This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
In the time—4,000 days? 2 weeks? 6 months? 17 celestial moon cycles?—since the global shutdown began (if you told me it is still March or that it is January 2022, I would believe you; I am surprised every time I look at the actual date), three massive new streaming services have launched.
Three! It’s a small number in theory. But in terms of the tidal wave of content that accounts for the Beautiful Mind-style math required to calculate new subscription costs and worth, and the relentless exasperation of searching for the one needle you want in what’s become a mountain range of haystacks, three might as well be 3 million.
On April 6, the still-nascent, almost novel days of pandemic disruption, Quibi launched, bite-sized content to consume on your phone while on-the-go...with the small snag of nobody going anywhere. HBO Max followed on May 27, bringing with it Friends’ return to streaming and a nationwide bafflement over what HBO versus HBO Max is, and who has access to which. This week saw Peacock, unveiled to a nation exhausted: of shutdowns, of assholes, and, maybe too, of content.
I haven’t tallied the collective amount of money spent on licensing, funding, marketing, and technology for these services because it is rumored that when you see a dollar figure with that many zeroes, part of your brain immediately shuts down and tears start to projectile stream from your eyes. But projections place the total in the range of “an ungodly number” to “a metric ass-ton.”
This is important, if imprecise information, as each of these streaming services’ launches have executed on a scale of “pretty wonky” to “a metric ass-ton disaster.”
With Quibi, the fiasco is obvious and well reported. Despite $2 billion of investment and the involvement of every famous person you can think of, it could not retain subscribers. A New York magazine article examining the state of the platform three months in served mostly as a reminder to those who did sign up to cancel their 90-day free trials.
HBO Max was mired with brand confusion. The WarnerMedia service took its most esteemed entity’s name, but also incorporated content from TBS, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network, and Turner Classic Movies. Because there already were two different HBO streaming services, HBO Go and HBO Now, people who already had HBO struggled to figure out if they had HBO Max.
Both HBO Max and Peacock share a similar issue, in that they are both unavailable on Roku and Amazon Fire, two of the most popular ways to access apps. Peacock users also discovered that the integrated Apple TV+ interface was, in some cases, taking users to Hulu versions of the content, not the Peacock-hosted ones.
There’s also the curious phenomenon of how limited the availability will be for some of the movies touted by Peacock, with some disappearing from the service in a matter of days after the launch. Plus, there’s its timing, last in line amid palpable streamer fatigue. (On the flip side, it has a free option!)
Then there are the issues that all three services seem to share, from non-intuitive navigation—though anything is easier to navigate than Hulu, for the love of god—to the fact that, overwhelmingly, the original series that were available at launch were too mediocre to notice. (I’d say HBO Max has since made up for this with Search Party, Expecting Amy, and the latter episodes of Legendary.)
And when it comes to programming, there’s the crucial issue that none of the services has any sort of identity that would telegraph to potential subscribers what kind of content will be on their service. My colleague Laura Bradley wrote a fantastic piece on this phenomenon, which extends far further than these three platforms. Read it!
Part of all this is to empathize with everyone wondering which services they’re really supposed to be shelling out money for and which are superfluous, because the truth is it’s incredibly difficult to give cogent advice on the matter. They’ve all been slightly disastrous, but all have their virtues—and yet there are untold amounts of content to access elsewhere anyway if you decide to forego all of them.
The industry keeps focusing on where audiences are going to watch their content. Yet—and I truly believe this—the audience doesn’t give a rat’s ass about where they’re watching things.
That’s true of the “should movie theaters reopen” death watch; I streamed Greyhound on Apple TV+, Palm Springs on Hulu, and The Old Guard on Netflix and had one of the best movie-watching weekends of my life last week. Sure, there were some pangs for the cinema but also... not really.
And then there’s the fact that no matter how many services are launched and how much money is spent to acquire The Office or Friends or what have you, the reality is just that people are going to flip on Netflix and figure out something to watch there. “Is _____ no longer on Netflix? Whatever, something else is.”
It may be a watershed moment for the industry. But the floor is lava.