no that’s just not kosher, go watch it right now.

    1. See? I knew I was missing something! I’m still working my way through “The Boys” right now and am about to finish the last three episodes of “The Last Kingdom.” So more to add to my viewing list!

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