As Economic Conditions Change, How Are Top Streamers Changing Content Spend Money in 2023?
After a decade of explosive growth and high-cost investments, streaming services will cut back on their spending on original material in the upcoming year. According to a January report from London-based research company Ampere Analysis, content spending will increase by 2% in 2023. While that is obviously still up over the previous year, it is down significantly from 6% growth seen in 2022. But it’s not only that streamers will slow their spending on original content, where they spend their money is also likely to change as platforms look to pivot to the next era of the streaming evolution.
This makes sense: As streamers face tougher circumstances due to media companies cutting back on spending to deal with slower-than-anticipated subscriber growth and skyrocketing losses from developing the platforms, they’re putting their money to work more wisely, hoping to get the biggest bang for their buck.
So where are the top streamers spending their money in 2023?
Netflix focuses more on international content, less on prestige titles
Netflix intends to continue investing in brand-new movies and television shows in the new year. Netflix spent $17 billion on content in 2021 and 2022, and anticipates spending at least that much in 2023. While that is still a staggeringly large number, it has remained essentially flat for three years; this results in Netflix being more selective about the titles it invests in.
“What we have to do is be better and better at getting more impact per billion dollar spent than anyone else,” co-CEO Ted Sarandos recently said during an earnings call. “And that’s how we’re focusing on it.”
One area where Netflix expects to focus on is international markets in an effort to succeed with content that has a broad appeal as the streaming giant encounters increased competition in a sea of available content choices. Sarandos said in December at the UBS TMT conference that as the company has essentially reached maximum penetration domestically — save any additional customers from ad-supported tiers and password-sharing curbing, bringing content from and for different regions around the world will allow the streaming giant to build scale internationally as well. However, as evidenced by “Squid Game” and “Money Heist,” there are productions from around the world that play well globally, giving the company even more differentiated content to market to subscribers.
“[Netflix’s] emphasis on the local market helps us tremendously,” he said, “and then being able to pick those projects that are global.”
The streamer also plans to effectively abandon prestige programming and go for unscripted, genre programming, and franchises. An unnamed “top agent” advised that Netflix programming chief Bela Bejaria “needs to keep programming things people watch versus snobby shit people don’t,” according to a New York magazine profile of the executive.
It’s unsurprising that Netflix would refocus its efforts. Netflix reported a quarterly loss of subscribers for the first time in a decade during the first two quarters of 2022 before rebounding in the third quarter. This caught Wall Street by surprise and suggested a shift in content would be coming. After all, “snobby” shows may win awards and acclaim, but it’s not the best strategy for attracting and keeping viewers, especially as streaming services get more expensive and competition increases. While those types of prestige programming are useful to generate buzz and build a service, they are less useful in maintaining subscriber bases.
Where you won’t see Netflix spending its money on is live sports. Sarandos said at the UBS TMT that the streamer is not interested in bidding on sports rights right now.
“We’ve not seen a profit path to renting big sports,” he said, noting the company isn’t saying “there will never be” live sports on Netflix, but “dramatically expensive” rights have made sports a “loss leader.”
Netflix is a subscription video streaming service that includes on-demand access to 3,000+ movies, 2,000+ TV Shows, and Netflix Originals like Stranger Things, Squid Game, The Crown, Tiger King, and Bridgerton. They are constantly adding new shows and movies. Some of their Academy Award-winning exclusives include Roma, Marriage Story, Mank, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Netflix offers four plans — on 2 device in HD with their “Standard with Ads” ($6.99) plan, on 1 device in SD with their “Basic” ($9.99) plan, on 2 devices in HD with their “Standard” ($15.49) plan, and 4 devices in up to 4K on their “Premium” ($19.99) plan.
Netflix spends more money on content than any other streaming service meaning that you get more value for the monthly fee.
HBO Max sees buzzier titles and cheaper, unscripted fare as merger with discovery+ approaches
As Warner Bros. Discovery plans to combine its two streaming services HBO Max and discovery+ in the spring of 2023, the former has cut and pulled titles from its streaming service left and right in order to pay down some of the financial implications of Discovery's acquisition of Warner Media in 2022.
HBO Max made news over the summer as WBD unexpectedly announced the cancellation of the nearly finished $90 million Batgirl feature film. The streamer then kept canceling HBO Max and bigger-budget movies en masse and removing multiple titles from the platform, including the high-end HBO dramas “Westworld” and “The Nevers”, which were later licensed to Roku and Tubi, along with other titles.
That chapter is reportedly behind WBD as CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said in January that the days of axing shows and movies for tax write-offs are in the past, saying the company is “done with that chapter” and calling 2023 a year of “relaunching and building”.
Moving forward, HBO Max content will likely fall into two categories: prestige programming and cheaper, unscripted fare.
Along with prestige titles being buzzy and award-winning, helping HBO and HBO Max secure 38 Emmy wins in 2022, they also put up monster numbers. “House of the Dragon,” “The White Lotus” Season 2, and “The Last of Us” broke viewership records. In December, HBO and Nielsen announced that HBO has four current original series averaging at least 15 million views per episode. So even though the series are extremely expensive to produce, the end results speak for themselves.
Conversely, more inexpensive unscripted titles could be on the horizon. Following the trio of unscripted series getting the axe at HBO Max in December – “Fboy Island,” “Legendary,” and “Sweet Life: Los Angeles” – it became clear that HBO Max was moving away from unscripted programming, with Variety reporting no unscripted series had been renewed at HBO Max since the Discovery-WarnerMedia.
This does not mean that there will be no new unscripted content when HBO Max and discovery+ merge. WBD CEO David Zaslav had long been a champion of unscripted programming dating back to his tenure as Discovery CEO, placing an emphasis on securing Discovery’s clout in the nonfiction market. While discovery+ will remain a standalone service, the majority of its titles will migrate to the new platform.
Therefore, even though Casey Bloys, HBO and HBO Max’s chief content officer, previously explained in a memo how scripted programming would take center stage for WBD, Zaslav is bound to throw his preference for unscripted programming into the mix.
Max is a subscription video streaming service that gives access to the full HBO library, along with exclusive Max Originals. There are hubs for content from TLC, HGTV, Food Network, Discovery, TCM, Cartoon Network, Travel Channel, ID, and more. Watch hit series like “The Last of Us,” “House of the Dragon,” “Succession,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and more. The service changed its name from “HBO Max” on May 23, 2023.
Max has three tiers, an ad-supported plan for $9.99 an ad-free plan for $15.99, and the ultimate tier that includes 4K for $19.99.
All Max subscribers will get the full libraries of shows like “Friends”, “The Big Bang Theory”, “South Park”, “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, “The West Wing”, and more.
You can choose to add Max as a subscription through Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, or other Live TV providers.7-Day Trial
discovery+ is a video streaming service that offers more than 70,000 episodes of 2,500+ current and classic shows from several popular TV brands including Discovery, Investigation Discovery, HGTV, TLC, Food Network, A&E, Lifetime, and History.
The service primarily focuses on non-fiction programming or “reality” TV shows.
discovery+ is available with limited ads for $4.99 / month or ad-free for $6.99 / month.
Disney+ pulls back on franchises and could return to family-friendly content
Disney’s recently returned CEO Bob Iger has said that while the company plans to focus more heavily on its core franchises and content areas, Disney+ will likely par down the amount of content it puts out from its biggest franchises. While successful franchises like Star Wars and Marvel are the biggest drivers of financial returns for Disney, and the plan is to lean further into the quality over the quantity of those franchises in the future as Iger is planning a $3 billion pullback on content spending.
This means that while these universes aren’t going anywhere, the streamer needs to be “better at curating” its “extraordinarily expensive” content, according to Marvel boss Kevin Feige.
The Marvel Studios head said that the plan for Phases 5 and 6 is for shows sent to streaming to “stand out and stand above.”
“People will see that as we get further into Phase 5 and 6,” Feige said. “The pace at which we’re putting out the Disney+ shows will change so they can each get a chance to shine.”
Some have called this a “massive correction” from when the entertainment industry was hell-bent on providing consumers endless amounts to watch, and spending endlessly in the process. In its stead, Disney+ could refocus its efforts on more family-friendly programming. That’s what at least one Wall Street analyst hopes to see.
Following the news that Iger would be returning to Disney, MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson noted, “The broader shift at Disney+ from Disney-themed family and branded content into a general entertainment fare was a poor decision that would hurt return on investment.”
Nathanson hopes and expects Iger to “examines the investment plans at Disney+ and re-focuses their investment on areas of franchise strength and away from broader general entertainment content … In other words, Disney+ – and Disney’s shareholders – could probably do better with fewer end-state subscribers made up of super fans willing to pay high revenue per user, which would generate much higher margins.”
Disney+ is a video streaming service with over 13,000 series and films from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, The Muppets, and more. It is available in 61 countries and 21 languages. It is notable for its popular original series like “The Mandalorian,” “Ms. Marvel,” “Loki,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” and “Andor.”
Disney+ has two plans – one with ads and one without ads. Disney+ Basic with Ads costs $7.99 / month. If you don’t want ads, you can choose Disney+ Premium with No Ads which costs $10.99 / month.
The Premium plan also offers an annual option for $109.99 / year ($9.17/mo.).
If you want all of Disney streaming services, they have two options for The Disney Bundle. The Disney Bundle Basic includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ (with Ads) for $7.99 / month. The Disney Bundle Premium (without Ads) for $19.99 / month.
The app supports unlimited downloads (on their Premium Plans), four simultaneous streamers, up to 7 profiles, 4K streaming, and includes hundreds of avatars.
The service includes 25+ original series, 10+ original movies, 7,500 past episodes, 100 recent movies, and 400 library titles including the entire Disney Vault.
You can see the full list of available Disney, Disney Channel, Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, Nat Geo shows and movies, or all available Disney+ content by checking out our Disney+ Streaming Movie List.
Amazon plans on more of the same with sports and original programming
Amazon spent $16.6 billion on content in 2022 across TV, film, and music due, in part, to the expensive nature of the epic fantasy epic series “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.”
The projected production cost for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Season 1 was $450 million, while the “Thursday Night Football” package was streamed exclusively by Prime Video for the first time, with Amazon spending an estimated $1 billion annually.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” generated more than 24 billion minutes of streamed content, more Prime signups globally during its debut window than any other Prime Video content and was the most viewed original series in the world, drawing more than 100 million viewers. “Thursday Night Football” viewing among the highly sought-after 18-34 demo increased by 11% for the 2022 NFL season, according to Nielsen ratings.
With this in mind, Prime Video’s strategy is more of the same: more sports and more original programming. Along with “Thursday Night Football,” Prime Video also started airing local events for the Seattle Storm of the WNBA and the New York Yankees, as well as a few English Premier League soccer games.
Now, Amazon wants to expand its ambitions for sports streaming. Amazon is reportedly working to develop a stand-alone viewing app that will house the business’s live sports rights. Despite seeking to reduce costs in other areas of the business, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy recently stated that the tech company does not plan to stop spending when it comes to obtaining sports rights.
On the scripted front, Prime Video has set its sights on programming with universal appeal. Per Nielsen, Prime Video experienced the biggest increase in monthly watching in January, up 9.3% from the previous month to account for 2.9% of all streaming usage. The most recent episodes of Jack Ryan and the film “Shotgun Wedding” were the main factors in the rise.
Moreover, Prime Video plans to expand the universe of its hit Chris Pratt-led series “The Terminal List.” The streamer has renewed series for a second season and also picked up an untitled prequel series.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video is a subscription video streaming service that includes on-demand access to 10,000+ movies, TV shows, and Prime Originals like “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” “Jack Ryan,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Boys,” and more. Subscribers can also add third-party services like Showtime, and Starz with Amazon Prime Video Channels. Prime Video also offers exclusive live access to NFL Thursday Night Football.
The Prime Video interface shows content included with your subscription alongside the ad-supported Freevee library and some shows and movies you need to purchase, so be sure to double-check your selection before you watch.
Prime Video is included with Amazon Prime for $12.99 per month ($119 per year), or can be purchased on its own for $8.99 per month.
Peacock sees more adult programming and less YA titles
Peacock plans to capitalize on some of its breakout series and less on young adult series. The streamer recently canceled “One of Us Is Lying” and “Vampire Academy” with Susan Rovner, the chairman of entertainment content at NBCUniversal TV and streaming, saying “What we realized is we have to get the parents before we get the teens.”
In other words, Peacock needs to concentrate on adults before launching a variety of programs for young adult viewers because adults are typically the ones who choose and pay for services. Some of Peacock’s more recent hits, she hopes, will make it feasible to produce additional content in the future.
“I’m hoping that once we get the parents with shows like ‘Poker Face’ and shows like ‘Traitors,’ that we will be able to do a show like ‘Vampire Academy’ a few years from now,” Rovner said.“Dramas are very bingeable and that tends to help a service initially more and grow the scale that you need to have.”
Peacock is a subscription video streaming service from NBCUniversal that includes original shows, blockbuster movies, and classic television series. Peacock is home to “Yellowstone,” and “The Office,” as well as original hits like “Poker Face” and “Bel-Air.” You can also watch live sports including Sunday Night Football, Premier League, and exclusive MLB games. Peacock is also the exclusive home to many WWE events like WrestleMania. Premium Plus subscribers can stream their local NBC feed in all 210 markets.
Peacock includes news, entertainment, sports, late-night, and reality from various NBCU properties including NBC, Bravo, and E!.
Peacock also includes the entire library of Bravo shows and has exclusives like “Below Deck: Down Under.” They also include live and on-demand access to Hallmark channels.
The company has acquired the rights to many classic shows like “Parks and Recreation,” and the entire Dick Wolf library including “Law & Order” and “Chicago Fire.”
The service also features blockbusters and critically-acclaimed films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination and content acquired from Hollywood’s biggest studios.