My roommate recently lamented the exit of “Parks and Recreation” from Netflix, as she has been using the classic NBC sitcom as a bedtime show. At first, I too was upset, and then I remembered — Peacock. NBC recently launched the new streaming service, in part to cash in on big-name sitcoms that used to stream on Netflix, including “The Office” and “Friends.”
When my roommate learned of the new streaming service, I told her tentatively that it was free. In front of my eyes, I watched her create an account, open a “Parks and Recreation” episode and hit play, all while we held our breath waiting for the catch. It turns out the “catch” was a tiered system.
While Peacock does offer a fully free version with ads, there are three tiers: the first tier is ours, free with ads, the second tier is a premium version that opens up locked content ($4.99/mo), and the third tier is premium and ad-free, for an additional $5.00 a month. Our distrust in “free” streaming services was warranted. Although I did not know the name for it yet, we have been watching the Streaming Wars play out over our adolescence and young adulthood.
What Are The Streaming Wars?
Over the course of a year, the tech world has designated the term “Streaming Wars” to describe what is happening between big TV streaming platforms, according to the Verge. With the introduction of Disney+ last November, the launch of HBOMax over the summer, and now with NBC’s Peacock, the war is well underway. Peacock has fared well in gaining subscribers, with 22 million users already. Considering Peacock’s free option and catalog of shows, their initial subscriber base is not surprising.
The new NBC streaming service has also pulled in two strong user bases with their exclusive access to the Olympics and “The Office.” “The Office” is one of the most popular shows to stream, and while it has been on Netflix for years, it will be exclusive to Peacock by the end of 2020. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics were set to stream solely on Peacock before they were canceled because of COVID-19.
Streaming Wars Competition Hurts The User Experience
The competition between streaming services causes rising prices and encourages platforms to create or obtain exclusive content, as opposed to the content that you might see on multiple services. Therefore, you tend to only see a show offered on one streaming service, while over time, the various platforms try to acquire new users by creating original, exclusive series.
Netflix originals include “Orange Is the New Black,” “Ozark” and many original movies. This year Hulu has started to release more original series such as “Little Fires Everywhere” and “High Fidelity.” HBO gained a foothold with very popular exclusive content such as “Game of Thrones” and “Big Little Lies.”
It may be obvious, but the Streaming Wars and the actions of the streaming giants prove that they are ruled by profits, hurting users in the process. Viewers have ended up paying more for the same content that used to be streamed on one or two services. It can be exhausting trying to remember where each show or movie is and what your login is for that site.
Additionally, streaming giants often escape the scrutiny that comes with being labeled “Big Tech,” but they are well wrapped up inside its sprawling ecosystem, as they are often owned by even bigger technology companies.
Piracy Is Making A Comeback, But With A Twist
Because of the Streaming Wars, piracy or illegal streaming is also making a comeback. Although people would rather watch TV legally, paying for so many services spreads users thin and forces them to choose other means.
“Now, instead of paying one cable bill for all the channels, we’re paying for countless individual services just for the one or two programs or movies we want to watch on each of them,” Katharine Trendacosta explained in a Slate article. “And that will bring back piracy, which is bouncing back after having been on the decline for years.”
Many college students, including myself, often collect logins for services and share them with friends. Currently, I have access to most streaming services, while I am only personally paying for one or two. I am using my aunt’s Hulu account ($11.99), a friend’s HBOMax ($15), my brother’s Disney+($7), and my boyfriend uses my Netflix ($13.99). These services alone are around $50 a month or $575 a year. Now if we add Peacock ($9.99) into the mix it is nearly $700 a year to get the same experience.
Until stricter net neutrality laws halt the growing entertainment conglomerates, streaming companies will continue to make decisions that put profits before people. The viewer experience is not their priority, and decisions that inconvenience us do not come as any shock. However, it seems our generation will have to take the war into our own hands.