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Streaming Video Will Soon Look Like the Bad Old Days of TV

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares an opinion piece from The New York Times, written by Matthew Ball, former head of strategic planning for Amazon Studios. Here’s an excerpt: The next 12 months will see several video services come to market, including Disney+, AT&T/WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, Comcast/NBCUniversal’s unnamed service, Apple TV+ and Quibi from the Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. This increased competition will offer audiences even more high-quality series, the sorts of films that can no longer be found in theaters, interactive storytelling they’ve never seen before, and further improvements in navigation and advertising. Yet in this new multiplatform world, viewers will find they have to pay for a fistful of streaming subscriptions to watch all of their favorite programs — and in the process, they’ll again end up paying for lots of shows and movies they’ll never care to watch. AT&T’s WarnerMedia, for example, is bundling its TV channels, like TBS, HBO and TruTV, and film studios, including Warner Bros., DC Films and New Line, into its HBO Max service. Disney+ will have Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm, but also National Geographic, “The Simpsons” and Disney’s offerings for children. And to navigate these many subscriptions, most households will want companies like Amazon or Apple to further bundle these services together into a single app — just as they do with Dish or Xfinity. All of this bundling will eventually mean the return of a high monthly bill. Behind this bill is the cost of making high-quality programming. Although much has been said about how Netflix and Amazon have disrupted the video business, no media company has figured out how to make premium movies or TV shows significantly more cheaply. In fact, competition has driven production budgets even higher. Ultimately, these costs are paid by viewers (especially if they choose to watch without ads).

But the rise of digital video is bringing back more than just bloated bundles and bills. Many companies are returning to TV’s original business model: selling you anything and everything but the television show in front of you. For decades, all TV content was “free.” Networks like ABC and CBS distributed their shows free of charge because they weren’t really in the business of selling audiences 30 minutes of entertainment. Instead, they were selling advertisers eight or so minutes of the audience’s attention. While most digital video services do charge their viewers, their real objective is to lock audiences into their ever-expanding ecosystem. Their TV network is the ad. Amazon, Apple and Roku, for example, use their networks to drive sales of their devices, software, services and other products. For YouTube and Facebook, original movies and shows are about increasing the number of ads they serve and the prices they charge for these ads. “Even as the video industry reconstitutes with new players — under old business models and familiar problems — most people agree that TV has never been better,” Ball writes in closing. “Consumers have more options, better shows and more diversity than ever before.”
“But at the same time, weâ(TM)re entering a world in which our culture is programmed by vertically integrated trillion-dollar corporations,” he adds. “This may help us escape high prices and ads in the short term, but eventually the bill will come due.”

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