Five Bold Predictions for Streaming Services in 2023
After years of non-stop growth, the streaming industry stumbled mightily in 2022. Some of that was attributed to “pull-forward” from the pandemic years. Some of it was a consequence of people actually going outside of their homes to do things. Some of it was a spending pull-back in the face of inflation.
And also, the content pipeline was more “miss” than “hit” for the first time in a long time. That’s an important thing to keep track of.
Moving into 2023, we’re looking at a battle of maturing services. As subscription prices rise and stock prices fall, the competition will only heat up.
As part of our annual tradition, we’ve polished off our crystal ball to look ahead to 2023 and take a stab at where the industry may be after another 365-day slugfest. Here are our predictions for the state of streaming in 2023.
The HBO Max-Discovery+ Merger Will Be a Quibi-Level Disaster
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav doesn’t care about art. He cares about making money. It’s a shame he controls major streaming services instead of running a payday loan store.
Zaslav has been telegraphing for months that “reputation” isn’t something he’s concerned with. He’s intent on investing in the cheapest possible content for the largest possible audience. That may work with the reality show dreck clogging discovery+, but it’s not going to help the loyal viewers of HBO Max, who demand top-shelf entertainment.
When the services merge, it seems inevitable that the price will have to go up. We might see a $19.99 price point for the ad-free service. We know there’s little overlap between those two services today, so existing subscribers of just one service will be forced to pay for something they’ve intentionally chosen not to pay for today.
While the company may be in dire financial straits, the audience won’t cut a streaming service some slack because it’s having cash flow problems. Streaming services that don’t deliver value get kicked to the curb. That means streamers must study the audience and place calculated bets on what they’ll enjoy.
For Zaslav, the process is as simple as walking up to the IP slot machine, pulling the lever, and waiting for money to pour out. But new IP takes time to grow - “Game of Thrones” averaged just 2.52 million subscribers in its first season back in 2011. By Season 8 in 2019, it pulled 11.99 million viewers per episode. Zaslav hasn’t shown that kind of patience, killing off many projects and previously announced seasons of existing shows.
That means he’s stuck with the IP the company already owns, which is mostly just “Game of Thrones” and DC Comics. The DC universe is getting a hard reboot with new leadership, so it will be years before we see the results of that plan. Until then, already-completed Aquaman and Flash films will hit theaters. With them comes the knowledge that these versions of the characters will likely never appear again. (Ezra Miller’s off-screen troubles already assured that for The Flash.)
The company doesn’t own Harry Potter, and it’s unlikely JK Rowling will be willing to play ball to help a streaming service.
Zaslav has also said he doesn’t believe in the economics of creating streaming-exclusive movies. So the HBO Max movie slate will be limited to the handful of Warner Bros. films already set for ‘23: “Magic Mike’s Last Dance,” “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” “The Flash,” “Barbie,” “Blue Beetle,” “Dune: Part Two,” and the remake of “The Color Purple.” If those don’t excite you, you’re going to be very bored with HBO Max next year.
Again, those are just some of the problems plaguing HBO Max. The company is also chasing away a lot of behind-the-scenes talent that has shepherded critical darlings and fan favorites. So who’s left minding the store?
Also don’t underestimate how angry the creative community is with Zaslav. By killing projects or erasing them from the library for a tax write-off, Zaslav has made his position clear. He’s not here to support creatives. He doesn’t care about legacy. He doesn’t care if your favorite show is no longer available for legal consumption. He’s navigating by spreadsheet, and he’s steering the ship off a waterfall.
Paramount+ Will Increase Prices, But Include Showtime For Free
Paramount+ had a blockbuster year, from “Yellowstone” prequels like “1883” and “1923” to the long-awaited arrival of “Top Gun: Maverick,” this was the year Paramount+ made itself a worthy adversary for the big players.
It started the year with 32.8 million subscribers, but it had 46 million by the end of September. That doesn’t include the service's best-ever day in November, when it racked up subscriptions thanks to the NFL and the Sylvester Stallone show “Tulsa King.”
Paramount has fired up its formidable content engines to bolster its library, and there’s surely more to come. Future Taylor Sheridan shows starring Zoe Saldaña, David Oyelowo, and Billy Bob Thornton are on the way. It seems like a slam dunk strategy: pair Sheridan’s love for gritty drama with an established movie star and the audience will come. These are original shows that could return for years to come.
But for Paramount+ to take the next, necessary leap, they may need to dial up the ridiculously low price of their service. To offset any grumbling, Paramount+ should also throw in the Showtime library for free. It’s silly to keep them separate at this point. If Paramount+ follows through, it would provide a closer match with HBO Max for “adult” series. And with HBO Max headed for its suicide pact with discovery+, a stronger Paramount+ would make a nice landing spot for disgruntled viewers.
While Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+ may be out of reach for Paramount+, there’s good reason to believe it could surpass HBO Max if it plays its cards right. We think management has been making smart decisions since the platform’s rebrand. Let’s see if the hot streak continues.
Disney+ Will Lose Domestic Subscribers in An Upcoming Quarter
It’s usually a mistake to bet against Disney, but it looks like their flagship streamer is losing steam. Three years into its streaming experiment, we’re not seeing enough variety in their content. Beyond a half-dozen Star Wars and Marvel shows each year, the cupboard is bare.
In 2023, we’ll see “The Mandalorian” Season 3 and the new Star Wars series “Ahsoka.” On the Marvel side, we’ll get “Loki” Season 2 and “Secret Invasion.” Those are extensions of their existing franchises, however. One possible streaming success could be the first Pixar series, “Win or Lose,” which follows a middle school softball team.
Disney’s theatrical slate can provide a reliable lift over time. With “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and “The Little Mermaid” arriving this summer, Disney+ will get a shot in the arm when those titles arrive.
The problem is that Disney+ isn’t evolving beyond its core properties. Where is the wholly original series to suck people in? There’s no “Stranger Things” or “Squid Game” or “Only Murders in the Building” that demands your subscription. Disney is understandably focused on its theatrical business first, but if you don’t like superheroes, princesses, or sci-fi adventures, there’s no must-have content to be found.
Even with the core Disney properties, the quality has been slipping, at least where the audience is concerned.
|Release Year||Show||Metacritic User Score||Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score|
|2021||The Falcon and the Winter Soldier||5.6||83%|
|2021||The Book of Boba Fett||5.3||55%|
Also notable: Disney hasn’t had a $1 billion movie since 2019. (“Avatar: The Way of Water” just crossed that mark, but it’s a sequel to a Fox film.) In 2019, a whopping seven films crossed the $1 billion mark at the box office. The pandemic took serious steam out of the theatrical business in 2020 and 2021. This year’s best Disney-original performer was “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which took in less than 2016’s “Jungle Book” or 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
All of this may explain why Bob Iger returned as CEO, ejecting his hand-picked successor, Bob Chapek.
Another headwind: Disney+ just raised its ad-free prices by 37%. $10.99/month isn’t a deal-breaker for most families, and the ad-supported tier is still an option. However, families feeling a financial pinch might have to reassess their streaming bill.
Disney+ offers a lot of family-friendly content, but so does Netflix and Paramount+. And those other services have tons of content for adults, while Disney+ drops the ball for mature themes. We fully expect Disney+ will absorb Hulu when it has the chance in 2024, but until then, the service has limited appeal unless you have kids at home.
Disney will always have a loyal fanbase, and there will always be an audience that loves its library. But it’s also reasonable to expect that fatigue may set in if Disney+ can’t innovate. There’s only so much that can be squeezed from superheroes and galaxies far, far away.
AMC+ Goes Under and Netflix Grabs the Library
AMC has had a bad run lately. After creating groundbreaking hits like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” the creative spigot seems to have turned off. After too many seasons, “The Walking Dead” has mercifully come to an end. The acclaimed “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” also wrapped up.
CEO Christina Spade resigned after just three months in the role in November, leaving the widely reviled James Dolan as “interim executive chairman.” Dolan, who has held the Knicks hostage for a generation, seems to have zero aptitude when it comes to creative endeavors. Don’t believe us? Here he is as the lead singer of a country band comprised of musicians young enough to be his grandchildren.
Is this the man you want running an entertainment company? He has a whole music video where he holds a guitar and never plays.
When Dolan took over, he axed 20% of AMC’s workforce and instituted drastic cost-cutting measures. (Straight from page 3 of the Zaslav Playbook.) Perhaps it might make sense to license the company’s content, rather than plowing forward with a standalone platform with precious little to watch.
Netflix has previously hosted “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul,” and “The Walking Dead.” Those types of shows carry dedicated fanbases, and they’re incredibly loyal. Netflix higher-ups would probably say they wish they’d launched the shows themselves. These are some of the most notable landmark TV shows of the last 15 years.
The AMC linear channel isn’t producing nearly enough TV to supply a standalone streaming service. While AMC sub-streamers like Shudder have their devotees, it might make sense to close those down and send the libraries to Netflix.
After years of expansion, the streaming industry looks like it’s ripe for contraction. Without a significant standalone value proposition, entertainment companies would be better off serving as “arms dealers” for the streamers who remain. The content has already been produced, so future distribution deals are pure profit. Sony struck a big deal with Netflix along these lines. Another model: NBCUniversal debuts its films on Peacock, but will later loan them out to competitors.
It takes a lot of money to run a streaming service. The big players spend multiple billions on content, with only a handful of shows connecting each year. If AMC is in such dire financial straits, it may as well give up its streaming ambitions and cash in on the content it already owns.
There’s no easy path for AMC+ to become a major player in the industry. It’s time to blow it up.
The WBD FAST Service Will Be a Huge Hit
As David Zaslav sets fire to the Warner Bros. legacy and burns bridges with every A-list creative in Hollywood, he does have at least one solid idea: recycling the less-watched content with a FAST service. As prices soar across the board, free services like Pluto TV, Tubi, and Roku Channel have become increasingly popular.
Given the history of the Warner Bros. studio (for TV and film), there are a lot of old titles gathering dust and it will be good for audiences to revisit the vault.
Many of the entertainment companies that do have FAST services say the free streamers are incredible cash generators. That will appeal to Zaslav. The only question is whether he knows where to draw the line on which titles to serve up for free. It’s vital to the HBO brand that groundbreakers like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood,” and “Game of Thrones” stay on a commercial-free tier. In a truly heinous world, those titles would be not only punctuated by commercials, but also censored of the adult content that made them famous.
Let’s hope the company stocks the service with old Warner Bros. content like “Growing Pains,” “Murphy Brown,” “Living Single,” “ER,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “F Troop,” the Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” series, and “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Toss in the CW superhero shows, and you’ve got a nice variety. It would be great for kids if they could have access to the old Looney Tunes cartoons, though they might require a disclaimer.
If WBD wanted to make a monster splash, it could even headline the service with “Friends.” The sitcom smash has been a streaming favorite, and releasing even a few dozen episodes on the service would make it a must-have streamer for many folks.
FAST-bound films might take a little more curation. Where do you drop ads in the middle of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
While we can definitely argue the merits of commercials in the middle of a show or movie, the numbers suggest that a free service will be a slam-dunk success.
Investors have lost patience with streaming companies, and the focus now seems to be on cold, hard profit. The problem is, that thinking is leading most streamers to play things close to the vest, cranking out endless sequels of existing IP. The most impactful streaming shows of the last few years have been totally original (“Ted Lasso” and “Severance” for Apple TV+, “Tiger King” and “Squid Game” and “Stranger Things” for Netflix, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Only Murders…” for Hulu). There’s nothing wrong with milking a franchise, but that’s just treading water for these companies.
The audience has shown it’s willing to pay up for premium content, but not every investment pays off. We heard a lot about how Prime Video’s “The Rings of Power” was the most expensive show in TV history, but Amazon is having more cultural success with the less expensive superhero series “The Boys.”
We’re also seeing the tough economics of movies in the streaming space. Netflix had a successful theatrical mini-run with “Glass Onion,” then pulled it in favor of the at-home subscribers. Will they get a return on their $40 million budget? Can any big-budget streaming-exclusive movie generate the kind of long-term subscriber growth that every service craves? Did you get around to seeing “The Gray Man” yet? Netflix spent $200 million on it, so they hope you watch it once a week.
The era of endless expansion is quickly coming to a close, and the services that have a familiar library and the ability to innovate will be the ones left standing. But the relentless spending needed to keep pace will likely knock out the competitors without the stomach for the fight. As always, The Streamable will be here to follow the twists and turns.