Everyone’s Wrong About the Streaming Wars

It’s not a zero-sum game for Apple TV+, Netflix, and Disney+

Mike Raab
Published in
4 min readOct 31, 2019


Image: Mike Raab

TThe so-called “streaming wars” heated up once again this week, with AT&T announcing more details about HBO Max, Apple TV+ launching on Friday, and Disney’s marketing blitz kicking into high gear for the November 12th launch of Disney+. For months now, journalists, industry insiders, and consumers have opined on who will “win” the streaming wars and why. What’s missing from most of these thought pieces is what will happen to all the streaming services that don’t “win”?

Here’s the thing: media isn’t a zero-sum or winner-take-all market. While they’re all competing for consumer attention (and dollars), the success of one subscription service does not mean inevitable failure for the rest. At an eventual steady state, some networks will, of course, have more subscribers than others — just as linear channels, whether broadcast or cable, have always had different levels of viewership.

Think about it. Does the fact that there were four broadcast networks mean that one of them eventually prevailed, and the others disappeared? No. Was there a cable channel war resulting in one dominant cable network? No. Multiple entrants competing on the same turf and terms could survive. Of course, some have more viewers or more popular content at any given time, and some do indeed eventually disappear, but the competition with one another wasn’t the true existential threat for broadcast or cable. It was new technologies and consumer behaviors.

Now, streaming services will only be able to monetize the consumers that find their content good enough to pay for directly.

We’re simply in a new phase of video competition, one that’s been unlocked by technology and a critical mass of consumer behavior, which is transforming the business models of media companies. Instead of wholesaling TV networks to cable and satellite distributors, content companies are bringing distribution, streaming technology, billing infrastructure, and customer acquisition in-house. The difference between the streaming future and cable bundle past is the importance of the consumer. Historically, networks were paid licensing fees…