The emergence of IMDb TV on UK (digital) shores has given rise to a feeling that I’ve had for some time: there are just too many video streaming services to watch.
It’s not a new idea, but with the arrival of IMDb TV, we feel like we are exhausted by the choice compared to where we were a few years ago.
Where IMDb TV differs from most is that it is a “free premium” TV service, which seems oxymoronic. It works the same as the option provided by Rakuten TV where the content is free to watch but supported by ads.
The wording of the press release confuses things a bit as it is part of Amazon Prime Video’s channel lineup and is open to Prime Video subscribers and non-Prime Video users. But if you’re a Prime Video subscriber, why watch a service and watch ads when you already have an ad-free service you’re paying for?
The free aspect of the service is at least a sign of democratizing the online streaming experience by offering free access, but that’s thanks to Amazon’s rich coffers. And while there is content on IMDb TV that I would watch, I have paid service subscriptions that demand my attention as well.
It’s like there was an era (and a much simpler era) when you could walk into a Blockbuster store and pick whatever titles you wanted off the shelf. And since you only had a few days before you had to return them, you had to watch. You weren’t necessarily that picky either because you weren’t crippled by the hundreds or thousands of options you get with streaming services. If anything, the limited choice has led to looking at things you wouldn’t normally do, instead of the curation algorithms that keep us on the path we’ve always taken.
And besides, who has time to watch all this content? The pandemic caused us to be glued to our seats in our homes, but with countries opening up we don’t spend as much time indoors. And how many people will stream Netflix on their daily commutes, given that the approach to work and commuting is always evolving?
The lack of many watercooler-type shows during the pandemic likely indicates a fragmentation of the streaming market. One conversation I participated in indicated that some people had heard of Netflix’s Squid game, but most weren’t aware of it – but of course everyone knows No Time to Die has been released.
The cost doesn’t help either. I subscribe to a few services now and would pay over £ 30 / month if I hadn’t bought an iPad and converted my existing Apple TV + subscription to a free one. Compared to physical media and the cost is significantly lower (£ 24.99 for a 4K Blu-ray doesn’t look as good for the price), but Netflix and Disney both increased their subscribers in 2021, and it’s not like we’ve seen a streaming service reduce in price.
And part of that is because content is becoming king, and to fund original content, the costs eventually have to rise to cover it. With Foundation and Y: The Last Man, we’re getting TV series that have a scale and visual quality that wouldn’t seem out of place alongside Bond’s latest adventure, but there’s not a single service you can see. these titles like you would make a cinema for the latest movies.
And they span a range of streaming services looking to get your attention and one service will eventually lose. Apple TV + has developed an incredibly diverse library since its debut alongside Disney + in 2019, but recent reports put the number of subscribers at 20 million (maybe just paid subscriptions that rule out the free promotion). Compare that to Disney’s 100 million + – a number it took Netflix a decade to reach – and it looks like a familiar line of titles (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar) is the key to catching people’s eyes. But if so, isn’t it more or less the same?
In the United States, there’s an even bigger gap with Universal’s Peacock, Warner Bros. ‘ HBO Max and Paramount +; the latter will travel to the UK next year under an agreement with Sky. Choice is good, but there comes a time when having so much choice overwhelms and isn’t very useful in terms of value.
If we haven’t reached a point where the market has become too saturated, then I think we’re moving quickly towards that conclusion. Who will win the video streaming war? It will be more like coming out without a few scars.